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They needn't have been. James Wan has crafted some of the most effective scares I've seen in as long as I can remember with INSIDIOUS. It is a rare horror movie that has the ability to make chills run down my spine, and this one did it on multiple occasions. A horror movie's primary task is to scare the audience, and this one delivers in spades.
Certainly helping things along is an outstanding cast including Patrick Wilson as a loving but unreliable father, Rose Byrne as a practical mom in the middle of fantastical events, the great Lin Shaye doing her turn as a medium, and the always awesome Barbara Hershey. Grounded performances keep us rooted in a real world feel even as the haunting becomes more outlandish.
And returning to the question of scares, what I really appreciated about the approach that INSIDIOUS took is that many typical jump scare set ups are present, and those scares come as expected. But they are not jump scares. The movie insists on having something there every time a character thinks they see something, hear something, or gets freaked out by a feeling. And it's not all dark corridors either. Wan has the confidence in his story telling to let his ghosts do their thing in daylight, with multiple witnesses, and in lengthy appearances.
I'd probably have to say this is the most effective haunted house flick I've seen since THE CHANGELING (1980). Which is sadly not to say that the whole thing is perfect. As great an eye as Wan has as a director, his editing fails him a bit here. Particularly in the first act there are some very awkward, and at times inexplicable cuts that give the film a disjointed feel. Some of that is paid off towards the end, but not in a very satisfying way, and I think having a good editor on this would have given it a shot at being great instead of really good.
I also have to quote my wife who said afterwards, "They had me until the gasmask." You'll know the scene when you see it. It marks a point in the third act that the film really goes off the rails. Too many things going on without enough explanation of why, or how someone knows what they know. And a final journey into an alternate universe that is so creepy you wonder why anyone would ever choose to explore it.
Additionally there are obvious plot clues that no one notices until it is convenient to the story. Like a child's wall of pictures that show all manner of disturbing things. How two loving parents could be clueless about their kid drawing things like that strains credulity.
Lastly, for me, as much as I love Dario Argento and appreciate the homage that Wan wanted to include to him, the tone of Argento's work and this film are markedly different and littering the film with visual and musical shout outs broke me out of the world when they happened.
Most of those negatives are after the fact thoughts, though. They do hold the film back from being a classic, but have a negligible effect on the chilling experience of watching it for the first time.
Audio: Dolby Digital
Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar: Basic Interview package with a catchy title.
On Set With Insidious: Typical BTS.
Insidious Entities: More typical BTS.