A nicely old-fashioned scary movie coming from the contemporary class of horror directors seems to make Insidious a bit of a contradiction in terms, but a reasonably satisfying one. Written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan, the Australian duo behind the Saw franchise, and produced by Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity fame, this tale of a middle-class couple (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) whose young son's (Ty Simpkins) inexplicable coma opens a door into the world of the supernatural eschews all the blood and guts of the modern “torture porn” craze Saw helped launch and the conceptual gimmicks of mr. Peli's no-budget shocker.
Instead, messrs. Wan and Whannell inscribe Insidious in the long tradition of haunted house and demonic possession movies, with a strong whiff of Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist on its second half. This is appropriate, since horror is a genre that thrives on recycling time-honoured codes, and mr. Whannell's script efficiently structures the film as a classic fairground scary ride, handsomely handled by mr. Wan in traditional low-budget fashion (camera movements, dark sets, smart editing, spooky music, minimal to non-existant visual effects) – even though an exposition-heavy central act and the outlandish nature of the menace to the family cools the momentum a bit too much.
Nothing about Insidious is even remotely original, but it's clear its makers were not aiming at originality; and it is presented with such quiet confidence and professionalism by all involved that it becomes a welcome breath of fresh air in a genre currently overloaded with effects-driven, bombastic spectacles.
Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins; and Barbara Hershey.
Directed by James Wan; produced by Jason Blum, Steven Schneider, Oren Peli; written by Leigh Whannell; music by Joseph Bishara; directors of photography (colour, digital processing by Fotokem, widescreen), John R. Leonetti, David M. Brewer; production designer, Aaron Sims; costume designer, Kristin M. Burke; film editors, mr. Wan, Kirk Morri.
An Alliance Films presentation, in association with IM Global, of a Haunted Movies production. (US distributor, Filmdistrict. World sales, IM Global.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 12 (Lisbon), July 1st 2011.