Review: "Insidious" - No budget, no gore, no problem!

By: Heather Seebach

In 2003, director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell created the bloody low-budget affair known as Saw, based on their short film of the same name. That little horror film spawned six sequels and the entire franchise has grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide. While the sequels constitute little more than torture porn, the original movie was a refreshingly unique psychological thriller. I still have not recovered from its kick-in-the-nuts ending. Now, eight years later, the Australian filmmaking duo is redefining horror yet again with Insidious. Relying on genuine scares instead of gory violence, this haunted house spook-fest recalls classics such as Poltergeist and Carnival of Souls.

When Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) move into a new house with their three children, they begin to experience eerie occurrences. Even worse, their son Dalton slips into an unexplainable coma as the supernatural events become more and more frequent. When they can take the haunting no longer, the Lamberts seek help from a psychic medium and two ghost hunters to fight the evil entities in their home.

Right from the opening credits, Insidious exudes creepy atmosphere with a chilling score and the subtle implication of something malevolent inside the Lambert household. Before long, the evil spirits make their presence known, resulting in some downright terrifying moments. Both times I watched this film, the theater audience was not so much jumping and giggling (like with most horror films) but flat-out shrieking. There is absolutely no gore in this movie, proving that you can still terrify audiences without the blood and guts.

While the film pays homage to Poltergeist, it also paves its own way – particularly in the second half – with eccentric characters and a quirky sense of humor. The ghost hunters (played by Whannell and Angus Sampson) in particular bring some light-heartedness to the story, especially if you have ever watched one of those paranormal investigation television shows. Some of the spirits also provide a laugh or two but that does not stop them from being eerie as hell. The film’s primary villain is very different from your standard movie bad-guy. Looking like a demon right out of a Renaissance painting, he is effectively creepy. It is also refreshing to see a demonic foe portrayed by an actor in make-up rather than the usual CGI rendering.

Byrne and Wilson are good as the tormented parents, though Lin Shaye steals the show as the psychic medium, Elise. The aptly-casted Barbara Hershey is good, as well, portraying Josh’s sympathetic mother. Wan’s skills as a director have definitely improved since Saw. Gone are the shaky, spinning action sequences and ten-minute montage reveal. Insidious moves smoothly and methodically to build tension and keep you on the edge of your seat before, you know, making you jump out of it.

Whannell’s script is effectively scary, but also has themes of aging and the inevitability of death that are probably overlooked by most filmgoers. The script avoids most of the horror genre’s nastiest clich├ęs, including fake scares (i.e. – it was just a cat…), over-reliance on the orchestra, and the question everyone asks during a haunted house film – why the hell don’t these people move? Wan and Whannell side-step all those common pitfalls and inject their own quirky, almost-Vaudevillian sense of humor into what is at-heart a classic ghost story.

While Insidious may feel derivative at times, the film is guaranteed to haunt you long after it ends. You will not look at mundane objects like clocks, children’s drawings, and gas masks the same way again. And if Tiny Tim music was not creepy enough already, try avoiding the goosebumps next time you hear “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.”

out of 5

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