In theaters on Friday, April 1
Directed by James Wan
Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne) have just moved into a new house with their family, but when their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) lapses into a deep coma-like sleep, weird things start to happen that intensify to where they start encountering dangerous beings who want their son.
Anyone who thinks a haunted house movie by the creators of “Saw” would be a gory and grim affair clearly aren’t aware of director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell’s love for classic horror, specifically their admiration for two classic examples of the haunted house horror sub-genre at its best, “Poltergeist” and “The Shining.”
It takes some time before the influence of those films is felt, since it opens more like “Paranormal Activity” – that movie’s director Oren Peli’s name is listed conspicuously as producer. Rose Byrne’s character, a songwriter, spends time alone in the new family home while her husband, played by Patrick Wilson, is working, and she begins to experience all sorts of odd occurrences. Their eldest son Dalton (Ty Sympkins) has been exploring the attic of their new house but one morning, he just doesn’t wake up, though doctors say he’s not dead but just in a deep sleep. Months later, the family has gotten somewhat used to their comatose son, but the weird occurrences have continued, getting more and more menacing to the point of them actually seeing frightening beings wandering around their house. Changing houses doesn’t rid them of the problem, and by the time they call in a paranormal investigator with her crew, the situation has put you well on edge, not knowing what exactly is going on or what will happen next.
“Insidious” is the type of horror movie you’ll probably not want to know too much about before going to see it, but without giving too much away, it revolves around the concept of astral projection and the ideas just get wilder and wilder as it goes along leading to a crazy sÃ©ance scene that needs to be seen to be believed since it’s nothing like anything we’ve seen in previous horror films. The tone of the movie probably most resembles that of Sam Raimi’s recent return to horror with “Drag Me to Hell,” that perfect serio-comic blend that doesn’t bog things down with pathos and exposition, instead letting you know how much fun the filmmakers are having by throwing so much crazy stuff into the mix.
A key component to any of it working as well as it does is the perfect casting of Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, two terrific actors who have proven they can do anything. They’re incredibly believable as a married couple and they really pull you into the lives of the characters just as it’s disrupted by them being pulled into the unknown. Continuing her glorious comeback, Barbara Hershey plays Wilson’s ultra-religious mother who seems to know more than she’s letting on, and Lyn Shaye would make Zelda Rubinstein proud with her way of handling the problems. Even screenwriter Leigh Whannell gets into the act, showing up as one of the paranormal investigators named “Specs” (yes, he wears glasses), and it’s infinitely entertaining to watch him and his partner Tucker (Angus Sampson) pulling out an odd array of gadgets to investigate the paranormal activities.
Although Wan and Whannell are working in a genre that’s been done to death, they’re able to keep things from getting too predictable due to their quirky sensibilities, ably avoiding the clichÃ©s despite the obvious influences. Sure, there are a few jump scares but they’re never done in a cheap way. In fact, most of the scariest moments take place during the most innocuous dialogue sequences, just as you’re relaxing from the last one, which just makes the whole freakier, since you never know exactly what might happen next.
The sound design is perfectly integrated into the score to create even more tension, and that mostly maintains a dark tone. “Insidious” may not be the first time that Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” made people uncomfortable, but never quite like this.
Some may feel that Wan and Whannell stick the landing a bit by leaving things somewhat open-ended for another movie, but there’s enough chills along the way one can easily forgive them for wanting to keep the party going.
The Bottom Line:
“Insidious” is Wan’s most effective film as a director and one of the scariest and creepiest movies in some time, and the odd sense of humor that permeates the film’s darker moments just makes it that much more enjoyable.