‘Insidious’ is great fun

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Directed by James Wan

2010, United States, 102 mins.

Insidious is great fun and proof that you can make a PG-13 horror movie that is plenty scary without relying on gore.  In fact, there are really no gruesome images in the film, which might disappoint fans of director James Wan’s debut, Saw.  Wan has re-teamed with his Saw writer and actor Leigh Whannell, who also manages to steal the show as one of the two geek paranormal investigators brought in by the family.  The film feels more like the product of the director of Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli and it is, in a way.  Peli produced the film and, while it is not another entry in the found footage genre, its visual aesthetic does resemble Paranormal Activity. Insidious also manages to make regular household items and pieces of furniture seem scary. This is actually a much better film than Peli’s, and that is because the characters don’t grate as much.  They are believable and behave realistically under the circumstances.  Whannell also makes sure to add plenty of humor, making it a hybrid of a horror film and a comedy.

The film’s plot revolves around Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renais Lambert (Rose Byrne) who are raising a family of three in what appears to be Southern California.  Their family of three includes Dalton (Ty Simpkins), Foster (Andrew Astor), and a newborn baby girl.  However tragedy strikes when after falling off a lader, Ty suddenly goes into a coma and won’t wake up.  Some spooky stuff starts to go down and Renais soon realizes that house might be haunted.  Despite Josh’s mother Lorraine’s (Barbara Hershey) help, Renais still continues to have these scary visions.  They call in two paranormal investigators Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), along with a family friend, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who happens to be an expert in these matters.  They find out that it might be Dalton causing these disturbing events.

One of the reasons this film works so well, and better than Paranormal, is the calibre of acting.  When you have a Tony winner (Wilson) and an Emmy nominee (Byrne), your characters are going to feel much more fleshed out than if you have a pair of non-professional actors.  Byrne does some of her best work as the tormented Renais.  She goes to some surprisingly dark and emotional places in this film and does so flawlessly.  Wilson also is very convincing as the tormented everyman and he brings doses of humor to the role.  Hershey is much better here than she was in Black Swan playing the sympathetic mother. Shaye is perfectly cast as the eccentric paranormal expert.  However it is Whannell and Sampson who steal the film as geeky investigators.  They are the film’s comedic relief and everything that those characters do is hilarious.  Their rivalry and one-upsmanship is comic gold.

It would be unfair to not mention Wan’s direction, which for the most part is wonderfully restrained.  The film seems intent on scaring you with its quietness.  Wan uses silence extremely well.  He doesn’t rely on special effects, either, which makes the ending all the more jarring.  Unfortunately, the ending is all special effects, something that the film avoided so well in the beginning.  However that doesn’t takeaway from how effective the first 90 minutes are. Whannell is smart to balance the film with plenty of humor. For a horror film, the characters are surprisingly well developed and always behave plausibly.  Unlike Paranormal Activity, they are likable and interesting.

Insidious is a superior horror film and is best seen in the first two weeks with a full audience.  It is destined to become a cult classic and deservedly so.  Wan’s film proves that what you don’t see is often scarier than what you do.

Josh Youngerman

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