Lucid dreaming … it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Ty Simpkins
The word “insidious” means to ‘proceed in a gradual and subtle way, with harmful effects.’ Suffice to say, this Haunted House/poltergeist possession horror does exactly that – it progresses from genuinely frightening jumps, atmospheric suspense and intrigue to the overly bizarre and exaggerated, making it harder to take the film seriously.
Josh (Wilson), Renai (Byrne) and their three children move into a new house that comes complete with creaky floorboards and creepy attics. When their son, Dalton, falls rather unexpectedly into a coma that lasts much longer than they could think possible, and strange visions, sounds and movements begin to make their presence apparent in the house, Josh and Renai cannot ignore the supernatural situation they’re in. With the help of a psychic (it’s hard to really tell what her job is), Josh and Renai discover that their son’s spirit has left his own body willingly, gotten lost in another dimension of the dead, and is vulnerable to being possessed by an evil demon who looks like a cross between Mr. Tumnus or the Sith Lord in Phantom Menace.
From the makers of the Saw franchise, there’s no doubt that James Wan and Leigh Whannel know how to manipulate sound and tension to make us jump. In the earlier half of the film, indistinct visions, shadows and reflections leave us feeling unsettled, and this is strongly supported by the convincing performances of Wilson and Byrne who make a great couple scared out of their wits. Even the plot (which, for most horror stories can be a little hard to believe or just plain dumb) has its logic and coherency, and structures the film rather too neatly with its clear-cut episodes, hints, explanations and of course, scares which build as the story goes.
But like any scare that you might get from something hiding around the corner or reflected in a mirror, it’s temporary and in this case, forgettable. The imagery used in Insidious is so vaudeville and theatrical that it makes us feel as though we are walking through a haunted house in a theme park. And if that scary thing looks like the backwash of a TV period drama, it verges on the ridiculous. There is some merit to this in the fact that Insidious tries to explore dramatic techniques that aren’t strictly tied to the horror genre, and while in some ways this could be looked upon as original, there’s no point trying to do something different if it doesn’t have a powerful effect. Had the walking spirits left lasting impressions on us other than stilted editing, caked on make up and weird period costumes, this may have been a terrifying cinematic experience.
Insidious reaches for a visual aesthetic that needs to be psychologically traumatic and deeply disturbing, but ends up with a cheapened feel that doesn’t pull off.