(15) Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: James Wan
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish, official HCF critic
Insidious arrives in a flurry of hype and is fast becoming the most talked about horror film of the year. Already profits are so high it is expected to be the biggest money making film of the year. Made on a shoestring budget of just $1 million, after just a few weeks in US cinemas, the film had already made over $45 million, and with the film only just released in UK cinemas, and still not released in South America or the rest of the world, by the end of its run, Insidious is expected to make a very respectful $150 million. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell were the guys responsible for creating the Saw franchise, and here they have created another genuine masterpiece, but using a completely different concept to the torture-porn genre they helped kick-start. People have spoke of Insidious as the scariest film to come along in years, while others claim it is complete tosh. Seeing the trailer, I hoped it would fall into the scariest film of the year category, and I will admit that expectations were very high when I watched this and I was in no way disappointed with what I had to endure. Insidious, in all honesty, is quite possibly the scariest, most unrelenting experience I have sat through in many years. If you buy into the idea and get caught up in the film, then trust me, you are in for a very scary one hour and forty odd minutes, and you just might struggle to sleep at night!
The word Insidious means to be beguiling or harmful, intended to entrap or to spread in a hidden and injurious way and this should give you a clear indication that this haunted house movie will be taking no prisoners. A family have recently moved in to a new home, a lovely house with plenty of space for the kids to explore. Loving parents Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) are excited, and with their two sons Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor) and new born baby, the family couldn’t be happier. The relationship in this family is strong, and the way they all get along and clearly care for each other make the events which follow all the more disturbing. You instantly warm to this family, but director Wan wastes no time in destroying this happy place. After some truly inspiring opening credits with a superb use of freakish music and a spooky design for showing the film’s title, we move into the story. Looking around the house, Dalton goes up into the attic while the family laugh and enjoy themselves downstairs. With no lights on in the attic, Dalton begins to panic and climbs a wooden ladder to reach the light switch. It is here we realise that Wan and Whannell have created something which is very rare in horror these days, a horror that plays on our most basic fears, predominantly of the dark. Everyone has been in a situation where you thought you saw something move in a dark corner and you cannot get to a light switch quick enough, but fear of what you might see when you turn it on begins to consume you. This happens to Dalton, and when part of the ladder breaks, he falls and lands on his back, paralysed with fear over what he thinks he saw. He lets out the most horrific scream and suddenly the parents rush to his aid. Something happened up there in the attic, are you getting scared yet?
That night Dalton slips into a sort of coma-like state known as The Further and Josh panics when his son does not wake up. Rushed to hospital, it could be weeks, even months before he comes out of this state. He is taken home, but something has come back with him from The Further, something terrible and now the film really kicks into gear and a relentless onslaught of one carefully crafted scare after another just keep on coming to the point where you feel like you can take no more. A moment that reminded me of childhood fears was when Dalton’s brother Foster begins to panic at the sight of his brother lying in bed in the room across from him. With his bed facing Dalton’s, he starts to feel Dalton is watching him and one night he can take no more and closes his bedroom door, and you just know when he opens it again you will see something which will scare the living shit out of you. Wan is a master at creating jump moments that really pay off. The usual rule of build up to scare, then nothing then scare is right out the window here, this film plays by the rule of build up, scare then scare again! In one of the most frightening moments in the film, Renai starts to hear strange noises on the baby intercom, if is not easy to make out but it sounds like someone is talking to the baby, a man’s voice but Josh is at work where he teaches. As you listen more carefully and concentrate and try and figure out what is being said, it begins to get ever so slightly louder before the voice bellows out something in a horrific, demonic voice that is guaranteed to scare you senseless. Just writing this now is giving me the shivers and I am slightly nervous at looking over my shoulder to check there is nothing here at home with me!
One more freaky turn of events involving bizarre and disturbing shadows of people walking around outside the house and a climax that both scares and intimidates, the family decide enough is enough and leave. They move into a rented home, but whatever demonic spirits were in the house have followed them. Ghost hunters are called in, and writer Leigh Whannell plays one half of the team of nerdy scientists who bring some gentle comic relief to the film. Normally I hate comedy in horror unless the entire film is a comedy, however, Insidious needs that little lift and it works just right. Also called in is Elise Rainier, a woman who can talk to spirits and hopefully get them to leave. Josh doesn’t agree at first but it does not take much to convince him. Prepare yourself for an ending that takes you right into the heart of fear itself and does not come up for air or any comic relief. Some have said the ending becomes silly, unbelievable, but I think it is a perfect way to end the film. I won’t give anything away, but if you go with it I think you’ll be both amazed and scared shitless! Insidious has everything you could ever want from a haunted house or, as we later find out, haunted child movie. See, it is Dalton who is haunted as we soon find out and the family want to do everything they can to save their boy. Wan continues to make you jump and come close to literally pissing your pants as the movie goes on. I was worried that so many scares would have become watered down after a while, but Wan so cleverly sets them up, with many coming right out of nowhere, like when you first catch a glimpse of one of the Demons, an incredibly close look-a-like to Darth Maul of Star Wars, but don’t let that put you off for this Demon is 100% evil and 100% terrifying.
It is a joy to say that Insidious really is THAT scary, and Wan just goes for everything he can think of to scare and shock you and the film goes to places many horrors are scared to go these days. This film is the first horror in a long long time that actually had me tucking in my arms and legs as close to me as possible for fear of something touching them, yes it really is that unsettling. Whether the film will work as an actual film is another matter as first time viewing you are some damned petrified you don’t have a lot of time to pay much attention to acting skills, plot or set up. On first viewing you simply have no choice but to just go along with it, hide if necessary and scream when you are supposed to. Wan has his audience in the palm of his hand here, and he can quite literally do what the Hell he wants with us as we are far too paralysed with fear to think of anything else. You will be glued to your seat, and quite possibly have your hands glued to your shivering face. Insidious is by far the best scare-fest I have seen in years and a film I will need to take some time out before watching again.