James Wan's Insidious is a very minor referential horror artifact, reweaving Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror, the Paranormal Activity, Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street movies, and above all, Psycho, into an entertaining, fascinating, silly, stylish Halloween haunted-house ride to heck and back.
Whew! I feel sort of like I'm reviewing Rango, or becoming possessed by Hayden Panettiere from the Scream 4 (Scre4m?) trailer. I haven't seen any of Wan's previous films, but just noticed he directed Saw (which I will never be seeing), which was also written by Insidious screenwriter Leigh Whannell.
Insidious stars Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) as Renai and Josh Lambert, a young couple with three children, older boys Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor) and a baby daughter, Callie. Like the couple in Paranormal Activity or the family in Amityville, they've just moved in to a big new house when strange things start happening. Or do they? Are they just accidents or hallucinations?
I know, that sounds pretty clichéd, and, indeed it is pretty clichéd, but then again it works well here despite genre familiarity. Even though these developments are campy, and inspire about as much nervous or relieved laughter as scares, there's a genuine shivery eerieness to the proceedings which is hard to deny. I got extra shivers the second time I saw the film. That's not supposed to happen.
By the time our Lamberts have finally decided to move out of the new house, the haunting takes on new and unexpected (though still quite clichéd) dimensions. Insidious goes slow and mines its material for plenty of effective jump-scares and suspense. It actually becomes quite intriguing and involving for a good bit of the middle of the film.
It is good that the film keeps us guessing. Overall, however, by the end, it is bad that we are still guessing, in terms of the total impact and content of the mysteries eventually revealed. It's fun for a good while, then gets more predictable.
The music, by Joseph Bishara, also a performer in the film, is mostly an obvious ripoff/retread of Herrmann's classic Psycho score, which doesn't surprise much. What is surprising is that it mostly works, again, until the ending. Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye as, respectively, Josh Lambert's mother and a mysterious friend of hers from their past, are without reservation quite wonderful here. Whannell and Angus Sampson add some humor while still allowing the film its more-deadpan scares. I wish there had been further flying, and in that case I might have had no trouble awarding four stars, but alas and alack. Instead there is further fog.
Insidious is great fun, and should certainly be on any camp-movie or camp/horror-movie fan's list to watch. If you're thinking of making your own horror movie one day, I think it would be quite instructive to see how all these movie parts are deconstructed and rearranged, not necessarily because it's totally successful, but because it's inventive, entertaining and could be the jumping-off point for a lot of better ideas.
I can't say it's excellent, but I must at least recommend it. I would add the silly caveat that I was disappointed there was no character "Sid." Aside from that, I was pleasantly surprised and diverted. Wan and Whannell mostly deliver. Maybe, eventually, I will watch Saw. Naw. But I kind of love Insidious.
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