I’ve been playing quite the tough guy recently with regard to horror films. I’ve been watching them with reckless abandon and poo-pooing any attempts to scare me as nonsense. A recent viewing of Paranormal Activity being a good example – it was terrifically dull and about as scary as mash potato.
And then this film came along. Sitting with only a few other people in a tiny little screening room with nowhere else to look other than the giant screen only 15 feet away, my game was well and truly up.
Everybody has something that puts the wind up them, it might be zombie movies, it might be Euro Giallo movies, but for me it’s haunted house movies. They give me the proper heebie-jeebies, put it down to a nasty experience with an episode of Quantum Leap when I was young (true), but if there’s one thing that seems to scare me more than anything else it’s a creepy ghosts in a regular family homes. And maybe Scott Bakula in a dress.
The story begins with a charming family – Dad Josh (Patrick Wilson), Mum Renai (Rose Byrne), Son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and two other youngsters – moving into a new home.
Their new start soon takes a tragic turn, as while exploring the house their eldest son has an unnerving experience following an accident in the attic and, while appearing ok immediately after, slips into a coma overnight. Returning to the house 3 months later but still in a coma to be cared for by the family, the boy becomes the centre of a range of chilling supernatural activity that prompts the family to move again to get away from the haunting. But the paranormal follows them to the new house and not only that, it intensifies until no option remains other than to call in a spirit medium to find out what is really going on.
Insidious’ starts off as an exercise in atmosphere building. The first two thirds of this film really put my back up. It was all the usual fare, books falling off shelves, possessions turning up in odd places and an orchestra of creaks and groans. But that’s exactly the type of thing that reduces me to a quivering wreck.
Viewer update: I’m creeping down into my seat.
The film really starts to ramp things up in the middle third. Creaks and groans get louder and Renai’s otherworldly visions become more pronounced and terrifying. It seemed fairly relentless at the time but the atmosphere building really doesn’t let up, there’s no light relief or dark humour here, Insidious is going all out. The score and sound effects also play a massive part here, making sure that you are under no illusion that something truly untoward is going on here.
You know what to expect – small noises and building menace and then BANG! – a big reveal and huge noises combine to fist clenching horror.
Viewer update: I now have my hands up by my face ready to scratch out my eyeballs, but please,
someone stop the NOISE!
The final third loses it’s way a little, we get some light comic relief in a pair of bickering amateur paranormal investigators and a pretty daft looking demon causing trouble. Fortunately the sobering and effective performance of Lin Shaye (looking disturbingly like Alan Rickman) as the spirit medium steadies the ship.
The conclusion is fraught but some of the tension dissipates as the trump cards are revealed. It still caused me a great deal of distress, but I’d already worked myself into absolute hyper-panic by this point. Some of the elements revealed at the end you may also have guessed in the early section of the film, but not to any detrimental effect. The film also takes a fantastical and surreal twist during the final third that is not wholly effective and in terms of tension not at all like the first two thirds. The finale is far from conclusive and might smack of plans for sequels, but I was just glad it was over.
Viewer update: Absolute relief, I peel myself from out of my seat and dry my terrifically sweaty palms.
Insidious is a supremely effective chiller which is let down a little by the conclusion.
This film really got under my skin, but if you can be blasé about ghosts, hauntings and the things that creep around in the corner of your eye, you might not be quite so affected by the tools this film uses to scare. The actors all perform admirably particularly Patrick and Rose who are totally believable as the fraught couple trying to keep their family together but dealing with things in their different ways. Lin Shaye also comes in at just the right time to set up the final third.
The director and writing partnership of James Wan and Leigh Whannell (of Saw fame) do develop some original ideas most of which work well, while others fall a little flat. Some of the imagery is also expertly crafted and will stay with you long after the film has finished.
This is one of the more effective horror films I have seen recently. But I tend to find that with this type of film, those that opt for more psychological horror rather than violent gore-fests.
I would have no problem recommending this film, but urge you to see it at the cinema where the awful noise can really jumble up your guts. For those of you looking for comparisons the closest thing I can think of would be Poltergeist.
Viewer update: I’m still sleeping with the light on.