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Netflix Review: Insidious
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InsidiousInsidious
Netflix Streaming
DVD | Blu-Ray
Directed by James Wan
Written by Leigh Whannell
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Andrew Astor, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
FilmDistrict
Originally Released: April 1, 2011

The creative team behind Insidious, Leigh Whannell and James Wan (from my home country Australia), has done it again in the horror genre with a new take on some traditional ghost stories and horror plot devices. With a solid plot, some convincing performances from a great cast, and fantastic lighting and camera work, Insidious stands up as not only a decent firm horror movie, but as a nightmare personified.

I became a fan of Whannell’s and Wan’s work when they released the first Saw movie in 2004. While some are divided on the quality of that specific film, I’ve continuously been a fan, and their original concept stands above all of the sequels that followed. While they have worked together on some other movies such as Dead Silence and Death Sentence since that time, they have not truly captivated an audience with that bottled lightning that was Saw since then.

That is, until now.

While Saw was a new take on the horror genre at the time, Insidious is a love letter to the classic ghost story – those great spooky and creepy movies we regard as classics, such as The Exorcist and Poltergeist, are unmistakable influences here, as well as some much older films.

But as Insidious does indeed pay tribute to well-known ghost stories, this is a haunted film you’ve never seen before. This idea is placed somewhere in between your traditional haunting film, and a full-on possession/exorcism film; an area that, to my knowledge, has never really been explored before. And the result is riveting.

The tale begins focusing on a family relocating into a new house (stock standard horror story thus far, right?). Married couple Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) with their three children are settling into a new life, while Renai focuses in on her musical talents as a potential career path. Initial spooks are set up with a few moved items, and one of the kids saying they’re a little scared of the house, which is standard fare.

But as the movie progresses, son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) decides to investigate the attic. After a knock on the head, his parents check on him, make sure he’s okay, and put him to bed. But the next morning, he does not wake. Dalton enters a coma, in a condition leaving doctors baffled and confused. Eventually he moves back for home care, leaving the family depressed and pessimistic about their future after such an extensive change and such a giant unexplained tragedy.

It’s at this point where things become much more than a bump in the night. And at the same time, this is also the moment where Wan and Whannell commence (gradually) swerving away from your traditional, and predictable, horror film. The family begins making changes, including a move to a new home – all of which are futile efforts. The situations worsen, as do the hauntings, and their possibilities keep running out.

Insidious

The writing in this movie is sturdy and compact, but some characters (such as Dalton’s brother Foster Lambert portrayed by Andrew Astor) are incredibly wasted in the film. In the beginning, they appear to be part of the family, but do not have any more significance in the rest of the tale. Some of the time devoted to these moments, may have been better reserved somewhere else on other concepts later explored.

However, the plot elements and devices, particular those surrounding Patrick Wilson’s character and his backstory, are wonderfully woven into the film as the story moves forward. Some of his scenes and suggestions to his past or his outlook are placed here-and-there (sometimes confusingly) in moments, but all of which come to a point and a head and are eventually explained – and become a significant aspect of specific instants towards the end of the film. This includes the mini-scene at the very beginning of the film before the opening credits, though it’s crafted so well in an abstract manner that the viewer doesn’t think back to it up until specific moments towards the conclusion. These morsels or hints, without giving anything away to spoil it for you, are spread throughout the movie – including some of the still shots that pop up here and there – so perceptive viewers will pick up on them and enjoy this aspect of Insidious.

Most of the performances in the movie are killer as well. Rose Byrne steals the first half of the film, with a lovely and convincing portrayal of a mom slowly driven into depression from the pressures surrounding her and her family. However, Lin Shaye sweeps Byrne off the carpet in the second half, and completely steals the show herself. Her portrayal of supernatural expert Elise Rainer is brilliantly done – it is rarely tacky; she shows some genuine care and empathy for the family, but her expression of fear is exceptionally convincing, with looks in her eyes that sent chills down my backbone.

