Patrick Wilson - John Lambert
Rose Byrne - Renai Lambert
Lin Shaye - Elise Rainier
Barbara Hershey - Lorriane Lambert
Leigh Whannell - Specs
Angus Sampson - Tucker
Ty Simpkins - Dalton Lambert
Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Ghosts/Demons
Running Time - 103 Minutes
PLOT - Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) Lambert are your typical married couple with three young children who have moved into a new house. With his teaching job and lack of dealing with stressful situations, Josh tends to be away from the family a lot while Renai is in charge of the household in between writing music. One night, the oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) goes up into the attic after hearing strange noises, falling off of a ladder and injuring himself. The next morning, Dalton doesn't wake up. Doctors claim he's in a coma but can't explain how or why since he's physically okay.
Months later, Dalton [still in a coma] is taken care of at home. However, the noises that Dalton had heard grow louder and more violent. While Josh is staying at work late to avoid the situation, Renai deals with the noises and scary sights of spirits that seem to have taken over her house. Believing the house is haunted, Renai convinces Josh to move. But even in their new home, the noises continue. Even though he's skeptical, Josh allows Renai to contact a spiritual psychic (Lin Shaye) to come in and see if Dalton's problem is more supernatural than realistic. When the Lamberts learn that Dalton, not the house, is the haunted party, everyone involved learns the truth behind Dalton's condition.
STORY - The reason for this less detailed type of review is to avoid spoilers about INSIDIOUS, especially where it concerns the second half of the film which reveals the twists and turns about Dalton's condition, as well as The Further. I will make slight abstract mentions about these things to discuss why INSIDIOUS could have been better than it was.
INSIDIOUS is director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell's fourth feature film [2004's SAW, 2007's DEAD SILENCE, and 2008's DEATH SENTENCE] and currently the top horror film of 2011. With a budget of $1.5 million, the film grossed close to a $100 million at the box office. With films like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY doing so well these days, it's no surprise that marketing that one of the producers of that franchise helped produce this film would lead to some sort of financial success.
INSIDIOUS, in a lot of ways, is a homage to other horror films that deal with evil spirits and even possession. The major influence is definitely 1982's Tobe Hooper's [or Steven Spielberg's - depending on who you ask] classic POLTERGEIST. This is evident in that the evil spirits are preying on a vulnerable young child, making believers out of the parents as they seek help from a psychic who knows a thing or two about the supernatural. There are also moments that seem to be inspired by THE EXORCIST, THE CHANGELING [the handscripting scene], as well as THE ENTITY [probably why Barbara Hershey is in the film as a throwback]. While this may sound like INSIDIOUS stealing its success from other more popular sources, the film still manages to take these old horror stories and mix them up to turn them into something more modern and fresh. In fact, getting surprised by thinking things will do as expected but they end up doing quite the opposite helps create the scares needed to make INSIDIOUS work. It's not the scariest film ever, but there are genuine moments of creepiness that looms through the running time. And while there are your standard jump scares [due to the volume level of some of the music], there are instances where you see things within the frame that unsettle you [especially the dancing demon and that thing that looks like Darth Maul].
The set-up, or the first half of the film, is definitely the strongest. Here, we learn about the characters and their struggles. Josh is afraid to confront things, causing him to be more absent from his children's lives than he probably wants and creating a rift in his marriage in the process. Renai is struggling with her lack of a career, almost jealous that Josh is too involved in his. She is the caretaker of the home, and her strong connection to her kids [especially Dalton] allows her to figure out what's going on right away before Josh is able to. We honestly don't know much about these two characters other than their names and jobs, but their strained relationship and the different ways they handle the whole supernatural deal is telling of who these characters are and how they develop from that [especially Josh]. They also come across as likeable and realistic, which is nice to see in a film that doesn't really deal with realism.
The first half also sets up the best scares, as Renai constantly sees apparitions after Dalton falls into his coma. They start off subtle until she hears demonic voices on the baby monitor and hears Tiny Tim's "Tip Toe Through The Tulips" as some demon dances to it quite happily. I never would have associated that song to be creepy, but it is now. When Josh's mother, Lorraine, also sees these evil spirits, the film moves away from Renai being crazy to a legitimate ghost/haunted house story. The narrative moves slow in the first half, but it builds up the creep factor and the characters' relationships with each other quite strongly.
