A young boy lies asleep in his bed when suddenly the shadow of a woman crosses by the window, momentarily blocking the moonlight from entering the child’s room. The jingly pianos and strings of Joseph Bishara’s chilling score violently erupt into a fit of terror as the title Insidious fills the screen. And so begins the latest horror movie from director James Wan (Saw) and producer Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity). One of the finest and flat-out scariest movies to come out of America in years, Insidious may be old-fashioned, but it’s still a compelling fright factory that, quite literally, sent shivers up my spine.
Starring Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) and Rose Byrne (Get Him to the Greek) as Josh and Renai Lambert, a married couple with three children who have recently moved into a new home. One morning their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) doesn’t wake up and they are told… well, they don’t know what they’re told. He’s not in a coma per se, yet he’s not responding to any treatment. Soon enough Renai starts to notice things aren’t what they seem with this house – and, perhaps, her son – before all hell breaks loose.
There may be jumps courtesy of the Oscar-worthy music and editing, but unlike lesser scary movies every jump is legitimate. There are no cats jumping out of closets or harmless secondary characters hiding in the shadows. The scares are real and they work very effectively; the first sighting of the malevolent Lipstick-Face Demon (yes, that is the real credited name) was so frightening I broke out in pins and needles, chills and goosebumps all at once! And that scenario was repeated time and time again. It certainly helps having Barbara Hershey, so creepy in the recent Black Swan, play a pivotal role in the understanding of these unfolding mysteries.
Insidious’ undoing, however, is its problematic final act where budgetary restraints and laborious exposition threaten to derail Wan’s ghost train entirely. It doesn’t help that a haunted house expert played by prolific character actress Lin Shaye is lifted directly out of Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist from 1982. References to The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby, The Others and more horror classics can also be found.
Aussie viewers may get a kick out of seeing Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as a pair of psychic energy readers, but it’s Rose Byrne who gives the film’s best work. She and James Wan really know how to creek the floorboards of this old house – and there’s a really smart twist in here that will put a hush on those who ask “why don’t you just leave?” – and for the majority of its running time Insidious is a scary good time at the movies.
Insidious is released in Australia on May 12th
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell
and Angus Sampson