Director James Wan manages to make a decent PG13 horror movie out of Insidious. It’s not perfect by any means and its not exactly great material, but it certainly has its moments. The main problem with this movie is that it doesn’t seem to figure out what it is. One half is your typical horror movie that relies heavily on quick scares and jumps and the other half tries to be campy and funny. Insidious never manages to achieve perfection in either category. Had it stuck with trying to be one or the other, I think this review could have ended up being totally different, but it didn’t so you are given this middle of the road review.
Insidious is about a family that moves into a house and one of the children is all of a sudden in a coma. There is no logical explanation for this coma and the family is faced with this horrible situation. As the boy continues to sleep the family starts seeing weird figures in the hallways. It’s really hard to discuss any more of the story without spoiling several factors of the film. There are a few pivotal scenes that progress the story and shed some more light on it, but I feel that if I explain those parts, then the movie could be ruined. One of the biggest things Insidious had going for it was the mystery of what exactly was happening. So I am just going to leave you with some plain information. As I stated the family is seeing weird things and they have a feeling that the house is haunted. This leaves you with a mother and father trying to balance the stress of having their child in a coma and seeing all sorts of weird things around the house.
There were several things that I really enjoyed with Insidious. The main thing I loved was the atmosphere of the film. The color palette was very washed out and full of grays, the music was very creepy and ominous. I think James Wan managed to capture lots of chilling shots. I am the type of person that doesn’t jump during the scenes that are solely made to get a reaction out of you. I usually can see them coming and when they do happen, they never really phase me. Instead of relying on horrible acting and very dull jump scenes like Paranormal Activity, Insidious focuses more on building up a tense environment and then throwing things at you occasionally. I will admit that some of the “scares” felt forced, but I appreciated the try and I understood how they helped build the film up more. The opening credits really helped set the mood for the film. You could tell that Wan really wanted to do more than just scare you. He wanted to leave you scratching your head and wondering what exactly you just witnessed.
Another thing that helped the movie a lot was the acting. Everyone involved brought a very unique blend of depression and hopelessness. The mother, played by Rose Byrne, was the brightest point of the film. She starts out very happy and optimistic about moving into a new house with her family and then she slowly slips into insanity. There is a particular scene when she starts seeing “things” for extended periods of time. She no longer had that comfort of knowing that she might be seeing things due to all the stress and pressure built up. She began to realize everything she saw was real and eventually it would all unfold even more.
I know that I mentioned the visuals earlier, but I feel that I need to touch up on them once more. There are some really cool shots in this film. Lots of long hallway shots and far distance shots of the house help add tension to the film. When those shots are mixed with the music it really helps establish the tone of the film, it really does start to get creepy. The last act of the film really does transport you to another world, visually. I think that is going to be a major factor in comparing and contrasting this to films like Paranormal Activity. PA is grounded as a “real” movie, Insidious is the total opposite. It starts out grounded and it slowly rises into something very unique and different.
While being unique and different is a good thing in modern cinema, I feel that Wan might have tried a little too hard, which resulted in several things being plain out hokey and silly. The first act is spent trying so hard to make you believe in this weird idea and then when it kicks into the second act, you start to lose connection.
My main problem with Insidious was that it felt like two different movies. The first movie, which I explained earlier, was more of a creepy movie that relied on jumps and scares like Paranormal Activity. That part of the film worked to an extent and probably would have been great if they would have stuck with it. The second movie it felt like was Drag Me to Hell. They had lots of scenes that were so cheesy and dumb that they almost felt funny. DMTH was a very fun movie indeed, but director Sam Raimi establishes the tone very early in that film and he stuck with it, where Insidious establishes a more serious tone and then tries to toss in a few corny moments and then jump right back into serious again. The transformations weren’t smooth at all and they made the film feel very unbalanced.
I do give the film credit for maintaining a little dignity with its ending. I was worried when everything started wrapping up and I was hoping in the back of my mind that they would go with a certain ending. I was relieved of any worries when the film came to a quick and satisfying end. I give big props for them going with that ending!
Overall, Insidious is an unbalanced film with several good and bad traits. It creates a very creepy atmosphere, by mixing some unique visual shots and some very dark music, but as soon as it started to get good as a horror movie, they started to throw in too many funny bits that weren’t always funny. I understand that you need to throw in some comedic relief every now and then, and they do that with a certain team of experts, but there seems to be too many parts that came off cheesy and pointless and managed to take away from the experience. Had James Wan went with either a scary horror movie or a funny horror movie, I think he would have been very successful, but he ended up mixing the two and the result was somewhere in the middle. Nothing great, but worth a watch!
Insidious – 7.5/10