Haunted houses. Demon possession. Seances. The Further. Astral Projection. For the Lambert family, any hope of having a normal life gradually fades after their young son Dalton falls into a non-waking state. As they struggle to make sense of what’s happening to their son, Renai and Josh are overcome with a feeling of never being alone. Not quite. Renai is tormented by noises and visions of things that aren’t there. The events escalate until the family decides to move in hopes of getting away from whatever seeks to torment them. But, once installed in their new home, things only become worse. When Josh’s mother suggests they call in an expert, the Lamberts aren’t nearly prepared to learn the truth about what’s happening to their family.
Starring Patrick Wilson as Josh Lambert, Rose Byrne as Renai Lambert, Ty Simpkins as Dalton Lambert, Barbara Hershey as Lorraine Lambert, Lin Shaye as Elise Rainier, Leigh Whannell as Specs, and Angus Sampson as Tucker, Insidious is the 2011 supernatural horror film directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell – the team that brought us Saw.
I am a big fan of James Wan and of screenwriter Leigh Whannell. The duo have a consistency about them that borders on the unreal. What’s more, even though their work feels familiar, it almost never feels obvious or predictable. I’m also a fan of the concept of astral projection. Perhaps dismissed as too “new age”, or misunderstood altogether, the subject of astral projection has been much underused in film. I’m happy to say that Insidious makes fun and creative use of the concept. I’m also a fan of Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring, Little Children, Angels in America) whose resume boasts some complicated, nuanced performances that I’ve enjoyed watching time and again.
There. With my biases set out, let’s talk.
Insidious is a rarity. Made for about $1.5M and rated PG-13, Insidious was able to do something other films in the genre often only dream of – turn a relatively respectable profit: $90+M. By capitalizing on a larger audience (and being widely entertaining) this modest horror film cashed in and it did so with very little violence and next to no bloodshed. Does the PG-13 rating and lack of violence/gore mean it isn’t a “real” horror film?
The horror factor of Insidious is, by necessity, internal – the fear of a parent that their child will be injured, the fear of a child of being alone, the fear of what lies in the darkness beyond our senses. James Wan does a masterful job of using gothic-style scares to sculpt an atmospheric and spine-tingling film.
Sure, there are moments that may feel a bit stagey, even Disneyland-ish, but remember you’re not watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, here. This film also is meant to be enjoyed by a younger set. A set filled with, perhaps, fewer biases and jaded sensibilities as yourself. As a result, the film becomes a slightly lopsided experience – with the beginning half of the film building an almost impossible tension that may not really be satisfactorily resolved by the film’s (too literal?) ending.
There is a stillness to Insidious that, in direct contrast to many other pieces in the genre, builds much of the film’s tension and ambiance. For those with a fear of being watched, Insidious knows where you live and breathe. Others, who love to be shocked and awed, may be disappointed.
Insidious is a moderately (re)watchable film. The same cannot be said for every entry into the horror film genre. Many want to disgust you, shock you, disturb you to the point of making you look away from the screen. What’s the point of that? You’re there to see the movie, not look at the palms of your hands. Sure, it’s great fun to be *that* unnerved in a safe environment, but it doesn’t do much in the way of telling a story. It disengages the audience and results in the loss of their suspension of disbelief.
The true power of a horror film lies in its ability to draw its audience in, and keep them there – no matter how uncomfortable they may feel – to face those things that wait just beyond the darkness.
Would you let your kids watch it? That’s a discussion for another writer on another blog – I’m not here to tell you if Insidious is “appropriate”, I’m not Big Sister. I will say that, if pressed, it’s not exactly easy to come up with a moral bottom line to the film. Is it to be always mindful of your actions? Is it to respect all things, especially those for which our understanding is lax? You be the judge.
And yes, some of the film may invoke laughter on your part. It’s okay to laugh while you’re watching a horror film. Who said it isn’t? I know that the depiction of the demon lurking over Dalton’s empty body has garnered a lot of attention - some enthusiastic, some laughably negative - and I don’t know if it will reappear in the upcoming sequel to the film. I do know this. The red-faced demon is portrayed by Joseph Bishara, the film’s score composer, and I’m sure he’ll be long remembered by an entire generation – even if they’re laughing a bit.