Too bad the second half of the film is disappointing. While it's still told well, it just doesn't carry the momentum and strength that preceded it. First of all, let me just say that while I do appreciate comic relief in horror films if done right, INSIDIOUS falls flat with its two ghost investigators, Specs [Whannell himself] and Tucker. I guess they were written to lighten the bleak mood that was accomplished before they appear, but they aren't all that funny and aren't really needed to be honest. I also won't spoil the twist that involves Dalton and another character in the film, but I did think it was an interesting take on the ghost story and it felt fresh. Well at least the concept did anyway, as the execution [I'm talking about the idea of The Further] went way too long and too much was either shown or explained without showing [sometimes less is indeed more]. Plus the ending, while kind of predictable, wasn't done as well as it could have to create more of an impact. But other than that, the second half of the film is still presented well enough to entertain and creep people out somewhat. It's just its ambition is stronger than its execution.
By the way, can I ask what happened to the two other Lambert kids in the last half of the film? Did I miss the explanation for their absence? Why were they even in the film to begin with?
DIRECTION - James Wan does a good job bringing the story to life. The first half of the film is quite focused, especially it concerns Renai and Josh's characters and how they're effected by what's happening. The subtle appearances of these spirits/demons are well done and end up being more chilling than the loud noise to signal a jump scare. This is because the way the film is framed and the mise en scene really work visually to tell the story rather than any dialogue that could do the same. Unfortunately, the last half is a bit more of a CGI type of deal, where we see a whole bunch of spirits and demons that come across more laughable than scary really [reminded me a bit of the heavily-flawed DEAD SILENCE at this point]. It's also less focused as well, as the film starts going all over the place to showcase all the characters, which is a bit distracting at times. The two halves really feel like different movies, which almost hurts the flow of INSIDIOUS but the film still manages to be engaging on various levels throughout to make the transition work. The cinematography looks good and the editing is solid. The film is a bit too long, but the pacing works. For a $1.5 million project, INSIDIOUS is done really well for the most part by Wan.
EDGE FACTOR - INSIDIOUS is PG-13 and is very tame. The bad language is kept minimal and there's no sexuality at all. The film isn't really all that violent really until the final act, where the usual haunted house tropes come into play [shaky house, spirits throwing characters around, etc.]. It doesn't hurt the film at all, but for gore hounds and fans looking for nudity should just watch something else.
ACTING - The acting is very solid in INSIDIOUS. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne [who is having a heck of a year with BRIDESMAIDS, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and her TV show Damages] are wonderful as the Lamberts. Bryne gets more to do as the scared, yet perceptive mother. She goes from tired, to happy, to frightened, to miserable quite convincingly. Wilson gets less to do until the end of the film, but he takes the material and makes the most of it like a trooper. I've been a fan of this guy for a while now, so I'm not surprised he did well here. Lin Shaye is the true star of the film as Elise, the psychic who understands Dalton's condition and why it's happening. Shaye is a great character actress and it's nice to see her in a major theatrical film in a main role. She's quite riveting to watch once she appears. Barbara Hershey is a great addition as Josh's mother, Lorraine. It's a bit of stunt casting, due to her work in another ghost film, THE ENTITY. Even though she ends up being a plot device mostly, she makes wonderful work of it. Leigh Whannell and Angus Simpson are okay in small doses, and Ty Simpkins does well with strong material as Dalton. Not a bad cast at all.
Trivia Bit: Ty Simpkins also played Patrick Wilson's son in 2006's LITTLE CHILDREN.
THE FINAL HOWL
INSIDIOUS is a good modern ghost movie that definitely brings the scares and does well with taking what's been done before and creating something new with it. The first half is stronger and has more focus, but overall, the presentation is solid and does what it's advertised to do. Even with its flaws, INSIDIOUS is one of 2011's highlights in terms of horror cinema. It's nice to see that a horror film can still creep me out after all these years. Let's hope more horror films attempt that rather than rely on gore and torture porn tactics.