I have a big reason to dread anything director James Wan puts his mark on.
This is the guy who gave us the original Saw, one of the most overrated horror films of the last two decades and the source of many dreadful sequels. Because of something Wan and his writing pal Leigh Whannell thought up, I’ve had to endure one lousy Saw film after another every Halloween. Those bastards!
Insidious, Wan’s latest directorial effort written by Whannell, co-author of the original Saw, is a new take on ye olde haunted house tale. A family moves into a new house, things start to go bump in the night, and ghosts are more than likely the culprits. Here we go again, right?
I know that summary makes it sound dull and unoriginal, but, lo and behold, Wan has managed to make something potentially mundane truly chilling. There were many moments in this movie when I just wanted to get up and get the hell out of the theater—for the right reasons when watching a horror flick. Insidious had me freaking out. This is easily the best thing Wan has put to film.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are quite good as Josh and Renai Lambert, a husband and wife attempting to settle in at their new home. Josh is a schoolteacher fretting about grading papers, wrinkles on his face and the occasional gray hair. Renai is a wannabe songwriter whose aspirations have been sidelined after having three children. Neither is miserable, but they are definitely sweating their imperfections.
This makes them just a little unreliable when they must face a true family crisis. Dalton (Ty Simpkins), one of their sons, has fallen into some kind of strange sleep for months and shows no signs of waking. In the meantime, strange noises and unwanted visitors begin haunting Renai.
Credit Wan for making those noises and visitors absolutely terrifying. The baby monitor gimmick is used to jarring effect when Renai puts it up to her ear. Ghostly characters stroll through hallways, peer through windows and, in one hilariously scary instance, dance frantically to a novelty song.
Wan has that gift for telegraphing his scares and still making them bone-chilling. There were moments when I knew something scary was coming, and dreading what would transpire. More often than not, the payoff made my blood feel like crushed ice.
The movie reportedly was made for a paltry $1.5 million dollars. This, to me, is an incredible feat. I would’ve guessed the budget was at least 10, perhaps 20 times that. The movie looks terrific, using old-school makeup and lighting for most of its scare effects. Wan doesn’t cheat with computers.
Now, not everything works. The film loses a bit of its momentum in the final act, and some of the intentionally scary stuff comes off as a little goofy.
Still, when it hits the mark, you and those around you at the theater will be audibly frightened. (This was one of the loudest screenings I’ve ever attended, and the theater was only a quarter full.)
Wan unabashedly rips off Poltergeist, not necessarily a bad thing. Lin Shaye (a Farrelly brothers’ favorite in films such as Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary) shows up as Elise, a clairvoyant who informs the family that the haunting involves astral-projection and another dimension called “The Further.”
Wilson and Byrne combine to make the film dramatically sound beyond the scares. Their characters are slightly annoying as they insist upon staying put in a house that’s clearly screwed up. But, as the film wears on, they become worth rooting for as they take measures to save their child and keep malevolent spirits out of their dining room.
So, I am no longer mad at James Wan for spawning the atrocity that is the Saw franchise. Now I’m mad at him because I’m a grown man who has to sleep with the lights on for the next couple of weeks.