PLOT: Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) have barely moved into their new home when things start going bump in the night. After a few strange incidents send their eldest son Dalton into a coma, the increasingly frazzled couple must call on a medium (Lin Shaye) and her two tech-savvy assistants to investigate the possible involvement of the spirit world. No prizes for those who guess that a supernatural presence is stalking the happy family with insidious intentions.
REVIEW: From the blaring violin-accompanied title card with INSIDIOUS stamped in giant letters across the screen at the very beginning, James Wan's film is not afraid to embrace its unabashed position as a scary movie! (Yes, exclamation mark included.) In fact, it wants to be the scary movie; you get the sense that the people behind the camera won't be satisfied until every last audience member tweets "I just saw the scariest movie ever, y'all" immediately afterward. It isn't quite that good - but it's a fun, old-fashioned spook show all the same.
The set-up with the family is nothing new. Josh, Renai and their brood come off as a pleasant, if wholly unremarkable, family at the center of a supernatural crisis; of course, the whole point with a movie like this is to show how "normal" the people are who are coming under fire from some malevolent unseen thing. The challenge is to bring something new to the table, and it turns out screenwriter Leigh Whannell (Wan's collaborator on the first three SAW films) has a trick up his sleeve when it comes to the nature of the family's introduction to the apparitions, a clever bit of business involving "astral projection". To delve into it too much would be spoiling the hook, but let's say that once those nefarious ones on "other side" smell an open vessel, they're gunning for it. The usual hallmarks arrive when shit begins to hit the fan, and we get the standard array of shadowy figures, laughing ghost children and furniture moving of their own accord (I sometimes wonder if a ghost doesn't have anything better to do than gently nudge chairs around). It's an old song with slightly new music, but the endgame is still the same: scare the crap out of everybody.
Wan has obviously made it a point to separate himself from the "guy who directed SAW" label; not just with this film, but with 2007's eerie DEAD SILENCE and 2007's brutal revenge thriller DEATH SENTENCE. Here he shows a firm grasp on a much more restrained, yet intense, style of horror. From an unsettling handheld approach that threatens to reveal something freaky around every corner, to a perfect orchestration of BOO! scares. Yes, there are jump scares aplenty to be found here, but Wan bathes his sequences in such dread and trepidation that the proceedings are already fairly chilling. The jumps are earned. Some of the credit for the consistently foreboding atmosphere might have to go to Oren Peli, who shook the world with his debut PARANORMAL ACTIVITY and serves as a producer here. This film, like ACTIVITY, might just make a fortune crawling under the skin of many an unsuspecting teenager and adult alike.
If there's a complaint to be lodged against INSIDIOUS, it's simply a matter of originality - or lack thereof. Though the aforementioned astral projection angle feels semi-fresh, Wan's film often comes off like a Frankenstein's monster of other movies. THE EXORCIST, POLTERGEIST, THE SIXTH SENSE, THE SHINING - hell, even the filmmakers' own DEAD SILENCE and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY - seem like they've been directly lifted from at various times. That's not to say INSIDIOUS isn't enjoyable on its own, but the nagging sensation that it wouldn't have been made without some, or all, of those touchstones persists during and after.
But that won't much matter when you're in that loud theater and the multitude of thumps, creaks and bangs are giving you a thorough case of the heebie-jeebies. INSIDIOUS is an immediate experience, shamelessly intent on jangling your nerves. Toward the end it begins to feel like one of those haunted house attractions where people jump out at you from behind every wall: You shriek, you laugh at yourself for being an easy mark, you say "that didn't really scare me", and then you shriek again. Repeat. Not exactly an intellectual exercise, but then again, it was never pretending to be one.