I’ll come right out and say it: I’m really surprised with INSIDIOUS. I honestly wasn’t expecting too much from this one. It was directed by James Wan (sure he gave us the original SAW, but he also gave us the nearly unwatchable DEAD SILENCE); it was written by Leigh Whannell, who wrote DEAD SILENCE; and most troubling of all is that INSIDIOUS has a PG-13 rating (yikes!!). Add to this the fact that Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to making effective and scary ghost/haunted house flicks and I was skeptical at best. That’s why I was so surprised with INSIDIOUS. This is a genuinely effective and scary “ghost story” (for the sake of labels I’m gonna call it this) that has more than a few chilling scenes and also has an interesting, rather unique plot.
As the film opens we join the Lambert family as they’re moving into their new home. There’s the parents Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Patrick Wilson) and their three children Dalton (Ty Simpkins), Foster (Andrew Astor), and their baby Cali (uncredited). Almost immediately we realize that something’s wrong. As Renai walks around investigating strange noises she thinks she’s going a little batty from all the odd things she’s seeing out of the corner of her eyes. Husband Josh (Night Owl II from THE WATCHMEN and looks like the love child of Kevin Costner and Christian Slater) always has an explanation for some sound heard or shadow seen. But then one morning they find they can’t wake up their son Dalton. In the hospital they’re told Dalton is in a coma but there seems to be no cause for it. There’s no brain damage or infection or any other organic causes. The doctor assures them that they’ll either find the reason for the coma or Dalton will just come out of it as mysteriously as he slipped into it.
So three months later we re-join the Lambert’s back in their home where they’ve set up a mini hospital room to make Dalton, who’s still in a coma, comfortable. It’s at this point that the creepy happenings around the house start to get more intense. If you’re like me the first thing you’ll think is, “All this fucking house needs is some goddamn WD-40 so the doors, windows, and floors would stop creaking.” But this is also the time when the intensity of the strange things begin happening. One of the creepier things that happens is when Cali is taking a nap and Renai hears very clear whispering from an adult male coming from the baby monitor. She listens intently as the whispering gets more intense, ultimately ending with the voice yelling and Cali waking up crying. When Renai runs up there she of course doesn’t find anything.
Events keep getting more intense until Renai gets close to her breaking point. She tells Josh she can’t take anymore and knows the house is haunted, and although skeptical Josh agrees to move. Once in their new home the “hauntings” start up almost immediately. This is when Josh’s mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) gets involved and tells them she’s been having strange and scary dreams about the house and Dalton. They’ve had enough and they decide to call in an old friend of Lorraine’s, psychic ghost hunter Elise (the always great Lin Shaye). Elise knows almost immediately that there’s something wrong upon entering the house but she has difficult news for Renai and Josh … it’s not the house that’s haunted it’s Dalton who’s haunted. It’s a nice twist that for some reason is given away during the TV trailers.
I don’t wanna give away anymore of the explanation as to why Dalton is haunted. Let’s just say the explanation is 50% cheesy, 25% eye-rolling, and 25% pulpy. Basically the explanation is pretty gay but Wan creates such a creepy atmosphere that you kinda just roll with it in order to get onto the next scare. And the good thing is there’s plenty of genuinely creepy moments that’ll have the hair standing up on your arms and have shivers running up and down your spine. What I really liked is that Wan didn’t go for the easy jump scares where he just has shit jumping out at you every 10 seconds. He goes more for making the viewer feel uneasy and creeped out. Wan expertly frames some shots so as to direct your eyes, for example, on Renai (who might be in the upper right hand corner of the shot) and then have something run across the bottom of the shot. This creates the feeling like you just saw something out of the corner of your eye … just like Renai.
The acting is solid all around and Wan gives us very little relief from the tension and heavy atmosphere he creates. Before Elise comes to the house she sends her two assistants Specs (the film’s writer Leigh Whannel) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). These characters help relieve the tension at just the right times and never take away from it. They are your typical “bumbling sidekicks” and are pretty much exactly how I view all “ghost hunters”. Good characters. What’s also refreshing is that considering this film is filled with demons, ghosts, and other odd spectral visions the filmmakers don’t overuse the CGI f/x. We get actual actors in some truly scary make-up and many of the ghosts will creep you the fuck out.
This film isn’t without it’s weak points. The “big reveal” and solution as to how they’re gonna save Dalton is stretching one’s suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. I think writer Whannel simply skimmed through wikipedia looking for something he could use as the cause of Dalton’s coma and as the plot point of the story (here’s a hint; he never makes it past the “A”’s). It’s silly and ridiculous but luckily Wan takes advantage in the first half of the movie to really create a solid, creepy atmosphere and give us many “hairy raising” and “spine tingling” moments without resorting to cheap jump scares. INSIDIOUS is one of those “style over substance” films (just like 2004’s THE GRUDGE; it had no story but a lot of very creepy set pieces) and you’ll totally see the ending coming at you a mile away. If you’re looking for a solid story with no plot holes and a great explanation you’re gonna be disappointed. But if you just want to have a fun night out and see a scary film with many creepy moments that’ll have you turning on all the lights in the house when you get home then you’ll definitely enjoy INSIDIOUS. I did.
Director: James Wan
Plot: 3 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls (there’s literally 1 drop of blood in this entire film)
Zombie Mayhem: what the fuck do you think??
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer