Theatrical Review: INSIDIOUS
You might think making a good horror film is easy. To be a master of scares all you really need to do is get some attractive adolescents, make them as multi-cultural as possible, have several of them get naked, and then murder them all in the bloodiest fashion you deem necessary. Simple as could be. Of course, sometimes this formula can get boring. Each year we can expect to see the same slasher/thriller/horror film play with similar plots and boring scares. As a film-goer, you start to wonder if there is new life in old filmmaking.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell are no strangers when it comes to horror. Both men took their careers to new and bloody heights when they co-wrote and directed the original SAW film. Mix that talent in with Oren Peli (who wrote PARANORMAL ACTIVITY), and INSIDIOUS has the modern dream-team of frightening cinema. While both SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY have now both becoming a running joke amongst moviegoers, with INSIDIOUS the joke's on us.
INSIDIOUS starts out like many other typical horror films. Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) are moving into a new house with their two young boys and baby girl. The house is old and has a lot of character to it (read: super obviously haunted). Josh is a teacher and Renai is…a musician? A decorator? Let's just go with stay at home mom. One afternoon little Foster (Ty Simpkins) decides to explore the attic of their haunted house because he's an idiot kid who is in desperate need to get his ass possessed. Foster gets frightened and falls off an old ladder, knocking him unconscious. Mysteriously, Foster is unable to wake up from his fall, but doctors assure the family that he's not in a coma, he's just filled to the brim with ghosts and stuff. This is where INSIDIOUS hits the ground running. Soon strange things begin to happen and we are thrown into roughly an hour and twenty minutes of pure, nonstop jump scares and eerie happenings.
Is your POLTERGEIST alarm going off yet? Well, it should be, because almost 50 percent of INSIDIOUS feels like it came to Wan and Whannell after they spent a night watching POLTERGEIST and then had a bizarre nightmare about it. INSIDIOUS is that nightmare, but in a good way. All the pieces are there - an old and spooky house, a pleasant family, a kid that goes into a mysterious coma, and an old lady that tries to help the family out.
In INSIDIOUS, that old lady is played by Lin Shaye, and she brings along two farcical paranormal detectives (one played by Whannell himself and the other played by Angus Sampson). This team of ghost hunters and paranormal experts enter INSIDIOUS right around the time the film starts to depart from being a POLTERGEIST knockoff. Whannell and Sampson give a much needed comic release to, what has been up until their appearance, a relentlessly scary film. The aloof old lady who knows a lot about ghosts is a pretty typical horror film feature and Shaye doesn't really bring anything new to the archetype. To be honest though, nobody in INSIDIOUS brings anything new to the character-types of the genre and there's really no point for them to. INSIDIOUS isn't about being fresh and innovative like SAW or PARANORMAL ACTIVIY, it's about paying homage to haunted house films of the past and doing it well. The thing that really separates INSIDIOUS is the massive talent behind the camera
It's impossible to avoid the POLTERGEIST parallels (along with many others), but that's what INSIDIOUS is supposed to be doing. Wan and Whannell are paying deep homage to the films that inspired this genre, which is why some parts are certainly derivative. This may get me into some hot water but, POLTERGEIST doesn't scare me. I know that, for its time, POLTERGEIST was a terrifying film and I respect that. POLTERGEIST was incredibly innovative and well-paced, but I simply wasn't scared the first time I watched it. The exact inverse can be said about INSIDIOUS, which is derivative yet terrifying. Somehow Wan and Whannell found a way to make a typical film atypical. This is mostly due to the magic of athe well-crafted and well-shot jump scare. Wan knows how to film horror and has proved it several times over now, but with INSIDIOUS he has stepped up his game. Nearly every frame and scene exists to scare the audience or build anticipation for the next jump. The score is utilized to its fullest in this respect and elevates the work being done behind the camera. You get the sense that maybe Wan was knowingly making a typical horror film so he could surprise you with his assaulting technique.
While INSIDIOUS is nothing to write home about in terms of acting or originality, there's something to be said for making an old style feel new. This is the kind of film you want to bring a date to because she (or maybe even he) will end up in your arms by the end of the film, guaranteed. INSIDIOUS has proven that you don't need to always be a pioneer to make a horror film work with a modern audience. All it takes is a story that seems familiar, turned upside down by masterful direction and pacing. In a time where we get film after film rehashing the same plot the same way, it's nice to see a movie tell a solid story in a frightening way. INSIDIOUS exists to scare you senseless and nothing else, which is exactly what a horror film is supposed to do.