With its sequel coming out this Friday, I decided to take a look at a film that I've been hearing everybody raving about these past couple of years, but which, for some reason, I never got around to seeing.
After making the first three entries in the vicious, violent, and incredibly successful Saw franchise, a spook-house ghost story probably would've been the last thing to expect from the team of James Wan and Leigh Whannell. However, Insidious proves that the Aussie duo aren't a one-trick pony, and that, if anything, they're even better suited to old-school scares about things going bump in the night than they are to bringing graphic death traps and torture to visceral life. Between this, Saw, and this past summer's The Conjuring, Wan and Whannell have shown themselves to be some of the most skilled horror auteurs working in Hollywood today, more than capable of providing viewers (this writer included) with many sleepless nights. Even watching it on a smaller TV from the comfort of my bed, Insidious still left me absolutely terrified on many, many occasions. A word of warning: do not watch this movie if you have work or school tomorrow, because you will have trouble sleeping.
I'm serious about that, by the way. Insidious more than deserves the reputation it's built up over the last two years, standing as proof that "tame" PG-13 horror can easily be far more terrifying than the average slasher flick. What's truly amazing about this film is just how much it doesn't show. Given that this was made by the Saw guys, you'd expect non-stop demon and ghost mayhem, but the film wisely saves all of that for the third act finale, spending most of its scares merely implying that something is hiding in that shadow, or giving us split-second glimpses of the baddies. And it works. Oh boy, does it work. I don't think I would've made it through a theatrical screening of this film, given how effective this film's use of sound was even in my bedroom with just my TV's old speakers. Wan's direction here is amazing, making the mundane seem just the slightest bit unsettlling and turning seemingly empty rooms into lairs of evil. Tension is constantly ratcheted up, with even non-scary scenes leaving you unnerved as something that a character said slowly sinks in, until it finally nails you. Even when the scares seemingly start letting up in the third act, the finale knocks you to the floor. What I'm saying is, this movie is fucking chilling.
Furthermore, not only is it scary as hell, it's smart, too, taking apart the archetype of the skeptical "horror dad" that shows up in so many movies like this, and offering a story filled with the sort of twists and turns you'd expect from Wan and Whannell -- and unlike the later Saw films (which they only produced), the story and characters are believable and well-written, only enhancing the scares as you fear for these characters. Of the main cast, only Rose Byrne as the mom didn't really click with me, and the rest of the cast more than makes up for her. Patrick Wilson is at the center of this film, especially later on, and he shines as the father whose skepticism turns out to have a much deeper component than simply rejection of the supernatural. Not only is his son's soul on the line, but he himself has an even more personal stake in the twisted events going on, one that casts him in an entirely new light as it is unveiled. Lin Shaye as the psychic investigator Elise is always a magnetic presence, being just hammy enough to make her role stand out without becoming a joke. Contrary to what the poster suggests, little Dalton (played by Ty Simpkins), while playing a large role in the film, doesn't actually have a lot of screen time himself, spending most of his time bedridden in a coma. However, he avoids being an annoying brat in the screen time he does get, as do the other child actors, which is probably the best one could hope for.
Score: 5 out of 5
Holy shit was this movie scary. Not only that, but it's well-written and amazingly well-directed, proving that Saw certainly won't be the last we see of James Wan and Leigh Whannell. The only complaint I have is this: how the hell are they gonna pull off a sequel?