Insidious? More Like In-Silliness!

From director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell (the duo behind the Saw franchise) comes their latest horror outing, Insidious. While I’m not a fan of Saw, I LOVED Wan’s last film – 2007’s brutal Death Sentence. And yeah, Dead Silence is a pretty damn fun piece of camp. With Insidious, Wan and Whannell present a ghoulish haunted house flick that relies heavily on the jump-out-and-scare-you technique. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And Wan is really really good at making doors creak and floors squeak. The first two-thirds of the film are solid with plenty of tension, ominous atmosphere, and some genuine scares. I admit it – I jumped a few times.

In the final chapter the film, sadly, the film treads heavily into some goofy shit. The demons/ghosts/whatever go from being agents of terror to just annoying set pieces that don’t respect personal space. It sucks because honestly the first two-thirds are great. A lot of reviewers are comparing it to Poltergeist – especially Insidious‘ otherworldly realm known as The Further. Remember in Poltergeist when that the mom goes into the Other Side to bring back Carol Anne (waaalk into the liiight)? Insidious has the same deal, only the young Dalton’s father, Josh, travels into The Further and we unfortunately go with him. Shit gets real hammy from then on.

The concerned looking folks above are Renai and Josh Lambert. They have two sons, Dalton and Foster, and a daughter who’s a couple months old. As the film begins they’re just settling into a new home that features hardwood floors that squeak more than a pack of playful dolphins. One night, young Dalton is beckoned into the attic by a creaking door. Up there he falls off a ladder and winds up in a coma. Or something like a coma. After this, their house becomes invaded by cliches like strange noises and unsettling voices on the baby monitor. We’ve seen this stuff before, but Wan does a grade-A job of building up tension. No complaints here in that department.

While Josh is busy “grading tests” late at school, Renai is thrown to the house’s horrors that build up to her seeing apparitions dressed like Criss Angel. The Lambert’s decide to move into a new place, but that doesn’t stop the creeps. Josh’s mom calls in a trio of paranormal investigators led by an elderly woman named Elise – the film’s answer to Zelda Rubinstein. Elise informs Renai and Josh that it’s not the house that’s haunted…it’s their son! *record scratch* Dalton isn’t in a coma! He’s astral projecting! In The Further! But that’s okay because Josh used to astral project as a kid and he can g into The Further and retrieve Dalton before the demons can possess his earthly body. These are some cool pieces of the plot, but once The Further is introduced, Insidious gets silly.

The Darth Maul-looking goofball above is the main demon vying for Dalton’s physical body. He’s just one of the many entities Josh encounters in The Further. Others include women in Victorian garb, a cookie cutter family from the ’60s, and a smiling old woman who has photobombed Josh since he was a kid. To match this uninspired cast of ghouls, there are lots of candles and dry ice. It’s like they weren’t even trying at this point and just pulled some stock scares outta the bag. And it’s just lame for a movie that up to this point maintained some serious tension and atmosphere. I really like the idea of The Further and the mixing of night terrors and astral projection, but the presentation of it all kinda stinks.

Thankfully, The Further occupies a small portion of the third chapter. The rest of the film really is awesome and delivers the horror goods. Oh, and I forgot to mention that Insidious is PG-13! I don’t know if the studio made some cuts to ensure that rating, but I think it’s cool to see a horror film with a huge release and a PG-13 rating. The acting is solid across the board, especially Rose Byrne and Lin Shaye who plays the psychic Elise (some horror trivia: Lin played the teacher in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Sally in Critters). And like I said, the tension and atmosphere (especially in the first house, are terrific. Wan and Whannell just fumble a bit with the depiction of The Further.