Directed by: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell
After working together in setting up the Saw franchise, James Wan (Saw) joins forces with Leigh Whannell once again in starting up another horror franchise: Insidious. After Josh (Patrick Wilson, The Conjuring) and Renai (Rose Byrne, Insidious: Chapter 2) move into their new home, their son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins, Insidious: Chapter 2), falls off a ladder in the attic and goes into a coma-like state, and in the following months strange things start to happen. Dalton’s coma-like state is being brought on by his body being trapped away in an outer-body location while all the spirits are fighting to get into his body once the spiritual connection between his spirit and his body finally gives in.
Insidious is actually a surprisingly entertaining and mildly creepy film. Once Josh goes into his own come-like state in order to rescue his son that entire scene is presented in a creepy way: it’s subtly claustrophobic, it’s crazy, it’s got creepy expressions on the countless bodies; it’s a lot of fun. And the story flows quite nicely throughout; it’s given enough time (As James Wan likes to do with his horror films) where the story comes through, the progression seems logical and timely and there’s loads of nice parts early on which have a benefit at the end, despite them being presented as throwaway objects in another scene. And, like I’ve touched on, some of the scenes are beautifully presented: there’s one scene where a kid’s footsteps are heard running from behind Renai, and considering her child is in a coma she naturally follows it, and it’s chilling. It is quite nerve-wracking at times.
It is also quite poor at times.
One thing I hated during the early stages of this film was that it felt like James Wan was holding my hand throughout the film, telling me what I should think and know. There’s a horrible scene where Renai puts the books on a shelf and a couple of minutes later they’re on the floor. The camera, which I’ll touch on soon, looks down at the books, then up at the bookshelf and back down at the books. It’s so paint-by-numbers that we, as an audience, are being told that those books have fallen off the shelf somehow, and then Renai speaks a line of dialogue confirming they fell. It treats us like a child quite a lot.
There’s also some tension between both of the main couples, which I felt was completely unnecessary. At the very beginning there’s a moment where Josh slightly annoys Renai (who it seems doesn’t work while Josh works in a school) and after Dalton goes into a coma there’s a clear tension between them. That’s all fine, but the way it’s presented is terrible. He sleeps at the school to avoid going home and doesn’t believe her when she says she’s scared about the things happening to the home, and they spend the first half of the film arguing because he is so adamant nothing is wrong despite being scared (I’ll touch on that soon, too). Then later on when the psychic people arrive, they (not a romantic couple, these are a working couple) have some tension while each is trying to take a larger slice of credit for the job they do. It just doesn’t allow for any characters to have a strong connection to another while they’re all portrayed as disliking one another.
Now, the camera: it’s awful. The whole film (barring some random out-of-place shots) is presented in a shaky, hand-held camera style; now, I get that in horror films this can be a very frightening tool to use (it presents the appearance of the camera acting as the villain) but for a whole film presented this way, and adding to that some horrific camera movements, it’s awful to watch.
The rest of the issues are more confusion about its plot: firstly, is Josh scared? He doesn’t believe Renai early on but spends ages at the school to avoid going home (it’s unclear if that’s because Dalton is in a coma or the house) but agrees to buy a new house and move once again to satisfy her fears. If he didn’t believe her surely he wouldn’t go to such an extent (I would also like to know how they managed to up and leave one large house for another on just a one-teacher salary with a child in a coma) as to move house only months after moving the last time. And there’s a long story later on about how a woman stalked him as a child, much in the way the demons are stalking Dalton now, and he is shown a series of pictures where the woman gets closer to him. His mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey, Insidious: Chapter 2) even notes how she got so afraid as she saw the woman getting closer in these pictures she sent out for Elise (Lin Shaye, A Nightmare on Elm Street) to help get rid of the demon. Now, these pictures were printed out so either she’s printed the whole lot and as she was going through them spotted the woman (thus negating the whole ‘she’s getting closer to you’ speech as she noticed it all in one quick go) or she was printing them one at a time (thus giving the impression she was constantly ignoring the large woman who is so obviously in the picture). It’s a small throwaway thing but it confused me while watching it.
But all those negatives pale in comparison when you mention the soundtrack to this film. The Presentation score includes everything from camera work (which in this film was terrible) to editing to visual effects to sound, and the sound alone gave this film its one-star rating. The jump-scares (of which there are hundreds, no exaggeration) are ridiculous and the sounds that come don’t even make sense. In one scene he’s up close to a crazy-looking woman who isn’t moving and then she blinks, and there’s a long, loud crash of noises. It’s not scary and it’s not even a loud bang; it’s several seconds’ worth of screeching, banging noises. I hated it.
I know I’ve spoken far more negatively about this film, but all-in-all I actually enjoyed watching it. It’s quite creepy at times and has a nice story which is slightly unique (although they use a lot, and I mean a lot, of clichés) and, as mentioned, the scene where Josh is trying to rescue Dalton is really good. It’s just a shame they filled it with inconsistencies in the writing, a shocking choice of camera style and some ridiculous sound effects as it leaves you more annoyed about its negatives than happy about its positives.
Plot: * * * Acting: * * Writing: * * Presentation: *