The haunted house genre is rather hit or miss; sometimes their effective and sometimes they need jump the shark halfway through. The newest film from Saw director James Wan and Saw screenwriter Leigh Whannell is a haunted house film that falls in the latter category. It’s not that Insidious is a bad film, it’s middle is rather frightening, it’s just the beginning and climax are horrible culminating with a final scene that’s ripped directly from another terrible horror film.
Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) have just moved into a new house with their three children. When their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) has an accident in the attic it’s brushed aside, until Dalton slips into some type of coma that can’t be explained. Three months pass and as Dalton lays sleeping Renai starts to have encounters with strange entities in her house. Even when the family moves to a new residence, the disturbances seem to follow them. With the help of the mysterious Elise (Lin Shaye) they discover Dalton has been lost during an astral projection encounter and his body is being circled by a slew of demonic forces bent on keeping his spirit separated and possessing his body.
The strongest part of this film is the middle once the exposition is over and done with. The family is rather cliché but its how Wan and Whannell crafted the horrific entities that make the middle so terrifying. They’ve always had a reverence for the macabre, if you were one of the few people who saw Dead Silence you’ll know, but here they make every house the family goes to have such a dark history that’s only hinted at. A specific scene involving Josh seeing the true history behind the house, involving a young girl shooting her family not only draws comparisons to The Shining, but the way it’s filmed is just unearthly. The scenes with Renai are where the horror is used to such great effect as the easy scares don’t jump out at you. Sure the duo enjoys punctuating the horror with loud music but the scenes where Renai is walking from room to room and a ghost is merely sitting in the corner with their back turned scares every time! A particular little boy ghost with a love for Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe through the Tulips” is one of the most disturbing scenes I’ve witnessed in a horror film in some time.
Unfortunately that middle scene is a bright light in a dark world of awful. The beginning is merely setting up the family, who themselves are nothing but typical horror caricatures, and it’s done with a lot of silence and camera panning through rooms which makes everything feel longer. By the time the horror ramps up it’s sorely needed after feeling like we’ve dragged through so much. Had Wan and Whannell focused on a simple haunted house story the movie could have been a classic, but instead they throw in “deeper history” by connecting everything to astral projection and Josh’s tortured past with it. Astral projection is unique in a horror film and fascinating but here it’s simply used as a device to have Josh face his fears. The movie’s climax plays like any typical “test” film where Josh faces a maze to get to Dalton. Sadly even this is hampered by Josh’s need to confront his fears with an old woman ripped directly from Dead Silence before his confrontation with a demon that is easily dispatched. As if this isn’t boring and bland enough the final image, that is supposed to resonate with the audience, is DIRECTLY taken from the horrific American remake of Shutter! It’s such a blatant rip-off that it makes you wonder why the hell we spent so much time with Dalton.
If you assumed this was Patrick Wilson’s movie from the get-go you’d be ahead of everyone else. The family is typical mom, dad, two “normal” kids and one “oddball.” The problem is that the mom and other two children are so superfluous that the latter disappear halfway through, never to be seen again. Byrne merely looks scared and screams the whole runtime, never showing any talent that fans know she has. Wilson is also dull and lifeless merely whining about how he’s “trying” and asking “What do you want me to do?” He’s so weak that when the film shifts to focus on him at the end you find it hard to believe he can even open a door. Simpkins plays the typical lost child and honestly sleeps for about 90% of the film. Shaye is the strongest element of the cast but is just the wise woman character seen in everything from this genre since Poltergeist.
There’s about 5% of Insidious that’s wonderful, that’s the middle! The beginning is boring because the actors are stock, giving nothing other than their typical scared poses and the end has been done to death! Wan and Whannell should have stuck to something simple, the more history thrown in the more overblown it becomes.