28 April 2011


I'm probably missing something, but does it seem to anyone else that there haven't been an awful lot of big horror movies in cinema thus far in 2011? I can think of The Rite and Scream 4 as films that would draw horror fans to the multiplex, but that's about it, until now. Insidious is the new film from the creator of Saw and director of the first film, James Wan, but the marketing's done a solid job of selling it as "from the producers of Paranormal Activity."

In Insidious, Josh and Renai are young parents who move into a nice new house with their three kids. Their eldest, Dalton, falls asleep one night and doesn't wake up. Dalton is in a coma, or so it would seem, as weird paranormal gubbins starts to occur all around the house. Monsters and demons appear around every corner, and when even abandoning their new home doesn't work, Josh and Renai are forced to the conclusion that it was never the house that was haunted...

I personally haven't found myself as hyped up for a horror film as I was for Insidious since Sam Raimi's Drag Me to Hell, two years ago. The trailers looked spooky and it's been gathering some pretty strong buzz since its Stateside release a few weeks ago. I was totally ready to see this film, and so maybe my problem is that, in the end, I was too prepared for it. Let that stand as a caveat to what follows.

Insidious essentially works as a pastiche of A Nightmare on Elm Street, by way of Poltergeist. The interdimensional gribblies aren't picking off high-school kids, but tormenting parents via their young son. It also plays heavily from the cribsheets established by each of those films, most blatantly in the final act. But to say the film is unoriginal is to say nothing of how inventive it is all the same. The antagonists aren't computer generated, nor do they look like homogenised demons. If you get used to the look of one scary-looking beastie, a new one is ready to jump from the shadows for their debut later on. The character design is impeccable in this respect, and along with the score, it really ramps up the terror.

Ohh, that score. Joseph Bishara turns in a score that's full of shrieking strings, deployed for the maximum effect throughout and really setting your teeth on edge. Wan doesn't turn his nose up at soundtrack jumps, but he never, ever, ever goes for the cheap scare. No cats jumping out, just pure, adrenalised horror. That includes the nice bit of soundtrack juxtaposition we get through his use of Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through The Tulips" at the bizarre and creepy sight of a demon boogying in Renai's living room. Frankly, were it not for the introduction of a pair of comic relief paranormal investigators, this film might have been perfect.

Those characters, played by Angus Sampson and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, aren't awful, but by their very definition, they provide relief from the tension. In all of the screeching horror assembled by the filmmakers, there's no point before their introduction that you're yearning for the Ghostbusters to turn up. And the Ghostbusters would have been better. On the other hand, there are strong performances by Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbara Hershey, taking the material seriously and giving it their best. Additionally, Lin Shaye plays her psychic character with just the restraint that's needed, rather than hamming it up.

My difficulty with Insidious is that it should be the standard for modern horror and not the high watermark. It's very well crafted and intense, but it never rattled me like I had hoped it would. With the state of the genre at present, in quality and quantity, it's definitely worth a watch for starved horror junkies. Horror, like comedy, is subjective, but if you're not deeply unsettled by the film, you'll at least be frightened into nervous laughter throughout.

Insidious is playing in cinemas nationwide from tomorrow.
If you've seen Insidious, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.


Rob said...

Good review and you never succumbed to the spoiler, unlike me. Well played.

Mark said...

I'll have to go and check yours now. What did you doooo?