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Review: James Wan's Insidious (2010). (Tiff)

James Wan's Insidious (2010). (Tiff)
09.17.2010by: Chris Bumbray
8 10

PLOT: When a young couple, Josh (Patrick Wilson), and Renai (Rose Byrne) move their growing family into a new home, they become plagued by a supernatural entity that has designs on their newly comatose son.

REVIEW: In many ways INSIDIOUS feels like something of a career reboot for director James Wan, and writer/producer Leigh Whannell. I don't mean that to come off as condescending as there was really nothing wrong with their first few films. SAW was a great low-budget horror flick, and while I missed DEAD SILENCE, I really enjoyed DEATH SENTENCE, which was a lean and mean vigilante thriller in the Charles Bronson mode.

However, I absolutely hate the torrent of torture porn films that have become the legacy of SAW and it's many (vastly inferior) sequels. That said, INSIDIOUS hasn't a thing in common with the SAW series. In some ways, you could call it the anti-SAW as there's no torture, no gore, nor even any real violence. INSIDIOUS will easily earn a PG-13, but still, it's among the more frightening horror films I've seen in a while.

When a horror film is truly getting into the realm of the terrifying, gore isn't needed. Was THE EXORCIST (minus the crucifix scene) a gory film? Was ROSEMARY'S BABY? PSYCHO? POLTERGEIST? While INSIDIOUS maybe isn't quite on the same level as those titans of terror, it's still a damn good horror flick, and probably the best mainstream chiller I've seen since DRAG ME TO HELL.

It's also an extraordinarily disciplined one. For a film about ghosts, there's a complete lack of cheap scares. That means no pop-out scenes, and no soundtrack jumps. All of the (many) scares are earned legitimately through the imaginative and chilling plot, and the way the film is crafted.

Now, I didn't give too much about the film away in my plot synopsis, and that's intentional. The best way to enjoy this is to go in knowing the least about the story as possible, and hopefully the trailers won't be too spoiler-heavy. In someways it has a bit in common with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (with director Oren Peli on board as a producer), and THE ENTITY, which is cleverly acknowledged by casting Barbara Hershey in a pivotal role.

Like many good horror films, INSIDIOUS takes it's time to get started, and the only real scares come about halfway into the film. Up to that point, Wan builds the suspense by establishing mood. He's helped in large part by a very effective score by Joseph Bishara, as well as inspired use of the Tiny Tim track “Tip-toe Through the Tulips”.

It also helps that INSIDIOUS boasts a more than credible cast, headlined by two actors you wouldn't normally find in horror flicks. Rose Byrne, of DAMAGES, is great as the caring Mom who immediately believes there's something paranormal going on in her home. Her mounting hysteria is very well acted without ever devolving into histrionics. She maintains strength throughout, and is believable as someone who's more than willing to face evil in order to save her family.

As the more sceptical half of the couple, we get Patrick Wilson, in probably his best role since LITTLE CHILDREN. He's not at all convinced anything abnormal is happening until very late in the game. For the first half of the film, he takes a back-seat to Rose Byrne, but by the end you'll understand why they had to go with a commanding actor like Wilson. Overall, they're a very believable and strong couple, that compares favourably to Jobeth Williams, and Craig T. Nelson in POLTERGEIST.

The rest of the cast is equally good, with Lin Shaye making a particularly strong impression as the paranormal investigator summoned by Wilson's mom, Barbara Hershey- who has her own ties to what going on in the household. I also really enjoyed Shayne's investigator sidekicks, one of whom is played by Whannell himself, who bring a few much needed giggles into the intense second half.

So, once INSIDIOUS gets a release (which it certainly will, with Sony already picking it up for distribution), don't be put off by the almost certain PG-13. There's no way an R rating could possibly make this a better film than it already is. Lack of gore aside, the last thirty minutes of this film will certainly have all but the most jaded horror fans gripping the armrest of their seats, which is what these films are all about.

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