Leigh Whannell and James Wan, the writing-directing team behind Saw, are reuniting for the first time since the 2007 ghost story Dead Silence for another supernatural tale -- Insidious -- that feels like a natural progression away from the gritty real-world setting of Saw.
Schoolteacher Joshua (Patrick Wilson) and his stay-at-home wife Renai (Rose Byrn) have just moved into a roomy suburban house with their three young children when tragedy strikes: oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) suddenly lapses into a coma while sleeping. The doctors are at a loss to explain it, and after several months in the hospital, they bring the boy home.
While Joshua is at work, Renai begins to notice strange occurrences around the house: objects move from where she left them, voices seem to emanate from nowhere and she can't shake the feeling that she's being watched. When she starts to see actual figures lurking in (and out of) the shadows, she becomes convinced that the house is haunted. Although Joshua is skeptical, he agrees to move, but when the ominous entities follow them to their new home, the family begins to wonder if it's not the house that's haunted but rather their son.
The End Result
One way to judge whether or not a movie is truly scary is by using what I call the "midnight snack test." After viewing it, when you wake up in the middle of the night, are you apprehensive to leave the safety of your bed? In the case of Insidious, the answer for me was a resounding "yes."
The ability to invoke terror in modern audiences desensitized to all manner of violence and shock tactics is a rare talent, and the Wan-Whannell team deftly pulls it off, utilizing sound effects, music, slick character design and crafty misdirection to build a sense of foreboding that runs throughout the film. Insidious oozes dread rather than relying on just a few lazily tacked-on jump scares. The jump-out-of-your-skin moments are there, to be sure, but they don't have to fend for themselves to generate the creepy atmosphere.
Wan and Whannell do all of this without resorting to gratuitous gore, earning -- to the chagrin of many horror fans -- a PG-13 rating. Genre purists, though, should note that it doesn't feel like an R-rated film that's been stunted for mass appeal. The scares remain intense, and the content is natural, playing very much like an homage to another non-R-rated ghost pic: Poltergeist.
Insidious isn't without its faults -- it starts slowly, the musical cues can be a bit obnoxious and the climax isn't as powerful as it should be -- but thanks to exquisite execution of a frightening script that takes the haunted house genre to the next level, it captures the unnerving sense that the ghostly things you think you see out of the corner of your eye are in fact real.
- Acting: B (Solid all around, but Lin Shaye steals the show as the "Zelda Rubenstein" psychic called in to help.)
- Direction: A (Wan generates palpable scares with well-designed set pieces.)
- Script: B (A bold unofficial reimagining of Poltergeist.)
- Gore/Effects: B (Limited need for gore but utilizes strong makeup effects and inventive character design.)
- Overall: A- (The scariest haunted house pic since Paranormal Activity.)
Insidious is directed by James Wan and is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language. Release date: April 1, 2011.
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