Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor
Directed by James Wan
When Leigh Whannell and James Wan created Saw back in 2004, they were sitting on a concept of horror film that hadn't been played to death (pun totally intended). But as the old adage goes, "there are no new ideas left in Hollywood", and this has proven yet again true with their latest release Insidious, which is basically Poltergeist meets Paranormal Activity. Plot originality aside, it's still as tense, gripping, and generally as scary as you would expect from the duo behind Saw.
When Renai and Josh Lambert move into a new house with their young children, strange things start to happen. No one takes too much notice at first, but then one morning they find their son Dalton will not wake up, and the young boy remains in an unexplainable comatose state for the next few months.
As Renai stays home to care for the child, the presence in the house grows stronger. Objects move, voices are heard, and bloodied handprints begin to appear. Terrified and coming close to a breakdown, Renai eventually begs her husband to move houses. They do, but the spirits appear to follow them and pretty soon they call in a psychic expert to get whatever it is out.
For the first half of the movie this seems like your typical haunted house flick, complete with deadly white ghosts, laughing children running through hallways and mysteriously creaking floorboards. You can see the next plot revelation coming from a mile away - before you even get into the cinema the tagline on the movie poster reads, "It's not the house that's haunted."
It plays out fairly close to Paranormal Activity, except that later on we can see the evil spirits and the underlying plot have been tweaked a little. As in Paranormal Activity, the creepiness initially comes from not being able to see what is lurking, and the first half of the film builds up the tension and creepiness very effectively.
By now we've figured out unconscious Dalton has something to do with the presence of the sinister spirits. The final act of the film is devoted to rescuing Dalton, and is not unlike Poltergeist in many aspects. While it manages to keep its traction, it's here when the movie starts to loose a bit of its edge.
The ending with its final twist is predictable, but it is still tense watching due to the effective use of silence and camera angles. There are a few good seat-jolting moments scattered throughout its 102 minutes, although it might be surprising to know that Wan and Whannell managed to complete the film without using any gore whatsoever and only the teeniest amount of blood.
The actors have been well cast to fit their respective roles. Rose Byrne's permanently worried expression is put to good use as the beautiful but nerve-wrecked, strung-out mother Renai trying to cope with raising three kids around a few sinister spirits. To her credit she never deteriorates into the hysterically screaming mess many female characters end up as in horror flicks.
Patrick Wilson plays the part of detached husband Josh very convincingly. He's the disbeliever in denial who is begrudgingly dragged into a situation he is initially sceptical about. There's also a bit of humour thrown into the mix in the form of two nerdy ghost busters, played by Whannell and Angus Sampson, who you may recognise from the Thank God You're Here TV series.
Insidious is not quite as drawn out as Paranormal Activity, but you'll be feeling the same kind of tension in the cinema. As an avid horror fan who is somewhat immune to scary movies, this flick still made me jump in my seat and by the end I was more than a little relieved it was over.
Indisious is nothing groundbreaking, but it will scare and entertain you for its duration. As far as horror films go, this is a solid one to add to Wan and Whannell's repertoire.
3 and a half out of 5
For more movie reviews, check out our Reviews archive.