Director: James Wan
‘I went into Dalton’s room. There was something in there with him. It was standing in the corner.’
When the Lambert family move into their new home, their son Dalton falls into an unexplained coma. Soon after a series of strange occurrences force the family to flee, believing the house to be haunted. However, they soon discover that the malevolent forces attacking them are not connected to the house at all.
The poster for Insidious reads ‘from the makers of Paranormal Activity and Saw‘, which is a little like claiming to be from the makers of Star Wars and 2010: A Space Odyssey, so different are they. However, despite the connection to Saw being more direct, with the same writer and director as the first (and only decent) instalment in that series, Insidious sits much more in the supernatural arena of producer Oran Peli’s runaway haunted house hit.
Any genuine horror movie buff knows that sitting down to watch an American-made horror is an activity invariably undertaken with a sense of exhausted pessimism. The odds are high that the quality will be low, so Insidious marks a most welcome spark of life for the genre. Like Poltergeist without the schmaltz, Insidious is by no means original but it does what it sets out to do with an unusual amount of success. For the most part, anyway.
Like all good haunted house movies, Insidious starts off slow, building tension and throwing in the occasional scare before the story picks up and takes off. It is within these first two acts that Insidious is at its best, with James Wan delivering an effectively spooky atmosphere as well as some genuinely chilling moments. Clearly, Wan knows his horror movies and understands how to move his camera to build expectation and make you believe that something horrible is about to happen. However, there are enough pay-offs, including a great face-in-the-window scene and a look-behind-you moment that makes the blood run cold, to prevent you ever feeling cheated.
The cast, not quite A-list but certainly of a higher calibre than most horror movies get lumbered with, all carry themselves with suitable conviction and earnestness, most especially the excellent Lin Shaye as the regulation eccentric psychic brought in to solve the supernatural problem. With a gas mask, of all things. And a horror movie soundtrack hasn’t made such an effective use of head-splitting strings since Janet Leigh decided to hose down in Psycho.
Unfortunately, Insidious does let itself down a little with an overblown third act. Having managed to spend the last hour staying just the right side of silly, the movie goes for broke with mixed results. Making the mistake of over-exposing a threat that had been wisely used sparingly up until that point, Insidious loses some of its ability to scare. It resorts to an unnecessary ‘throw-everything-in-and-hope-it-works’ approach which has as many misses as it has hits. But at least it has hits.
All in all, Insidious is definitely one of the better horror movies to emerge from Hollywood in the last few years, further marking out writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan as talents worth following in a genre which is screaming out for just such a thing, and serving as suitable compensation for starting the dreadful Saw franchise.