Posted on October 27, 2011 by Steven Dawes
Available at Amazon.com“I don’t think bad wiring is the problem here.” –Elise Reiner
Josh, Renai and their 3 children are the typical middle class American family. In what feels like a cliched setup, the Lambert family has just moved into a house, only to learn soon enough that it happens to be haunted. Various staples of ghost story elements follow, which are seemingly set up to where you feel a “poltergeist” clone coming on. But then… the entire feel and angle of the film is turned on its head, creating one of the best ghost story films released in years!
I intended to review INSIDIOUS when I saw it at the theater months ago. I so dug the hell out of this flick, so much so that I went to see it twice, which was a big deal as I’m currently a full time student who really has to mind his funds. So I REALLY wanted to see this movie a second time and I took my 16 year old daughter with me to share in the fun and frights this film insidiously slaps you with. Coincidentally my daughter suffered a great lesson in fearful humility, nearly begged to leave the theater the moment the credits began rolling, and ironically I snagged her a “Casper the Friendly Ghost” plush toy out of the crane machine in the theater lobby on the way out. I think school duties just kept me from putting in the time in to write the damn review.
But now is my chance to make up for it as I’ve recently purchased the DVD (again, I had to really want it as my funds are limited). INSIDIOUS had the right tools for frights from the get go with the dynamic duo of director James Wan and Screenwriting genius Leigh Whannell. Genre fans may recognize these guys as the creators of the first SAW movie (which Leigh co-starred in), and then the creepy fest DEAD SILENCE. From the screenwriter side of things, I’d read that Leigh said when he wrote the film he made a list of horror movie clichés posted on his desk so he could avoid using them. I can believe this as he makes you think he’s going one way, only to take a series of 180’s on how the events play out. James Wan’s contribution to the film shined as well, starting with a series of creepy images (grandfather clocks never looked so unnerving) and Kubrick inspired shots before unleashing a insidious barrage of visual treats and frights.
Then there was the family angle itself. Underused and underrated actress Rose Byrne played a very convincing mother of three and wife to an equally adept Patrick Wilson (whom I still have a hard time not seeing in the “Night Owl” costume he wore so well in “The Watchmen”). They all had great chemistry together and I bought this family unit early on. This helped to suck me into the heart of the film and feel for the family’s plight early on. As believable as they all were, even the earlier, subtler scares (spooky sounds, doors opening on their own) were working on me. So as the tension was cranked up, my frights was cranked up with them.
While trying to keep as many spoilers out of my review as possible, I can only say again that this flick rode the “poltergeist” train for about the first 30-45 minutes or so before jumping off to fire up its own train. From there it went in directions I’ve not seen in movies before (although Twilight Zone and Outer Limits fans will find some familiar ground here). It all felt fresh and unpredictable to me and I applauded everyone involved for it!
The movie also hit me with an unexpectedly awesome performance by veteran actress Lin Shaye. I recall her in goofy roles like the land lady in “Kingpin” and the mom in “Detroit Rock City”, and I was worried she’d bring the same goofiness here. But I say nay to thee, she kept the role grounded and restrained, and she blew me away with her performance. She could have easily gone a goofier of kookier route (ala Zelda Rubinstein in “Poltergeist”) with this role, but she ran with this role like a champ and outright stole the show during her scenes. Once all is said and scared silly, by the time the completely original third act was followed up with an ending that also blew me away, I found to it be the scariest film of the year thus far (and I feel that it will stay that way as I look at its competition this year).
But as I consider myself to be a fair reviewer, I have to point any holes of issues I find, and there was minor few here. Foremost, I felt that the film should have been longer (at least 10-15 minutes). There was a lot going on in this haunted house and the film just felt rushed at times. Had it gone a little slower at certain moments and covered some the angles a little better, I feel that it would have only made the film even better. And after watching it a few times now I noticed a continuity flaw here and there, but I can’t mention them without ruining potential plot points, so I’ll let you spot them for yourself. But these are all minor peeves and really didn’t distract me from enjoying such a great film.
INSIDIOUS is an insidiously stark reminder to me that horror films are best when they are small indie productions, relying on the creativity of the parties involved (and not studio involvement) while giving the actors opportunities to shine and stand out with their craft. It also reminds me that “less is more” when it comes to ghost stories, and that there’s plenty of new angles to be explored in ghost movies, for those brave enough to explore them. And yes, for those of you who’ve seen it, I know there’s more than ghosts going on in this film, but at it black heart it’s a ghost story.
If you’re in the mood for a tension filled ghost story movie that takes you to places you’ve never been to before, INSIDIOUS is your movie! Turn out the lights, turn on the TV and enjoy the frights!
4.5 out of 5 rising flames!
Review by Steven Dawes