Insidious

I’ve been a fan of Shaye since her wonderful conservative and oppressive mother role in Detroit Rock City, and I am yet to see a below par performance from her. Her work in Insidious is of no exception to this, and I believe, if truth be told, could be her finest acting accomplishment to date.

Patrick Wilson’s performance gets better as the movie progresses. He begins very beige and as a generic character – almost cookie-cutter… but this is done with good reason. As Insidious moves forward, we’re learning more about his personality, his fears, and his background; all of which are central to the plot. While it probably isn’t his best work, Wilson needs to be commended for his dedication to ensuring his performance served the best elements of the plot – something director James Wan should also be commended for, with regard to their working relationship.

Also, Barbara Hershey shows up partway through the movie, acting as Josh Lambert’s mother. This appearance was a little eye-opening at first, because I can’t recall seeing her in many other films since Beaches way back when – so for a second it took me out of the film. I have to acknowledge though, it was nice seeing her on screen again, and like Wilson, her performance develops in strength as the movie progresses.

Oh, and Leigh Whannell also appears in the movie as Specs; working in tandem with tech geek Tucker (Angus Sampson), who have a good chemistry together and are mildly amusing on screen.

The camera work and lighting in Insidious is brilliant, sometimes done so dark enough that only figures can be made out; but this is done very nicely with great effect. The visual effects are also of an excellent quality, and the design, look, and movement of the demon in this movie is incredibly horrifying and spine-chilling. Seriously, this is the kind of thing that keeps people up at night, it’s that well done. If that doesn’t sell it for you, maybe this will: the demon’s favorite song is “Tip Toe Through The Tulips” by Tiny Tim – that should be enough to terrify the crap out of anyone. Quite literally, this demon is the thing of nightmares, as are the other ghouls and poltergeists (oh, did I not mention there’s more than one tormentor in this movie? Well, there is, and they are all unsettling!).

The musical score for this film is, literally, not really music. Instead, it is a soundscape and cacophony of noise created by an orchestra to add to the effect and intent of the horror movie. Joseph Bishara‘s score for Insidious is (like the movie) a love letter to the horror films of old, where the music mostly accentuated the action of the screen as opposed to simply accompanying it. Some might find this method to be tacky in this modern era, but I loved it immediately: it thoroughly sets the tone for highlighting where the movie’s influences are based, but at the same time embracing the new concept and amplifying those moments that WILL make you jump in your seat.

Insidious

Speaking of which, the scare factor in Insidious is very well done. There are several “jump in your seat” moments, but where Whannell and Wan triumph is giving the audience a feeling of foreboding dread and fear as things progress. It’s the kind of feeling you get where you’re not sure if you really want to see what happens next, and this accelerates as the story reaches its conclusion. Horror fans will enjoy this, and while some may moan about the lack of gore, it’s really not needed in this – it’s a ghost story with a new twist.

The conclusion of this movie is also excellent. I will not give it away because everything ties into the core plot, and the best part about the final moments is actually in the journey of getting there. But it was executed marvelously and almost flawlessly – so much so that I found myself applauding (which is a little depressing when you find out I viewed the film alone – but hey, Insidious is THAT good, man!).

Insidious is excellent, and while it is not perfect, it comes damn close. The effort made by the Wan/Whannell partnership really pays off in this project, and the collaboration between cast and crew is evident in the final piece. I would love to see the pair jump back into the Insidious universe and tell another tale like this; though I dread the results would not be as convincing as this original piece – so instead I will hope for new horror collaborations between the two. I think most Horror fans will like this flick, though some may have issues with the story and plot logic (especially towards the end) – but the payoff is worth it, and I imagine that even the casual viewer will enjoy this one.

But don’t just take my word for it – at the very least, see it for the demon in the movie. He/She/It will give you nightmares…

Overall Rating: 4½ out of 5

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