"Insidious" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
James Wan had already proved himself as a successful horror director with his 2004 slasher, "Saw", which followed two men being tortured by a man who forces them to dismember themselves to survive. Ever since that film was released, he was regarded as the one to watch in the horror genre. Years later, in 2010, he decided to try his hand in the haunted house sub-genre with his film "Insidious", taking inspiration off the numerous films about a haunting that occurs around a family. However, even though there are some frightening moments and great scenes at times, this movie seems more like a rip-off of Spielberg's "Poltergeist" more than anything.
The plot revolves around the Lambert family, who have just moved into a new house in a nice neighborhood. Josh (Patrick Wilson) is a high school teacher, while his wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), is a stay-at-home wife that looks after their three kids, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), Foster (Andrew Astor), and newborn Cali. Things are fine at first, until Dalton unexplainably falls into a coma, with no way to wake him.
After he falls into the coma, strange things start happening around the house. Spirits and demonic presences are haunting the family, trying to use Dalton's body as a vessel. When they move out of the house and find that the ghostly demons have followed them to their next house, they call in the help of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), and her two employees, Specs (played by co-writer Leigh Whannel) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). What none of them expect is to find that these presences are not haunting the house, but rather an individual in the family. It is now up to the family, and these paranormal experts, to put a stop to this demonic presence once and for all.
The best thing about this movie is the terror it strikes in the viewer. People have considered this one of the scariest movies ever made due to the unexpected jump scares and terrifying imagery the movie provokes. I agree that the jump scares are quite unsettling and come out of no where, but I don't think that factor is what makes the movie so terrifying. Wan shows how he is able to hide things in the viewer's peripheral vision, making them feel like something is watching them throughout the entire runtime. Consider the scene before we see the kid dancing eerily to Tiny Tim's already creepy song, "Tiptoe Through the Tulips". Renai walks through the house, and in a blink and you'll miss it moment, the little boy is standing there, facing the wall. It strikes fear in the heart of the viewer, and makes them feel like there's things around them that they just can't see. If anything, I would say this is one of the best uses of terrifying imagery in modern horror films.
However, this movie seemed like it was made for the sole purpose of terrifying the audience so much that they forget there is a real plot at hand. For the first two thirds, the story is cohesive and does a great job of building that suspense and terror. Yet, at the same time, it is so hard to get past the fact that it follows the same plot beats as "Poltergeist" did many years ago. From the haunting of the house to the paranormal experts coming in to the scenes where the family members are in the ghost dimensions (which they call "The Further"), it follows all the same plot lines and moments that Spielberg's film did.
Yet, when we get to the final act, it completely blows the horror aspect out of the water. From showing a demon-looking figure sharpening his claws to the sudden and unneeded sound effects, it feels like the movie turned more into a parody or comedy rather than a horror movie. They took all of the buildup they carefully crafted and ruin it for this so-called epic finale they wanted to pull off. However, Wan pulls off another shocking twist and special treat for the viewers at the end that I think was very-well done and served as a great conclusion for the ending. It definitely was very unexpected for the final scene, and does serve as a great plot twist in modern horror.
The performances from the actors are decent. There is nothing special about the performances, but they're also not awful at the same time. At times, it seems borderline parody material, but that is nothing against the actors and rather the dialogue they are forced to give from the script. I think they possibly spent too much time on the characters and setting them up that it took away from the mystery and suspense surrounding the house and the family.
This movie definitely has its crippling flaws, but for a popcorn flick that is solely meant to scare and entertain audiences, it does its job very well. Wan would go on to make great horror films like "The Conjuring" after the release of this film, but I think this is a good stepping stone for him to get into the haunted house genre of filmmaking.
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