Before you shell out any cash for Insidious, let me ask you a few questions: Do you appreciate James Wan/Leigh Whannell’s previous efforts? They are, of course, the team that gave you the Saw franchise and Dead Silence (2007). What do you expect from your horror? Do you like B-level, amateurish, bordering on camp efforts, or do you prefer something with more skill and subtlety? And, finally, do you like to be scared? That first question is not really as relevant as the last three; because how you take your horror will really determine your reaction to Insidious. Personally, I’m a horror snob. I don’t like over reliance on lazy, parlor-trick jumps and lots of loud music; I want subtlety and atmosphere. I don’t want to see the same thing that I’ve seen a hundred times before; you can twist old standards, just be innovative. And, most of all, I want to be scared … I demand it. Sadly, Insidious is a fail with a capital F on every level.
Written by Whannell and directed by Wan, Insidious focuses on a family consisting of Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), a teacher; his wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), a songwriter; their two sons Dalton (Ty Simpkins), Foster (Andrew Astor) and a baby daughter. At the beginning they move into a giant, old house with a creepy attic, and it doesn’t take long before the trouble starts. Books put on a shelf are later found on the floor. The baby cries incessantly, and although it isn’t stated outright, I’m assuming it is because ghosts/demons in the house are frightening her. Adding evidence to this hypothesis is the fact that Renai hears a man’s voice whispering menacingly over the baby monitor, and yet there isn’t anyone else in the house. As time goes on, the trouble intensifies, especially after Dalton ventures into the attic. Climbing up an unstable ladder, he “falls” and, for some inexplicable reason, goes into a quasi-coma. (The doctors, of course, have never seen anything like this before.) The proverbial straw breaks for the very overwhelmed Renai when she encounters hostile “forces” in the house. Terrified, she insists that they relocate. Josh obliges and they move into a new abode. Moving doesn’t really solve anything, and the trouble begins again with more sightings of dead people. Running out of options, they turn to Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), a long-time family friend of Josh’s mother (Barbara Hershey) who is a healer/spiritualist with two assistants Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). What’s going on? As you discover in the film’s trailer: “it’s not the house that’s haunted … it’s (Dalton).” Cue the “dun dun dun” music.
I just rewatched one of the trailers for the film, and if Insidious had been made with as much care as it was, the film might have been scary, intense, atmospheric, or, at the very least, interesting. In reality, it is none of these things. Rather it is uneven, derivative, and lame. It’s sort of what happens when you take elements from The Shining (1980), Paranormal Activity (2007), Poltergeist (1982), and just about any haunted house film, and then throw them together. Oh, and you have to give some random nods to your own films Saw (that puppet head can be seen on the blackboard in Josh’s classroom) and Dead Silence (strange puppets are suspended in the “devil’s” lair, and there is a menacing old woman dressed in black with white hair piled on her head). If it had only been derivative, I might have been OK with it. But it gets worse. After the family moves to house No. 2, things take a campy turn. The ghosts/dead take on corporeal shape, and Renai is chasing a full-bodied child, dressed up like Oliver Twist, into Dalton’s room. Not scary at all. I like my ghosts a bit more covert and transparent. What really killed the film for me, though, was the reveal (SPOILERS) that the creature menacing Dalton was a black figure with a red face and cloven hooves. Could you get any more literal than that? Really? By the time, we see this figure in a room filled with toys, gleefully sharpening his nails on a treadle wheel grinder, I honestly said, out loud, “this film blows.” And it does. Actually, what started my outright hatred of the film began when Specs and Tucker made their appearance, and changed the overall tone from horror to comedy. Anyone familiar with the CW’s Supernatural might think that Whannell got inspiration from the often arguing Ed Zeddmore (A.J. Buckley) and Kenny Spruce (Austin Basis) a.k.a. the Ghostfacers. The ending was just the icing on this shit cake of a film. I had already predicted how Josh fit into the whole scenario and figured out exactly how his little excursion would turn out. I have never been so happy to see the credits roll on a film as I have with Insidious.
Just in case, I haven’t been clear enough, Insidious is a waste of your money. It is like watching a haunted house that was put together by junior high students. It is like watching a film made by someone who watches too much B-grade horror, and thinks it’s worth remaking. It’s like enduring a film by Eli Roth on repeat while someone stabs you repeatedly with a burning poker in your tenders. No, it’s not even that pleasurable of an experience. Avoid this film at all costs. You have been warned. One star out of five, with the one star going to Byrne for trying her best to make this turd float.