Finally, a scary movie that earns its scares as much as it delivers them.
**** ½ out of 5
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language.
Article first published as Movie Review: Insidious (2011) on Blogcritics.
To review, or not to review, that was my question. I did not take my notepad to sit down and watch the new horror film “Insidious,” from the creators of “Saw,” director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. All I wanted was to sit back and let the film try its best to scare me. What myself and my other three cohorts got was way more than we anticipated for a change. Most horror movies rely on gimmicks and shock content and rarely wield the power of weird, but when it comes to this film, Wan and Whannell throw just about every trick up on the screen and just about every last one of them stick.
In “Insidious” we meet Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne). They have just moved into a new house with a baby and their two boys, Dalton and Foster (Ty Simpkins and Andrew Astor). One morning Dalton and Renai are flipping through a picture album and Dalton asks his mother why there aren’t any photos of his father from when he was a boy. Renai looks as if she’s never thought about it before but shrugs it off to the fact that Josh is both camera-shy and horrible at holding onto memorabilia.
Josh teaches while Renai stays at home putting the house together and writing songs. Before you can say “Poltergeist,” books start moving themselves, strange voices are being picked up on the baby monitor, and both Dalton and Renai have spooky occurrences up in the old dusty attic. Dalton falls off a ladder and hits his head but seems okay, but the next morning he seems to have fallen into a coma. The doctors cannot explain what is wrong. Three months later they move Dalton home and it’s not too long before the spirits return to terrorize poor Renai as they seem to want nothing to do with the rest of the family. Or so we think.
Soon enough, Renai forces Josh into moving them all again into yet another house. But just when you think everyone’s safe, things take a turn for the worse and the malevolence reaches a fever pitch. It’s here when Renai tells Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), about what’s going on as Josh of course doesn’t believe her (even after “something” leaves a bloody handprint on Dalton’s bedsheets). Lorraine suggests bringing in some paranormal investigators, Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Whannell), to check things out who immediately call in their true expertise Elise (genre vet Lin Shaye). She informs them that their son is not in a coma but is an astral projector and has gotten lost in what she calls “the furthering.” Also, Dalton is on the verge of being possessed and must be saved before it’s too late.
Both Wan and Whannell have come a long way from their “Saw” heyday and totally recover from their “Death Sentence” remake misstep. While they may have now seen their “Saw” franchise completely run into the ground, I seriously hope this doesn’t turn into yet anoter new franchise as well. It works perfectly as a standalone and there’s no way they could one-up themselves with a sequel. Let alone the fact that the ending closes the book on pretty much anything else you could add to the story. But that’s a very good thing. What Wan has crafted here is one of the scariest boo-fests in years. Yes, “Drag Me to Hell” was an insanely freaky film, but that had a huge course of humor running through its veins to keep things from getting too scary.
And while that film had about 30 times this one’s budget, it’s flat out amazing what Wan and Whannell have been able to wring out of a measly $1.5 million budget. Already making back ten times that amount already, this is the perfect kind of fare we genre fans truly deserve come October. But alas, now we have the dreaded “Paranormal Activity” franchise to “look forward to.”
The cast give their all with Byrne playing the helpless, heartbroken, scared shitless mother to a T and Wilson finally gives a real performance without looking bored throughout the proceedings as he usually does. Maybe the father figure is what he’s meant to play. In the end, the movie has simply one agenda and that’s working overtime in the BOO! department and “Insidious” plays out like “Poltergeist” and “Drag Me to Hell” giving the “Parnormal Activities” the old Chinese finger trap. It’s seriously that good.
Photos courtesy FilmDistrict