So when I saw the previews and poster for Insidious I thought it looked interesting but probably not worth heading out to the multiplex to catch. But then I had 2 or 3 clients email to tell me to go and see it. I wasn’t convinced it was scary but I thought I better check it out.
The film begins with a slow pan from a light fixture to a bathroom mirror with a old scary woman standing in the reflection with a candle then the title comes up in a flickering old school, universal monsters type logo with screeching violins playing over top. Less than a minute in and I was already thinking this was going to be something special!
The film opens with a young couple, Josh and Renai, moving into a new home with their 3 kids’ two young boys and a baby girl. Almost immediately weird sounds begin happening, and Renai begins seeing and hearing people in the house. Their oldest son Dalton goes to investigate a noise in the attic and ends up falling from a ladder. He then sees something off screen that makes him scream. By the time his parents reach he’s just nursing a bump on his head from the fall. Everything seems fine but the next morning he’s in a coma that the doctors can’t explain.
That sets up our story where the parents try to cope with having a special needs child while living in a haunted house. However all of this is just what sets up the story and a clever way to really get us to care about these characters, something very few ghost stories manage to do.
While living in the house the characters experience some truly terrifying haunted experiences. Strange noises occur, whispers in the dark, alarms going off and all the trappings of a typical haunting. Where movies like A Haunting in Connecticut fail miserably, Insidious thrives. its strongest moments are the way it sets up the scares, everything from the sound design to the direction of the actors is perfect in setting the build up and when the ghost or whatever it might be appears, you’ll jump or at the very least feel those shivers run up your spine!
Eventually Josh and Renai decide to move out of the house, thinking that’s the issue. They move into a more modern and smaller home only to have things start happening again. The hauntings start up again in a very spooky sequence in broad daylight that uses Tiny Tim’s Rendition of “Tip Toe Through the Tulips”. It’s crazy, but, Somehow it all works!
The film builds to a big showdown with the entity that is haunting their child. This is almost always the part where I shut down on ghost story movies. The reason has always been the same, it becomes too hokey with religious BS exorcisms or ends with some giant CGI showdown that is just silly and uninteresting. However, Insidious almost manages to avoid all of these problems. The solution is still metaphysical and a little hard to swallow but the actors manage to make it believable even when it could have become silly.
Horror royalty, Lin Shaye plays the “psychic” that comes in to help the family. Usually the introduction of the psychic is when things go down the toilet in these types of movies but Shaye plays the part so warmly that we slowly get lulled into her character and believe what she has to say. Her fellow investigators are two “ghost hunters” using EMF detectors and old school film cameras to capture evidence. Both are a little eccentric and more than a little scared by what they find in the house. They act as a welcome comic relief by the time they make their somewhat awkward appearance into the proceedings.
I have to say that this was one of the few times I can think of when it comes to ghost story films that I wasn’t let down by the ending. It does get silly in its explanations but overall the movie pulled me and and I walked out a happy camper. Director James Wan, and writer Leigh Whannel are both responsible for Saw, but Insidious is everything that Saw wasn’t. It’s a slow, scary ghost story that actually works! The way the ghost sequences are filmed is very effective and even during a sequence where Josh is trying to find his son in some kind of “further” or ghost world, the tension is always there.
Insidious really surprised me and reminded me that ghost story films don’t have to be “Found footage” to work. Which is a little ironic since Oren Peli, the creator of Paranormal Activity, acted as a producer on Insidious. It’s a movie that really should be experienced in a theater to truly feel it. It does owe a lot to Poltergeist which is what it most reminded me of, however I always hated the ending to Poltergeist because of all the special effects. When you take the subtle scares that people are most familiar with away and through a bunch of effects at me then it takes me completely out of the film. Its no longer scary its just a bunch of special effects jumping at the screen. Insidious almost avoids this and manages to at least keep up the tension through to the end of the film.
It’s worth noting that at a budget of just 1 Million, this film is considered a low budget movie and has made back over 40 Million so far making it a huge success. It proves one simple fact that Hollywood seems to have forgotten: It doesn’t take 100 million or more to make a great and fun movies!