Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins
Review by Brian M. Sammons
I’m pretty much a fan of the movies of James Wan, and when he teams up with his buddy, the actor/writer Leigh Whannell, usually very good things happen. The pair gave us the movie that started the franchise that won’t die, Saw. Sure the endless sequels jumped into the toilet, but the first one was a very well done gory thriller. Then they did the criminally overlooked and under-appreciated evil doll flick, Dead Silence. So with that in mind, I was pretty happy to hear that the dynamic duo was teaming up once again to give us their version of a haunted house film.
But is their third time together a charm, or just a strike out?
Let’s find out.
A young couple with three small children moves into a new house, and soon after spooky things start happening. However, when one of the kids slips into a mysterious, medically baffling coma, things really start getting out of hand. Of course only the wife sees the spooks and the husband doubts her, but then they do something that I have never seen done in any other ghost film; they actually move the hell out of the haunted house. You know, the exact same thing you yell at the characters on the screen to do in every haunted house movie ever made. So, points to the filmmakers for doing the obvious audience reaction … and then not having it do a bit of good.
Yep even in a brand new house, the ghosts keep a-coming, and in fact things get worse, all the while the coma kid keeps on sleeping. Enter the prerequisite semi-wacky ghost hunters, the slightly creepy lady psychic, and the séance where things don’t go as planned. Ok, got to take points away from Wan & Whannell for breaking out the overused cliché trifecta. Anyway, the long and short of it is that the coma kid’s spirit is being held prisoner – I won’t say how as to not ruin it for you – by a demon who wants to claim ownership of the boy’s body. And here in lies my biggest problem with this movie: the demon is simply silly looking. It’s a regular guy, painted head-to-toe black, with a bright red and black face. The end result is far more Darth Maul from Star Wars than creepy demon from hell. The fact that this “fiend” wears furry pants that are supposed to be goat legs and has shiny, bejeweled finger knives that scream more goth kid than scary weapon, doesn’t help things. Every time this guy was shown in the movie, and sadly he’s shown a lot and quite clearly, it shattered any dread or horror the film was going for. Whoever thought this was a good look for the big bad of the movie really missed the mark by a mile.
Bad makeup decisions aside, this movie has a fun, creepy vibe, a few good shock scares, memorable scenes, and best of all, great sound effects. I think I jumped as much, if not more, in this film due to the sound design as I did due to the visuals. It is well acted, has some originality in the story to offset the clichés, and is very well directed by Wan. That man knows how to tell a good, scary movie.
The DVD brought out by Sony has only 3 special features on it, which isn’t bad, but it’s not great either. And just like the amount of extras, the quality is only ok at best. There’s a ten minute interview with director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell about their film and horror movies in general. There’s a pretty standard behind the scenes bit on the set of the film that is also very short, at just eight minutes. The shortest of the three mini-featurettes, at only six and a half minutes, is about the ghosts that appear in the movie. And that’s it. There’s not even an audio commentary, and that’s just sad in 2011. So while not a bare bones disc, the extras on this DVD are nothing to write home about.
While Insidious is not Wan and Whannell’s best effort, and it does have a silly Darth Maul demon in it, there is enough effective atmosphere and honest to goodness horrific and chilling moments in it to make it mandatory viewing for fright fans. Consider this one a slightly more than moderate recommendation, only because of the film’s poor choice in a main villain and the less than stellar DVD release.