BBFC Classification: 15
Director: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Barbara Hershey
When a film boasts that it is “from the people that brought you Paranormal Activity and Saw” it’s quite difficult to know what exactly you’re going to get. On the one hand it could be a dull, handheld camera movie that thinks it is better than it actually is or a torture porn gorefest with little substance. If either of those scenarios fills you with dread then don’t panic (too much) as Insidious is neither of those things.
The story revolves around Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson – The A-Team), his wife Renai (Rose Byrne – 28 Weeks Later) and their three young children. Their idyllic life is thrown into disarray when their eldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) bumps his head after falling off a ladder and seemingly slips into a coma the following day. After being told by doctors that he has suffered no brain damage and there is no credible reason for him to be in that state the Lamberts have to carry on their lives, resigned to the fact that there is nothing that can be done. After three months the family bring Dalton back home so they can tend to him there but that is the beginning of their problems.
After several instances where Renai spies strange people in the house, a bloody handprint appears on Dalton’s bedsheets. After convincing Josh that somebody else is in the house, the family move out. It wouldn’t be a horror film if that solved everything though; whoever is trying to scare them follows them and, after some intervention from Josh’s Mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey – The Entity), the family call in a team of investigators, led by Elise (Lin Shaye – 2001 Maniacs) and Specs (Leigh Whannell – Saw), who reveal that it isn’t their house that is haunted but rather Dalton himself.
Let’s start with what’s good about this film. First of all, the combination of creepy imagery and jump scares is probably the most effective that there has been in horror for quite some time. In a gripping scene where Lorraine tells the family of a dream she has had, the use of shadow to show the demons is really quite terrifying (if cheekily lifted from A Nightmare on Elm Street), as is the moment when you first realise (along with Renai) that somebody else is there. It’s classic horror advice to not show the monster, which works really well for the first act of the film and, along with the pretty convincing performances and tight script, the film does its job in making you root for the family.
However, it does tend to unravel a bit as we get to deeper into the second act. The filmmakers make the error of showing us the demon that is terrorizing Dalton and it isn’t good. Unfortunately someone decided to give the demon a bright red face and the ability to crawl along walls so it looks like Lambert is being chased by Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace. Couple that with the image of the ghostly old woman that haunts Josh – who looks like one of the campy monsters from the Thirteen Ghosts remake from a few years back – and it starts to resemble a live action Scooby-Doo adventure.
Also, there are certain things that happen throughout the remainder of the film that immediately bring to mind other films – the family unit being the strength and the cynical father come straight out of Poltergeist 2, the scene where Josh is trying to get back to his family but is being surrounded by ghosts is reminiscent of the dream sequence from Corman’s The Fall of the House of Usher, the appearance and disappearance of certain ghosts brings to mind The Shining, whilst the spectre (ahem!) of The Amityville Horror (both original and remake) hangs heavy over a lot of the films direction.
But does all of that make Insidious a bad film? No, not really. Yes, the dodgy ghost make-up and Scooby-Doo ending do take you out of the moment after the material was so well served during the first act, but it is still entertaining – just not in the same way as it was when the film started. The performances are all good – seeing Lin Shaye in a film is always a good thing, especially when it’s a major role – and it is a well intentioned scary movie that does, for once, have a few genuine shock moments. There isn’t really anything here that you haven’t seen before if you’ve seen any of the previously mentioned movies but what is original these days? If you fancy an entertaining film with a few genuine scares then it does the job, at least for a while.
Special Features: Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar featurette, On Set with Insidious featurette, Insidious Entities featurette, trailer.
UK Release Date: 12th September 2011