Release Date: April 1st, 2011 (US); April 29th, 2011 (UK)
Genre: Horror; Thriller
Starring: Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins
As far as haunted house tales go, Insidious certainly does not fall into the dud category and for 40 minutes is actually very good. Unfortunately, the high volume of tension expertly built up throughout the first half of the film is let down by an average, scare-lacking second half which delivers a hokey logical explanation of the goings-on.
The film depicts the lives of the Lambert family — husband and wife, Josh and Renai, their two young sons and baby daughter — after the quintet’s relocation to a new house. The parents’ hopes for a new start absent of problems are soon dashed when their eldest son Dalton falls into a coma, triggering a series of weird and unsettling events.
James Wan, whose first directorial role was the innovative Saw back in 2004, is in his primary element when he is establishing trenches of tension and utilising shiver-inducing imagery to impart fear. This is exactly what Insidious offers for the first half of proceedings, as an ordinary family falls victim to a tragedy which bats away any explanation, and are then the subjects of various abnormal happenings, which are also devoid of explanation. The two are obviously linked, but in attempting to uncover how or why this is the case, the seeds of dread and fear for both the Lambert family and the audience are planted. This, along with a variety of common but still efficiently adapted elements of horror (doors randomly opening, figures appearing), ensure that the film sets standards high going into its second half.
When that second half arrives, however, proceedings begin to unravel a little. For every disturbing image in part one, there is a corny one in part two. For every discreet moment of tension built earlier on in the film, there is a disheartening logical explanation later. Delivering a unique, scare-inducing haunted house film is difficult in the present era, and this is mainly down to the vast majority of the tricks and frights being over-saturated year upon year. The ironic aspect of Insidious is that Wan gets the clichéd parts completely right, and even manages to add a twist to them. By the time we reach the end of the film though, it is Wan’s attempts at doing something different that comes back to haunt him. The logical (and I use that term lightly) explanation of events the audience is given is not scary at all, rather it is groan-worthy.
With that being said, the second half of Insidious is not without merit. Again, when sinister, almost maniacal imagery is present on-screen, the film grumbles as it threatens to erupt in a flow of ominous atmosphere. Wan delivers such imagery in the climax, but not nearly frequently enough, causing the scares to be overshadowed by some uninspired plot developments leeching onto Insidious towards the end. The opening 40 minutes does such a good job of building an unsettling atmosphere that it possible the remaining hour’s inability to keep up with what came before exposes the misfire more than the film deserves. Wan can do inventive, as he has proven in the past with Saw, but this time his attempt at originality veers too near to nonsensical logic than spontaneous genius.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as the husband and wife pair and are thoroughly effective in their roles. Both come across as believable parents still trying to settle down into a comfortable way of living with their three young children. In line with the film separating into two parts, Wilson and Byrne appear to each take a turn at being the focal point of the piece. Byrne is at the centre of much of the spooky occurrences throughout the first phase of the film, and plays the traumatised, protective mother very well. Wilson on the other hand, sees much of the action in the second phase of the film, and is better than the hand he is dealt. Lin Shaye also makes an appearance as a paranormal investigator who fluctuates between calm and eccentric quicker than a tennis ball switches sides at Wimbledon.
The film’s tremendous box office returns have meant that Insidious: Chapter 2 has been scheduled for release later this year, and looks certain to be the autumn horror hit of 2013. James Wan will return to direct it and if he focuses on delivering a sequel more in tune with the first half of Insidious than the second, Chapter 2 will be as much of a critical hit as it will be a monetary one come September.