1.Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects
2. Treacherous; crafty
You might want to add a third definition to that which states that ‘Insidious’ is also a movie that will shred your nerves to the very core with its things that go bump in the night.
Producer Oren Peli was the brain behind the last genuinely unsettling horror experience, 2009’s Paranormal Activity. He clearly knows how to get under the audience’s skin and his influence is apparent in this brilliant haunted house horror. The film melds the best aspects of that CCTV chiller, throws in a little Poltergeist, and tops it off with a sprinkle of Guillermo Del Toro aesthetics. It is a horror in the grandest tradition of the genre, the complete antithesis of director Wan’s own Saw franchise with its increasingly lamentable and tiresome torture porn.
Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) are your typical all American family: three sprogs, well-paid jobs, good looks. Their idyllic lifestyle has just been relocated to a new house but before you can say “Amityville”, strange noises are heard in the attic, whispers echo over the baby monitor and then their young son Josh falls into an inexplicable coma that doctors cannot diagnose. Without divulging what has actually happened, it’s safe to say that the family are going to have to go to hell and a little bit further in order to save Josh, and you’re going with them.
Insidious plays things old school, but its genius lies in the fact that it can still wring tension and relief out of a situation in such a manner that you’ll re-embrace scare devices that you’ve seen countless times before. With a Suspiria style soundtrack it lulls you into a false sense that what you’re about to watch will be kitsch, before unleashing devastating glimpses of faces behind mesh curtains, corridor dwelling maidens and dancing children, the thought of which send shivers down a rarely troubled spine.
The film does switch tone about two-thirds of the way through, which may alienate some viewers, but what remains consistent is a wonderful sense of humour, particularly when the “Ghostbusters” are called and arrive in the shape of a couple of bickering geeks. The final third, without giving anything away, spills over into the fantastical. But it’s still entertaining with its ideas and execution, mainly thanks to the presence of a genuinely freakish bogeyman and a family you’re rooting for.
Characters to care about are paramount to any horror, so it’s thanks in no small part to Byrne and Wilson that we are given a couple who deal with their son’s crisis in contrasting and realistic fashions, allowing us as an audience a barometer by which to gauge our own “oh you wouldn’t do that” hang-ups.
Whether or not you think it follows through on the fantastic set-up will be a matter of personal taste, but by the time you come around to making your mind up you’ll be emotionally drained and more concerned about how you’re going to remove your nails from the chair arm.
Dir. James Wan, US, 2010, 102mins
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye
Review by Matthew Rodgers