Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
If I've learned anything after my decades of watching thousands of horror films, it's that the lineage of a horror film (who directed it, produced it, wrote it, stars in it) doesn't mean shit. Sometimes it does, but most times it doesn't. So when I see the guy who directed PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (a film I love deeply) listed as a producer on INSIDIOUS, I shrug and say, "Show me the damn movie." When I see director James Wan or writer Leigh Whannell (who made the original SAW) listed as the director-writer team on INSIDIOUS, I say, "Show me the damn movie." So, I saw the damn movie, and guess what: it scared the crap out of me. It also made me laugh, and it impressed me that stars (and fine actors) Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne sold me on the heightened drama of this story of a child who is in danger of people possessed by a nasty demon.
INSIDIOUS starts out as a haunted house film. Josh and Renai Lambert move into a new home, and immediately ghostly things start happening--doors open and close, things get knocked over, and noises come from every dark corner. Things get so bad that the Lamberts decide to move. I can't remember another film where a family actually moves out of what they believe to be a haunted house in the first 40 minutes or so. But in the new house, the same things start happening, and before long their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is attacked by something in the house. He seems okay, until he lands up in the hospital in something that is coma-like, but not actually a coma. The family eventually moves Dalton back home, where he lays in bed while all hell breaks loose around him.
Eventually Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey) calls on old friend Elise (the great Lin Shaye), who tells the rattled couple that it isn't the house that is haunted; it's their son, around whom a red-faced demon is swarming, preparing to take over the boy's soul. Before I dive into the film's last big set piece, I want to say that INSIDIOUS has more scares than any movie I can think of in recent memory. Yes, it borrows heavily from POLTERGEIST, but it's films like that that Wan and Whannell were influenced by growing up, so that doesn't surprise me. And I'd rather have filmmakers pay homage to their favorite films in this manner than simply produce a substandard remake.
There's a sequence in which Josh must pass into a kind of altered state to save his son, and without giving too much away, these scenes--for whatever reason--have divided people's response to the film pretty much down the middle. When I first saw the movies, without knowing anything about it, I saw these scenes as an homage to the old Hammer Films movies--most of which didn't have big budgets, but they had heart and dry-ice machines for days. You might laugh at this sequence--I probably did--but for a movie that goes to such great lengths to look so good, I doubt the filmmakers decided to switch over to a slightly cheaper version of their movie without cause. The setting is supposed to look stripped down and bare; I think the "cheapness" of the look is intentional.
A big part of the reason INSIDIOUS works so well is its actors. Byrne and Wilson sold me on the terror. They are quality actors, and in lesser hands, I don't think the movie works--no offense to the filmmakers. I also happen to be a big Lin Shaye fan, and to see her get a role this juicy and see her play it straight just warms my heart. There's a sequence in which she stares into a black pool on the ceiling and whispers a description to one of her research assistants (played by Whannell) what she sees. It's an absolutely terrifying sequence, made all the more effective just because of the look on Shaye's face.
Wan is in top form here. Saw was about creativity and gore, and it worked on both levels. But INSIDIOUS is about good, old-fashioned fear, and try as I might to avoid jumping and screaming like an eight year old, I was tense for nearly the entire movie. I actually couldn't believe how anxious I was watching this film. And it's a largely bloodless affair to boot, so it's the perfect date movie. And yes, it's PG-13, but don't let that scare you away. INSIDIOUS truly surprised me, and I was glad to see that this talented group of folks got together and made a scare movie that actually matters, at a time when such films are getting increasingly lazy when it comes to being actually scary. Well done.
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