Insidious is the promising fourth collaboration between Aussie duo director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell. It immediately springs out as their most indelibly haunting project yet. Financed on a miserly budget, it toured the festival circuit for a year before finally receiving distribution. Fortified by the incursion of Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli as producer, Insidious pledges to be one of the scariest movies of the past fifteen years and easily 2011's top bone-chiller.
Whilst grieving their son's inexplicable vegetative state, the Lamberts - Josh (Patrick Wilson, Watchmen), Renai (Rose Byrne, X-Men: First Class) and their two remaining children - find themselves haunted by ghostly apparitions that force them to abandon their family home. Experiencing the same problems in their new accommodation, they turn to medium Elise (Lin Shaye) for help who explains that it is not their house being haunted, but rather, it is their comatose son. The remainder of the film sees the Lamberts and co. battling malevolent spirits essentially but that is as much as I can disclose without revealing the bumps and bends of the story.
It was refreshing to see a supernatural title that does exactly what is says on the tin. For once, we have been treated to a genuinely creepy film that has not usurped an entire story from eastern cinema. The setups are pioneering, leading to revelations of creatures you have probably kept imprisoned within your subconscious and only ever witnessed in your worst nightmares. Suspenseful and confident, Wan's film even gets away with moments of scare-free lulls as you strive to predict the unpredictable. Just when you think the quiet may be a cause for concern, it turns out to be nothing; just when you thought the noise may be a cause for concern, it turns out to be nothing. This film is not solely about the rapid-fire of shocks but more the tension built beforehand and the execution of memorable shots that you take home with you.
Additionally, composer Joseph Bishara's uneven scores emphasise the fear factor. They clearly experimented with a number of stringed instruments, manipulating them with various materials to create sounds as unrecognisable as the spirits. I have always been a fan of minimalism having a huge affect in film and this is an example of it. Instead of relying on the standard musicality of a reoccurring theme as most horrors do, the sounds relate to their surroundings. By this I mean Insidious is set entirely within houses, so the sound of dropped items, screeches and the moans of stressed objects portray the eeriness of a haunted gothic castle falling apart. It worked well to completely disband the homeliness of the fairly new Midwestern buildings used in the shoot.
But it is not all good unfortunately. Insidious is without a doubt well honed in scare tactics but as a credible story, it lacks feasibility. It seemed as if Whannell had several really cool ideas that he just had to implement no matter what. Subsequently the final act transforms a frightening and relatable (to a certain extent) narrative into a psychotic episode of sci-fi parallel universes and mystical powers. I remember reading a review which described the film's ending as a poor attempt at being the new age Nightmare on Elm Street; I cite this description because it is as accurate as it gets. They should have stayed within the limitations of the budget because trying to transcend them made those boundaries obvious to the viewer. Sinister characters soon became laughable as you could basically see the zippers on the suits.
Try not to look at this one as anything but unconditional scares. If you enjoyed Paranormal Activity then this is right up your street. It utilises many comparable elements: fear of the unknown, clawed creatures and, most markedly, haunted people instead of haunted houses. My only hope now is that this potential classic remains singularly so but I fear that the makers shall be trying for a baby brother very soon.