By: Addison Wylie
Lately, Horror movies rely on cheap jump scares; especially ones that possess a PG-13 rating. It’s a cheap way to scare an audience because it generally doesn’t take a lot of expertise to set up and is quite popular among young audiences.
The scene is quiet, our damsel in distress walks slowly as she grasps a baseball bat, she hears a noise, she checks out what’s making that noise and BAM. It’s a cat or a stick scraping the window. She exhales and suddenly a creature is breathing down her neck ready to unleash a kill.
See. It’s terribly easy to predict these frights. Then, we have Insidious; the latest entry into the PG-13 Horror grouping. I bring good news though. Director James Wan and Screenwriter Leigh Whannell refuse to give in to the cliches these films hold. The filmmaking duo have set out to make a subtle (for the most part) scary movie using practical effects and staging to give movie goers the heebie-jeebies and, for a large portion of their film, they’ve knocked it out of the park.
The Lambert family seems to be the image of a perfect suburban family. The husband Josh, played by Patrick Wilson, works as a school teacher while his Wife Renai, played by Rose Byrne, looks after their children. However, the house the quaint, happy family has moved into starts to make noises. Young Dalton, played by Ty Simpkins, decides to investigate the noises once he sees a mysterious door leading to the attic creek open. Once Dalton reaches the dank space, he sees a light switch. Dalton climbs a nearby ladder to reach the light but falls off and hits his head. Dalton soon slips into, what seems to be, a coma. Josh and Renai try to do everything they can to wake Dalton up but their son refuses to snap out of it. As Dalton lays in his bed, the house wakes more noises and Renai starts to experience paranormal activity. After seeing creepy beings in the house, Renai begs Josh for them to move to a different house. Josh agrees and another move commences. However, once moved in, the strange occurrences continue. After more sightings and activity, a specialist named Elise Reiner, played by Lin Shaye, is brought into the house to investigate. She then, without a shadow of a doubt, explains to the couple that the houses were not haunted and that the hauntings are coming from Dalton.
Wan and Whannell have teamed up before and have been a very successful duo in the past. While watching their collaborations, one can tell that the forces are head over heels for the cinematic structure of early Horror. They’ve collaborated on hard R rated films before where they can be a bit more visual with gore effects, but when they’re given a light R or a PG-13 rating to play with, it’s almost better for these two. In these situations, Wan and Whannell are given the opportunity to play with those types of scares where it’s not necessary to show bloody carcasses or gruesome kills. These scares rely on building a suspenseful mood using a spooky score (this time, provided by Joseph Bishara), lingering shots (beautifully photographed by David M. Brewer and John R. Leonetti), and creepy imagery. It allows both the director and the screenwriter to be more creative. The best scares are the ones where hardly anything is shown; proving once again that “less is more”. Because the duo are both obviously passionate for these types of older Horror movies, it’s no surprise to see that they excel for the most part; along with their talented crew.
However, the Horror team fumbles during the final act; deciding that they’ve kept so much hidden, that they want to show off the make-up and the costumes. It may have been a decision by Wan and Whannell or it could’ve been a choice by “experienced” studio producers. Whoever made the final call though made a bad choice. The initial set up of the final act prepares the audience for major scares and the movie does in fact deliver those frights. As the conclusion progresses though, we see more of the main baddie. The more we see the creature, the less intimidating it becomes. The scenes where the creature is confronted reminded me a lot of the final rock-off where Tenacious D fight The Devil in The Pick of Destiny; a movie I like but don’t want to be reminded of during an intense Horror flick. Once the lead bad guy is shown more, other supporting terrors are exposed more. This makes the film feel like a cheesy haunted house you would find in your neighbours garage during Halloween. On top of all this, Leigh Whannell tacks on a useless twist that doesn’t scare an audience but makes them wonder why the talented Horror writer felt that last scene was necessary.
Wan and Whannell may have a history together but for Insidious, there’s another cook in the kitchen. Paranormal Activity Director/Producer Oren Peli comes along for the ride as the role of a Producer. I like the idea of the minds behind two of the most recent Horror headliners coming together to make something completely original. However, it feels as if Peli’s decisions are heavy handed.
The first third of Insidious is almost a replica of Paranormal Activity 2; a film Peli produced but did not direct. Everything from the character roles to the line deliveries to the set up of the scares. Whannell may have written the script like this but the two movies are so similar, you would think Peli would pipe up and say something needs to be changed. Because no one said anything and the film, during this first bit, continues to hit all the same notes that particular sequel did, it constantly feels like Peli is trying to make HIS movie to HIS franchise rather than taking risks and making something completely different.
Luckily, when the film starts to explain itself and states why Dalton is being haunted, the movie shakes off the unoriginal vibes and becomes a different product. The premise of Insidious is really neat and quite frightening. The actors are able to convincingly play the material in a serious manner which adds realism to an already eerie set-up. Besides that, and apart from Lin Shaye’s fierce portrayal, nothing particularly exceptional leaps out about the acting. I found it disappointing that Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne had zero romantic chemistry. Both are skilled actors but they just didn’t click with one another.
With its interesting plot and its creative scares, Insidious has enough good content for me to recommend it. Also, in a world full of remakes and neutered Horror drivel, this is a breath of fresh air. It isn’t without some flaws in that first and final act but when the frightful duo are at work and showing the passion that they have for the genre, James Wan and Leigh Whannell are a forceful team.