An ‘Insidious’ Build Leads To An Effectively Scary Film

I think perception plays a key role when one makes a decision about going to see a horror film.  While I would not say I am a snob when it comes to horror films, I do consider myself pretty choosy about which ones I see, especially when it comes down to what the film is rated.  In recent times, there have been a slew of films that have either been focused on extreme amounts of gore or copping out with cheap “jump scares” in order to secure a PG-13 rating.  There are always some exceptions (Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell immediately comes to mind), but for the most part it is the latter pattern that is followed, with studios churning out lame PG-13 horror flicks (usually remakes) that lack actual suspense and horror.  Fortunately, the subject of this review, Insidious, managed to be one of those exceptions and functioned as an effectively scary piece of work.

Renai:  He’s not in a coma.  They don’t know what to call it.

For putting this film together, two worlds collided, as Insidious is the product of collaboration between the makers of the original Saw (James Wan and Leigh Whannell) and the makers of Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, Jason Blum, Steven Schneider).  The results are effective, as there is both an original story present, which defies some conventions, while still adhering to some of the best elements of this horror sub-genre.  As always, I will keep this review spoiler-free, but the best way to sum up this film, is by saying it starts out as a haunted house movie and then becomes something else.

I will keep it very light on describing this story.  A young family moves into a new house.  The parents are played by Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, and they have three children; a baby girl, a young boy – Foster, and the oldest – Dalton (Ty Simpkins).  One morning, Dalton is found to be comatose, but with no simple explanation.  As more is learned about Dalton’s condition, more abnormal situations begin to plague this family as well.  If only it was just simple enough to move.

Going into this film, I was really expecting to see a creepy kid movie, which is certainly suggested by the poster.  I was surprised to see that it was really, as I have stated, a haunted house film that becomes something else as it goes on.  While everyone has their own preferred type of horror movie that scares them, creepy kid movies tend to do it for me, yet with the rise of haunted house movies (given the popularity of the Paranormal Activity films), I am happy to be concerned about the foreboding creaks around a house and the bumps in the night.

The biggest concern for this film is going to be how it handles its scares.  Given that it is rated PG-13, many may already be initially turned off.  I will also point out that “jump scares” do play heavily in this film, but they occur with purpose and are earned.  There is a good amount of time spent on the setup and building of actual suspense before delivering on the payoff.  The film has an intense score when it comes to striking the harsher notes to maximize the audience fright potential, but also wisely plays things very silently when building up to many key moments.  It makes all the difference to me by having a film that smartly plays with what it is that can scare a person, and this film is the product of filmmakers who understand how to make proper horror.

Speaking of those filmmakers, I should address what I know about them and how this film was made.  As I have stated, this film has been directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, the duo behind the original Saw film.  I have argued many times as to why I do not think Saw was a good film, but I have also expressed, at many times, my enthusiasm for the guys who made it.  Insidious comes now after several other features these guys have worked on, and it shows.  This film has been shot for an even lower budget than the first Saw, but the experience gained since then is clear.  There is a better focus on how to handle what occurs in this film and as a result, I found it to be a more engaging and entertaining experience.  I should also note that this film was shot basically as an independent film.  No studios meant that this film would be cheaper, yes; but also handled with the desired intent.  As it was shot digitally and edited by the director, Wan, the film has a notable feel of not seeming like another generic horror entry (despite the marketing attempts to make it seem as such).  There is a clear sense to the visual style, which (along with the fantastic sound design) can add a ton to making a horror film all the more effective.

There are only two places I feel it stumbles, preventing the film from being great.  While there are some neat switcheroos and plays against convention, I still think the flick was a tad predictable, although my moviegoer brain tends to work overtime when dealing with horror films.  I was also removed a bit by the need for explanation.  While some of the elements we come across are interesting, I think too much was explained regarding certain elements, while other aspects could have been explored a bit more (sorry for being vague, but I am always happy to discuss these thoughts more with people after they have seen the film).

The most important is that I found this to be a horror film that actually had horror in it.  It presents a story that has original elements, but is also not beyond having fun with the staples of this sub-genre.  The film is very well put together, with solid camera work and handling of the atmosphere for the sake of maxing out the tension.  Best of all, it is not super serious.  I tend to dislike the types of horror films that have the characters constantly moping around and this film wisely injects a good amount of humor into both the characters and in the way some of the scares are presented.  I have a feeling that this film will not exactly light the sky on fire in its theatrical release, but I at least hope that it finds an audience, because solid horror filmmaking is a rare find these days.

Elise:  I don’t think bad wiring is the problem here.


Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

13 Responses to “An ‘Insidious’ Build Leads To An Effectively Scary Film”

  1. Gerard Iribe

    I’m excited for this one.

  2. Brian White

    I have to admit…I missed the press screening for this one and was not able to catch it at the Cleveland Film Festival last weekend either, but this review sold me. If Aaron Neuwirth likes a horror film, then I’m going to spend my money and go see it. Thanks Aaron!

  3. Jiminy Critic

    Brian, I concur with you… I had no interest in this movie until I read Aaron’s review… It sounds pretty good, and I like the “Drag Me To Hell” mention!

  4. Gregg

    I hope this movie isn’t as horridly awful a film as “Drag Me To Hell.” If I would have seen that in theather, Dungeon & Dragons would have some serious competition for worst film I ever experienced at the cinema.

    Insidious looks like a winner though. Wasn’t that actress in the first picture at the top of the article in “Get Him to the Greek?”

  5. Aaron Neuwirth

    Rose Byrne yes.

    I can say it’s not like Drag Me To Hell to the point that it’s not nearly as amazing, so I don’t know what you can hope to take from that. But it is more focused on being an old school horror with a modern feel.

  6. Gerard Iribe

    I thought Drag Me To Hell was garbage. I was actually upset after ward. I mean, I was HEATED!

    I have faith in Wan and Wannell. LOVED Saw, Dead Silence, and Death Sentence as far as Wan directorial films go.

  7. Aaron Neuwirth

    Don’t care for Saw and think Wan’s only gotten better with his films.

    Can’t believe the random hate for Drag Me to He’ll. At least Jim and Brian, I believe, knows what’s up.

  8. Gerard Iribe

    Not random. I was only adding to what Gregg said.

  9. Brian White

    I loved Drag Me To Hell. And I will tell you what…I just got back from Insidious and I absolutely loved it. It’s classic old school horror formula mixed with some unconventional cocktails. Already bought on the Blu-ray format in my mind. Thanks for pushing me to see this Aaron!

  10. Jiminy Critic

    Just saw this yesterday and really liked it… Old school… slow pace… couple of good “jumps…” and one of the funniest/creepiest “astral projection” scenes I’ve ever seen!

  11. Aaron Neuwirth

    Really happy you guys are digging this flick. It deserves to be seen. Independent horror at its best.

  12. Gerard Iribe

    Hell yeah, this movie was scary as HELL! I’m glad that my Arclight had it on a giant screen. Aaron reminded me that this was 100% independently financed, so that is a big deal.

    Saw it with a great crowd and there were parts that freaked me out.

    I had a minor quibble that I shared with Brian and Aaron, but Aaron explained it to me.

    I really enjoyed the cinematography, there were some great predatory angle shots; a visual delight! I also REALLY enjoyed the score of the film. I felt like I was back in the early part of the last century. It was so cool and eerie. They really took it back to the old school with this one.

    This one will be a day 1 purchase for sure!

  13. Gerard Iribe

    The director James Wan tweeted that Insidious cost 800K to make. Opening weekend figures says it made 13.5 Million. I’d say it has already made some mad profit.