👻 An imperfect, but “effective” and genuinely scary work from a talented director.
Insidious, directed by James Wan (Saw (2004), Dead Silence (2007)), is one of those few psychological horror films that are genuinely scary without sliding into ridiculousness or dullness, and that also provides good entertainment in terms of fascinating subject matter, gripping plot and great sound effects. In Insidious, the plot centres on the Lambert family who recently moved into their new house. After Dalton Lambert (Ty Simpkins), a small boy, has his falling accident in the attic, and then mysteriously slips into a coma, strange things start to happen in the Lambert family’s new house. When Dalton’s mother Renai and father Josh (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) start to investigate the causes and nature of strange apparitions and noises, they soon discover that their child’s endless sleep has more to do with the house’s haunting state than they have ever dared to guess.
The film can be divided into two parts, and the first part is, arguably, more impressive and realistic than the second. In the first part, we see the Lambert family’s tragic realisation of their son’s condition and their house’s haunted nature. Here, the audience is absorbed into Lamberts’ daily-activities, and it is genuinely scary to watch the arising “paranormal” threat posed to the family. This effect is achieved by maintaining the atmosphere of suspense and fright, and the film succeeds in instilling a sense of apprehension and fear, building tension to the limit. Music (Joseph Bishara’s scary score) and camera-work add to this “creepiness” effect, and one is reminded of Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers (2008), which also uses a similar technique. Camera rotates and circles the house and Dalton’s room, closing up and moving away, contributing greatly to the effect of the unknown and the terrifying lurking beneath the home’s welcoming façade.
The second part of the film is more problematic and is, undoubtedly, the weakest link. Half-way through the film, the couple, greatly saddened by all the strange occurrences in their house, invites spiritual investigators, as well as a friend of Lorraine, an expert in the paranormal field, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Unfortunately, it is at this point that the film changes its tone (including its colour) and turns quite humorous, with the two funny ghostbusters joking about, and the whole affair turning suddenly quite comical. While for some viewers this provides a nice “comic-relief”, so to speak, this turn is disappointing as it undermines the intense, serious and suspenseful atmosphere the film so painstakingly built from the the start. At this point, strangely enough, all the paranormal, ghostly appearances stop as the ghostbusters’ investigation continues. And, if that was not enough, as the film progresses, it gets even worse. We see quite lazy and cliché representations of the “other world” – “the Further”, which is, if not completely laughable, still remains no way near being scary.
Contrary to some say, the ending is actually refreshing and unpredictable (at least to some extent) and rather scary. It feels “complete”: not in the sense that there will never be any sequels, because there is already one under way – Insidious, Chapter Two (2013), but because the ending feels satisfying in a thought-provoking way.
We see so few “quality” horror films nowadays that, alongside Guillermo del Toro’s Mama (2013), Insidious is one of only a few recent films out there to prove that horror films do not necessarily have to be viewed as “low-quality” entertainment, and can actually do what it says on the tin – scare. Overall, even though the movie may not be as original as we would like it to be, and ignoring some big misses in the movie’s second part, it is safe to say that Insidious is still an effective horror film which is unlikely to disappoint.
The possibility of astral projection (an out-of-body-experience, where a spiritual body leaves a physical one to travel to other places while a person is asleep) features heavily in the film, and this is where Insidious “stands out”, so to speak, from all other “haunted-house” horror films. The presentation of astral projection in the film is also relatively accurate. The film clearly shows what happens when an astral body leaves a physical one, and the psychological effect it may have on a person. Apart from that, Insidious uses a wide variety of material – from South African ancient legends, describing out-of-body experience, to modern-day statements of astral projection travellers. For example, demon-like beings haunting the “other side” (dream-world) is an event which is reported most frequently by astral projection travellers, and the movie wastes not time incorporating this. The legend of the Old Hag, now translated into the “Old Hag syndrome”, is the one on which James Wan relies most heavily. Sufferers of this syndrome wake up to find that they cannot move, even though they can see, hear, feel and smell, aka “sleep paralysis”. Most report a great weight put on their chests, and a sense that there is someone sinister and evil present in the room with them. The ancient belief says that this is the Old Hag “riding” the sleeper’s back.
14 Comments Add yours
I really liked Insidious, great film and cant wait for the sequel!
Great review! I’m glad you mentioned Joseph Bishara’s score. I thought it was one of the best I’ve heard in a horror film actually. He also did the score for Dark Skies which was pretty effective as well. Incidentally, he also the actor who plays the “Lipstick-Face” Demon in this. Scary guy!!
Super excited for the sequel, absolutely adored the first. Also, I am really looking forward to the Conjuring also by James Wan. Great review and site, I am now following, recently started my own film blog and would love it if you could check it out.
Insidious made me an insomniac for 42 hours And I swear to god it’s because Darth Maul makes a cameo. There’s nothing more terrifying than seeing characters from the Star Wars prequels in a horror film. Insidious 2 better not have jar jar bink roaming the set because that would just make me comatose.
The exact words that I have been wanting to write but never had the words to organize my thoughts.. But absolutely yes, this movie is psychologically delicious. It plays with our mind, and how genuine our imaginations could be. The second part of the movie actually, I think, the circle scene, with the investigators, was just there to make it more eerie, you know, too much horrific scenes could spoil the film. Thumbs up!
This movie is really creepy and James Wan makes use of incredible atmospherics. Great camerawork, great pacing…and then there’s the second half. “Insidious” may be called ‘supposed to be,’ but for some, like myself, it’s already enough.
I really liked Insidious. Every once in awhile a horror movie sticks out above the mass of predictable crap. This is one of them. James Wan is great.
Great Review. I enjoyed Insidious to a point, but found the last 25 mins totally feel apart. I think James Wan nails aspects of horror so well but fails at concluding a story convincingly without cliché or reaching for the obvious. I feel the same short-comings harboured ‘The Conjuring’ as well. Drop by http://www.moviereviewworld.com sometime if you get the chance.
Thanks a lot for your comment. Yeah, that’s exactly what is the matter with ‘The Conjuring’ and ‘Insidious’. Even if James Wan had sequels in mind, there was surely no excuse for ‘lets-just-wrap-it-up-as-soon-as-possible-no-matter-how-clumsy’ endings.
Agreed. Great site btw, enjoying it a lot.