Insidious (2011) Review

The idea of collaboration between Saw series co-creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell alongside Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli, sounds like a dream team. At the first glance, Insidious looks like a good old-fashioned haunted house spookfest. But wait, the tagline says “It’s not the house that is haunted”, meaning it could be more than just a straightforward horror genre. So, I was expecting a macabre cinematic ride but it turns out the movie fails miserably to meet the expectation. More on that later.

So the story begins with an attractive couple Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) who both recently moved in with their three kids to a spacious new house. Everything looks fine at first, until their eldest son, 8-year-old Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into a sudden coma that even the doctor couldn’t determine the proper cause. Naturally, stress begins to take its toll on both Josh and especially Renai.

While Josh is keeping himself occupied with work, Renai begins to suffer a series of unexplained occurrences and terrifying visions of people appearing randomly around the house. Her situation gets worse from time to time until Renai is unable to take it anymore and persuades Josh to leave the house and moves someplace else. Unfortunately, their problems aren’t exactly solved at all when Josh and Renai soon discover it isn’t their house that is haunted, but their son Dalton.

For the first half of the movie, Insidious is deliberately paced to set the characters in motion. It might take its sweet time but the atmosphere of the movie remains creepy and intriguing, thanks to David M. Brewer’s excellent widescreen lensing. And by the time the movie starts to startle with numerous jump scares, the result is fairly electrifying that will have you on the edge of the seat. It is nevertheless a good thing and if only director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell able to retain the same consistent momentum right until the end.

However, once Whannell’s script starts to expand beyond its haunted-house genre scope, everything falls apart. There’s nothing wrong about being ambitious, but Whannell goes overboard here without a subtle execution. What we have here is that the story gets sillier as the movie progresses further.

How silly you say? Let’s see. The second half of the movie gradually abandons the haunted-house genre and hastily shifted the seriously spooky tone into something broad in the vein of The Twilight Zone territory, all executed in a semi-quirky approach. This is particularly evident once the two ghostbusters (Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell) are introduced. Then another character is introduced, which turns out to be a gifted medium named Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) who later explains to Josh and Renai about the supernatural occurrence that haunts them all the time.

Soon a series of heavy-handed expositions and sudden plot points begin jumping out of nowhere (astral projection, demons, and a dark realm called “The Further”) as everything thrown into the mix to fill in whatever necessary gap as complex as possible without making little sense. Any sense of characters development is subsequently thrown out of the window to make way for a more visual palette and mostly cheap-looking demon creatures (especially the one with the red face that looks like Darth Maul).

If that’s not enough, Whannell even went an M. Night Shyamalan-styled last-minute twist in this movie. But instead of something as brilliant and shocking as The Sixth Sense, we get a misguided revelation of a certain character’s identity that is totally blown out of proportion.

Technical-wise, the movie does fulfil its genre expectations but Joseph Bishara’s string-heavy score tends to crank up more than it should to the point of an over-the-top result.

Insidious obviously tries too hard to blend a combination of Paranormal Activity, Poltergeist and especially Drag Me to Hell — all rolled up into one slick package. But one thing for sure, throwing everything into the mix does not make a good horror movie. James Wan and Leigh Whannell should have learned a thing or two from Sam Raimi the way he did Drag Me to Hell so successfully.

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