Originally published in SEE Magazine on April 1, 2011.
When it comes to horror movies you have to prepare yourself for the worst. From visually to thematically, you can have anything from wooden performances to a truck full of elephant intestines being poured into a busy glass elevator. Thankfully, Insidious has neither these things.
Insidious is surprisingly good considering what the previous director (James Wan) and writer (Leigh Whannell) teamed up for. Not that the longevity of the Saw franchise is something to scoff at, but it is a lot of basic scares. So, when it comes to the concept of Insidious (The child is haunted!), I was expecting a lot less. The story is serviceable but it is the way it is told that makes this a very functional horror flick.
Aesthetically consistent (and not afraid to poke a little fun at itself), Insidious has a wonderful array of different scares. Of course, the surprise ‘jump out’ is used when needed, but there are several scenes that are reminiscent of childhood terror. This is Insidious’s strength. It reminds you of laying in your bed and looking up into the corner of the room and seeing something…you aren’t sure what but you sure as shit know that there is something there and it wants to do horrible things to you. I counted at least 10 really good scares on my scare-o-meter (which doesn’t actually exist).
The performances of Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne were as good as they needed to be. There were some contrivances that needed to be overlooked, but in all, the film did what it needed to do and wasn’t ashamed.
Yet, the real star of the show is the way it is shot. Wan did a wonderful job of taking a home and making it a terror dome. I found myself looking beyond each character to try to find something staring at them or peeking into their lives. It is that kind of film. Someone will pass through a scene and you think to yourself, “Did I just see something horrible hiding in the corner?” Most likely you did. That is where this flick works best.
Another refreshing aspect is the almost complete lack of gore. Now I love a good de-boweling as much as the next nerd, but to create scares without the blood is no easy task. In a pseudo steam-punk fifties horror way, Insidious takes you into a transcendental world where your fears are constantly with you and the things that you think are bad are worse than that. Son’s in a coma? That’s nothing, there is a demon trying to eat his soul. Put that in your pipe and smoke it (you can’t actually smoke souls).
In all, Insidious works. It takes normal family life and makes it scary. You know the saying that people are haunted by their past? Insidious takes it literally.