To say that Insidious will scare the crap out of you only seems to take away from what the movie really is. There are some great scares in the film but it offers so much more. The film delivers characters who actually use logic, a very creepy atmosphere, insane amounts of tension, some seriously funny moments and makes a seemingly normal song become something that will haunt you forever.
This movie is much more than just a series of scares and reducing Insidious to the lowest point of 'It made me crap my pants' seems like a waste. It's not very often that we get a horror film where characters actually do things that make sense or where we're not treated to a bunch of fake scares. Leigh Whannell and James Wan have crafted a horror film for horror fans and they do it without spilling one drop of blood.
The premise is simple enough. Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) are the parents of three young children. They have just moved into a new home when their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls and hits his head. He seems to be alright at first but the next morning they can't wake him up. The doctors say that there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with him but he's still in a coma. Months pass by and suddenly strange things start going on in their house. They quickly decide to move but Renai continues to see figures and hear voices. The family learns that Dalton's spirit is trapped in a realm called The Further and that evil spirits are attempting to take over his body.
It doesn't take very long in the film for the family to do something that very few would do in a ghost movie. They move out of the freaking house! Genius! A few weird things happen and they're out of there. It was refreshing to see characters that actually do something that anyone else would do. I see a strange ghost in my house and it seems pissed off at me, you better believe that I'm moving out of that place. Even though the ideas of the plot are so unbelievable, at least everyone does what a regular person would do if they actually found themselves in the situation. It was also nice to see that the scares in the film aren't where you would expect them to be, at least not all of the time. There are still those moments that you can see coming a mile away but never is a scare cheap. Wan and Whannell pointed out after the screening that they hate when you get faked out in a film. The hand on the shoulder with the shrieking music only to find that it's just a friend of the character in the movie and not the psychotic villain. If there's a scare in Insidious you can bet it's from something that you should be afraid of.
The ghosts in the movie are also very well done. They seem very familiar in terms of the style that James Wan has but some of them are unlike anything I've seen before. None of them are over the top in any way although the main demon of the film walks the borderline. What strikes me as both funny and skin crawlingly creepy is the theme music for that same demon. It's not something you would expect but it totally fits the character. It also means I can never listen to that song again and think of it the same way. That's another great piece of the puzzle, the music. It's this very weird blend of violin strikes and a broken down piano. It's all very unsettling and only adds to the kind of shiver the entire film will give you.
Where the movie lost me a little is the story. There was a very lame plot twist towards the end that I saw coming. It works in terms of the film, and I'm still trying to think of a better resolution, but it still had me rolling my eyes a little. It took me a little bit to accept it after thinking 'Aww, c'mon, really.' It didn't ruin anything but I still feel it was a little corny. The characters also seem a little underdeveloped as well. They almost seem as if they're there to simply serve the purpose of the film. I didn't really care much for them or their struggle and this might have to do with the fact that the movie pretty much just jumps right into the haunted end of the pool. It wasn't very long into the movie that the creepy stuff kicks in so we're not given a lot of time to get to know anybody.
In terms of characters, it was Lin Shaye as the psychic Elise Reiner and her ghost hunting partners Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) that stole the show. Specs and Tucker are a couple of tech nerds who bring tons of laughs to the film with their explanations of their equipment and the way they seem to always try and one-up each other. In a film where the tension is continually mounting, it's these two characters that give us a second to breathe before everything kicks in again. Shaye as Elise delivers another dose of the odd and creepy and is one of the reasons that the film reminded me of Poltergeist. She has a Zelda Rubenstein kinda vibe to her and the entire film owes a lot more to Poltergeist than it does to Paranormal Activity.
The film is very good. It didn't quite scare me the way I was hoping but that may be something that just doesn't happen a lot anymore. The fact that it doesn't deliver the usual types of ideas and scares that the horror genre pumps out now is what really makes it stand out. The ending leaves a very big opening that I hope is never filled. I'm sure people will be screaming for more after this one and even I can't help but want to see what happens next. Hopefully Wan and Whannell will leave it at that though and let the movie become one of those classic haunted house tales.
HorrorBid columnist: "Canadian" Will