Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins
It almost seems shocking that this decidedly non-gory, non-violent almost retro style horror flick would come from the minds of James Wan and Leigh Wannell, who together created Saw.
Because Wan and Wannell created Saw, it should not be surprising that the two know how to construct a film that is downright scary. While the entire Saw series dissolved into not much more than torture porn, it started out as an ingenious and psychologically frightening flick that graphically played upon our most innate fears. As you may or may not recall, I loved the first Saw film yet increasingly shook my head in dismay as the annual Halloween tradition imploded.
There's nothing particularly graphic about Insidious, A PG-13 rated flick that centers far more around old school thrills and chills and almost completely avoids unnecessary violence to do so. In fact, if Insidious hadn't taken one dramatically unnecessary detour that jarringly shifts the film's tone we could very well have been looking at this critic's first "A" range film in quite some time.
However, one bad choice isn't nearly enough to derail what should serve as solid proof of James Wan's directorial cred. It can be hard to weave through blood and guts to discern the filmmaker inside, but Wan is most definitely the real deal and Insidious removes any doubt that he's simply a novelty director or gorehound. It's not necessarily that either choice is "bad," per se, but Wan's ability to convince both with and without excessive violence should silence at least some of his critics.
Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) have moved into a new home after vaguely referenced problems at a prior dwelling, their two young sons in tow. Renai writes music and cares for the boys, but quickly problems again begin to reveal themselves and their oldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), is creeped out. When Dalton takes a tumble and ends up in a coma-like state that doctors can't seem to explain, things begin to take an ever-increasing turn for the worse and the infinitely creepier.
Eventually, everything is creepy enough that the family again moves to another house.
Everything starts again.
Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) sides with Renai, while Josh himself remains on the fence. Lorraine brings in a sort of ghost hunting friend (Lin Shaye), whose two assistants (screenwriter Leigh Wannell and Angus Sampson) provide the film its moments of comic relief.
This is where the film takes an unnecessary otherworldly detour, but fortunately Wan and Wannell turn things around after a short bit and we get back to the more humane horrific matters at hand.
Produced by Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli, Insidious serves up what may be the best of both worlds with a little bit of Poltergeist tossed in for good measure. While the film's PG-13 rating will likely, well, frighten away many horror hounds, true horror fans will celebrate Wan's ability to weave together 60's style horror with all its subtlety into the haunted house sub-genre.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are terrific as the freaked out couple, but Lin Shaye practically steals the show with a beautiful mix of cornball seriousness as a ghost hunter who begins to unravel the mystery long after most audience members will have figured out this sucker.
Of course, this does bring up one major pet peeve and that would be the ridiculous choice basically give it all away in the film's trailer, which is simultaneously a wondrous tease yet far too revelatory for a film that is fairly simplistic anyway. Apparently, while Wan has mastered subtlety his marketing team has not.
Incorporating everything from an eerie "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" to a hide-and-seek demon that may seem eerily familiar, Insidious is old school horror in the best sense of the word and predictable in a way that doesn't irritate but feels strangely comfortable and refreshing.
Tech credits are solid throughout, with special kudos for Joseph Bishara's screeching original score and the dim, shady production design of Aaron Sims.
While Insidious may mark anything new in the horror genre, what it does it does with enough thrills, chills and laughs to make it easily worth a view for connoisseurs of all things horror. While gore hounds will no doubt be disappointed, old school psychological horror fans will marvel at Wan's ability to scare the crap out of us with no limbs lost.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic