Ghost movies have officially made a comeback. Paranormal Activity was a fluke. Its sequel was a continuation of that fluke. But with Insidious, the third downright scary - and highly profitable - ghost story to hit theaters in the last year and a half, it's clear horror is trending back to the supernatural.
Interestingly enough, Insidious is from James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the two guys responsible for horror's last and much more insufferable trend: torture porn. Saw and its many sequels were lousy, but after seven years the filmmakers finally redeemed themselves with a movie that is simultaneously scary and actually good.
The first two thirds of Insidious play out much like other ghost stories. Renai and Josh (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) have just moved into a new house with their three young children. After a seemingly minor incident, their son Dalton slips into a coma, one doctors can't explain.
And then shit get crazy!
Renai starts hearing and seeing things. As in all ghost movies, the husband is instinctively dubious of her claims, but eventually agrees to move. Unfortunately, at the next house, things only get worse, leading them to the realization that what's haunted isn't their house but their son.
Oh no you didn't!
Insidious uses most of the typical clichés of ghost stories, but as with any horror movie, it's less about being cliché than about how the filmmakers use the elements at their disposal. Director Wan takes full advantage of creepy noises and out-of-the-corner-of-the-eye sightings. Oh and demonic Darth Maul-looking creatures.
Unlike a lot of similar films released over the last decade, the gimmicks don't seem cheap; whereas many directors would use them for quick scares, Wan develops an entire atmosphere where anything could happen at any time. Anticipation is half the battle.
Just as impressive is that the third act is completely different from how most movies like it would end. Just when you think it's going to end with a séance - pretty standard for possession flicks - Wan and Whannell add an entirely new layer to the production.
The film isn't without its flaws, of course. Shot for only $1.5 million, there are a few times where Insidious feels a bit cheap. The makeup on the ghosts and demons isn't great, giving the movie a shot-in-the-basement feel when Wan focuses for too long on his lovelies. Still, this is an extremely minor weakness.
Insidious is a surprisingly delicious horror movie that will scare the socks off the average viewer. Highly recommended.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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