If I were asked to pick which genre of film divides fans the most, my pick would undoubtedly be the horror genre. It is impossible to make one horror film that appeals to every fanatic: some want the blood and gore that directors like Eli Roth bring, while some prefer the psychological, subtle horror of Alfred Hitchcock, and still others that prefer “jumpy” scares like ones found in Halloween, The Descent, The Grudge, or countless others. One person’s masterpiece in horror cinema is another person’s insipid sludge. The same can obviously be said for all film genres, but the cult, vocal fan base of the horror genre sets it apart from, say, western fans, or the RomCom crowd.
James Wan and Leigh Whannell have made a living splitting horror fans with films like Saw, Paranormal Activity, and Dead Silence. There is no doubt, though, that these two are horror veterans, and they bring hype to any film that bears their names. With Insidious, the pair’s latest offering, director James Wan proves that he still has what it takes to scare the living hell out his viewers.
Insidious follows the Lambert family, whom has just moved into a new home. The patriarch, Josh (Patrick Wilson – Angels in America, Hard Candy, Watchmen), works as a schoolteacher, while the matriarch, Renai (Rose Byrne – 28 Weeks Later, Get Him to the Greek, Damages), stays at home and takes care of their three children while working on a music career. As the family settles in to their new house, Dalton (Ty Simpkins – War of the Worlds, Little Children) wanders up to the attic to explore more of the new home. While climbing up a ladder to turn on a light, a rung breaks and Dalton falls to the ground. When he doesn’t wake up the next morning, Josh and Renai take him to the hospital where he is said to be in a coma, but one unlike any they’ve seen before. Things go from bad to worse when Renai starts seeing inexplicable, horrifying things in the house, all of which seem to be stemming from Dalton’s room.
The story of Insidious starts to unravel and, frankly, becomes dumb by the end of the film, but the scares are good enough that it doesn’t matter. Instead of the typical “jumpy” horror film, where everything scary comes from the darkest part of the shot, Wan expertly manipulates the camera to keep the bad guys coming from virtually every direction. Not knowing when and where the scare will come from builds the tension that a film like Insidious needs, and is enough to keep viewers on his or her toes, or even better, the edge of their seats.
There are moments in the film that, on their own, seem ridiculous for a horror movie; Wan makes these scenes work by relying heavily on the soundtrack. Music has never stood out to me in a Wan film in the past, but Insidious uses its orchestral score beautifully. Whether the soundtrack is highlighting a revelation scene, or helping make a connection to an earlier moment, the music throughout Insidious is effective and evocative.
Patrick Wilson is a brilliant actor, but Insidious is not his best role (though Leigh Whannell is no Tony Kushner). Wilson plays the father figure with ease, and the first half of the film is on par with Wilson’s other roles, but just as the story wavers late in the game, so do the characters. These characters, which the audience has come to like by the halfway point of the film, take a backseat to the inconsequential story that Whannell attempts to weave. Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey (Black Swan, Hannah and Her Sisters), and Leigh Whannell all play supporting roles, and are three of the most memorable characters in the movie. There is no lack of veteran talent in Insidious, and if the characters were given more weight and dimension, Insidious may have been propelled to another level.
James Wan has grown as a filmmaker, and he proves with Insidious that he is one of the best out there at scaring an audience. Hopefully this growth continues because Insidious isn’t perfect. This is absolutely a horror film that relies on quick scares, but there are images that will remain burned in the viewer’s head long after the movie is over. Insidious is for anyone looking to be scared, but nothing more. If nothing else, Insidious is excellent filler until Scream 4 hits theatres in a couple of weeks.
Branden has been a film fan since he was young, roaming the halls of Blockbuster Video, trying to find the grossest, scariest looking VHS covers to rent and watch alone in the basement. It wasn’t until recently, though, that Branden started seeking out the classics of cinema, and began to develop his true passion for the art form. Branden approaches each film with the unique perspective of having studied the art from the inside, having both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in acting. He has been a film critic since 2010, and has previously written for Inside Pulse Movies, We Love Cult, and Diehard Gamefan. His biggest achievement as a film critic, to date, has been founding Cinefessions and turning it from a personal blog to a true film website, housing hundreds of film and television reviews, and dozens of podcasts.