James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the creators of Saw, have teamed up again for Insidious, a thoroughly entertaining horror film. The subject matter has a fairly classic horror feel, as the movie is complete with ghosts, demons, psychics, and paranormal investigators. There are also some obvious frames of reference, mainly Poltergeist and Paranormal Activity. Yet, the movie’s plot is clever enough, and it distances itself from these movies and others to make it worthwhile.
Renai (Rose Byrne), Josh (Patrick Wilson), and their three kids move into a new house. After falling and bumping his head in their new attic, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) slips into a coma. However, the doctors can’t actually find anything wrong with the boy. He is in a comatose state, but it isn’t a traditional coma. Three months later Dalton, still in a coma, is brought back home. Soon strange things start happening in the house, and Renai starts seeing and hearing things. Convinced the house is haunted she insists on moving again. However, whatever was in the other house has followed them to the new house. This leaves them with only the option of facing whatever it is that’s haunting them.
The movie starts off slightly slow and feels a little generic. However, once Dalton falls into a coma, which happens fairly early in the movie, things really start to pick up. A series of small scares in the style of Paranormal Activity occur, building up to the movie’s first real scare of an entity standing in one of the rooms. From here, the scares are frequent and often big. The movie is presented in a serious manner, but there are several moments of delightfully disturbing humor. One such moment involves a creepy little boy and Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Moments like these really showcase Wan and Whannell’s creativity within the genre.
Like Paranormal Activity, the entities present are not tied down to a specific location. No matter where they go, the demons and ghosts follow. Unlike Paranormal, which relied on the viewer’s imagination and low-budget tactics to create scares, this movie uses plenty of effects and presents a pretty good cast of demons and ghosts. The effects are more in line with Poltergeist, a film which Insidious’s plot comes pretty close to mimicking at points. However, the effects are done in a much newer and scarier way, compared to the Spielberg-produced Poltergeist.
Nearly every movie has a voice of “reason” when supernatural events start occurring. Wilson’s portrayal of this role is convincing and feels fresh even though there are so many movies with similar characters. This follows a trend in Insidious: somehow the film dances around all kinds of conventions in the genre, yet still feels fresh. The similarities to its sources never weigh the movie down, since the film is executed so well.
The biggest disappointment is the design of the main demon. At first he is effectively scary because only glimpses of him are shown. However, once he is shown for an extended period of time he bares a strong resemblance to Darth Maul from Star Wars: Episode One. Coming from the guys who designed Billy (the puppet in Saw), it really seems like they could have tried harder.
Overall, Insidious keeps the viewer guessing, even when familiar territory is being tread. There are plenty of plot twists along the way to keep the viewer engaged. Unlike some horror films, the plot twists here don’t feel gimmicky, and they always propel the story forward. Insidious is a truly enjoyable horror film with a great blend of terror and humor.