Review: Insidious

Posted: March 31, 2011 in Film Reviews
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A monster from InsidiousThere hasn’t been a good, true haunting flick in a while. Most recent releases have been rehashes of ‘70s and ‘80s films, which leave little room for surprise. The genre has been longing for an injection of originality and it’s finally received a healthy dose. When it was announced the creators of Saw, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, were re-teaming AND joining forces with the producers of Paranormal Activity, genre fans were shivering with anticipation. The consequence of this union is far from disappointing. The film’s telling title is Insidious, which is a word used rarely but never more aptly.

The film follows parents Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Patrick Wilson) as they move their family into an old house. But soon after they begin this new chapter of their lives, their son Dalton has an accident and lapses into a coma. His devoted mother tends to him at home, but late-night disruptions and sightings of shadowy apparitions become too much for the couple to handle and their relationship begins to fracture. Nonetheless, they must work together to battle forces that are both implausible and powerful to save their son and the future of their family.

Wan refers to the film as “this generation’s Poltergeist.” It surely rests on many of the same conventions: a house that once promised hope and happiness becomes heavy with anguish and fear. The introduction of a paranormal specialist (Lin Shaye) to help deal with the problem is another link to the 1982 picture. However, the Aussie filmmakers do make the story their own by changing the threat to the boy to something quite original. In addition, the physical manifestation of the fiends adds another level to the tale. The monstrous child and family frozen in time are particularly creepy; it’s somewhat reminiscent of the horror thriller Carnival of Souls. Moreover, you’ll never again think happy thoughts when you hear the once innocent song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

When developing the story, Whannell says he had a set of rules related to common practices within the genre that he did not want to repeat. These items included no fake scares and if you believe the house is haunted, you should move. To that extent, the first house is fittingly ominous looking while the second is very normal, indicating their troubles run deeper than the foundation. Moreover, the promise of no false frights means that every scary moment is intense and genuine. This factor had me on the edge of my seat for most of the film.

The levity enters the film when Shaye and her two assistants (Whannell and Angus Sampson) enter the narrative. The men are complete opposites, constantly undermining one another, which results in consistent comedic moments. Further humour is supplied by the strange gadgets the team employ, including a measuring device straight out of Ghostbusters and a modified gas mask.

The film reunited Little Children star Wilson with his younger co-star Ty Simpkins. At TIFF, Simpkins was not allowed to watch the film, but said the fear felt on set helped him get into character during filming. By the looks of the demons, it’s not surprising his performance was so sincere. Byrne is fantastic as a mother battling to protect her family from an unknown and unbelievable threat while struggling to keep her marriage together.

Even on second viewing, Insidious remains intense from the first sighting to the terror-ific finale. Some minor changes were made to the print after its appearance at TIFF 2010, but all the fundamentals remain in place.

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