It’s not the house that’s haunted.
Insidious is one of those odd horror films that seemingly does a lot wrong, but manages to still be pretty good. This haunted house/astral projection/possession/mashup of all the clichés you can think of pulls it off surprisingly well. Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) take the lead in this odd movie. Their son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into what appears to be a medical coma, but there is no medical explanation. After this a series of scary events begin to occur around their homes.
I have heard folks call Insidious a masterpiece, and I think that is a bit of a stretch. Viewing the film in home is significantly different than seeing it on opening night. The tension in the audience (which was packed) made this a pretty intense viewing experience in theater. In a lot of ways, I think this film can only be truly appreciated in a group. The kind of classical form the film is shot in lends itself to drive-in theaters of yesteryear.
The film brings on the jump scares in ample serving without ever feeling too cheap about it. Further, the plot and mystery remains nebulous enough that the filmmakers can keep throwing curveballs at the audience to keep the whole thing oddly fresh. The excellent Lin Shaye plays a psychic named Elise, who delivers the corniest and weirdest lines with a straight face. Here seriousness juxtaposed with the strange scenes makes the film have a truly unique vibe. There is an awful lot of humor in this movie, but it comes through the characters being serious in an insane situation.
Specs (Leigh Wannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) add a lot of humor and quirkiness to their roles supporting Elise through technical wizardry and drawing (it makes sense in the movie… kind of). I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with these two. They are better in the sequels, and here it seems they weren’t sure how far they could go with their characters. This is a small gripe, but the film plays with genre through the characters in some cool ways.
So, the most important question remains: is the film scary? Yes, and no. There are some high quality jump scares, and the film does a good job stacking them in a way that keeps you on edge without bashing you over the head with them. However, there isn’t the type of fear that will get deep under your skin that I think the best horror movies can. This is more like a rollercoaster in that it provides a lot of fun scare-thrills without a lot of substance behind them. This type of scare is the film’s greatest asset, and its inevitable downfall.
As the film progresses the spectacle gets ramped up to 11 (yes that is a Spinal Tap reference). Once the themes of astral projection come into play the film goes a bit off the rails. Honestly, it holds it together until the Darth Maul lookalike demon really comes into play. The creature is scary when you don’t see him directly. The film should have kept him veiled a bit more to keep the sense of mystery about. Once he comes into full view it becomes a bit laughable, which is a bummer because it undermines the creep the rest of the film had built up.
Wilson and Byrne add a lot to this movie. Having good actors playing believable people is something that makes a difference in horror movies. The characters are a lot of fun, and the fun-ness aspect of the film is what marks it as a good movie. It isn’t perfect, but I think horror aficionados and newcomers will find a decent amount to enjoy here. However, I think it is important to know that you are going into a bit more of a postmodern-themed horror in that it shuffles genres a lot. People I know who went in expecting a more traditional horror film did not like it as much. Go in looking to have some fun. 7/10