James Wan and Leigh Whannel are the guys responsible for unleashing SAW on the world back in 2004. Forget the fact that with the success of SAW came the inevitable barrage of annual sequels each declining in quality (SAW 6 being an exception). It’s best to forget the James Wan and Leigh Whannel you think you know because their new project, INSIDIOUS, is a film that is the polar opposite of everything SAW came to be. Rather or not the deviation from the substance and style they brought to saw is a good thing is debatable, but I would have to side with the folks applauding INSIDIOUS for delivering a consistently tense and creepy atmosphere and playfully scold them for nearly derailing towards the end.
Young parents Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) have just moved into a new home with their three children. After their oldest, Dalton, has a seemingly harmless accident he mysteriously slips into a coma state leaving Josh and Renai struggling to find answers. Soon after the incident the family begins to fall victim to a series of unexplained visions and sounds around the house. Thinking it must have something to do with the house, Renai begs Josh to move and when the events persist they go in search of a more radical approach to seek answers.
INSIDIOUS is definitely an original creation from the SAW creators, but it has aspects that resemble ideas from other films. One obvious aspect is a selection of moments that feel like a scene out of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY except without the found footage gimmick. It’s not surprising considering Oren Peli’s name is attached as a producer for INSIDIOUS. James Wan took an old school approach to the way this story is presented and the opening credits and music took a similar approach that Sam Raimi did with DRAG ME TO HELL. I’m not saying Wan has ripped off anything from any other movie, just that there are similar styles being utilized.
The score also has a very old school vibe to it, which works to its advantage but once again treads similar water as Sam Raimi. The score is not beat over your head except in certain “BOO” moments because most of the time the sound mixing is fighting for the audience’s attention. Wan and company really wants you to hear every creek of the floorboards and moving doors as well as whispers and faint footsteps. There’s one scene in particular that utilizes varying pitches of noise including knocking on doors and a security alarm that had me on the edge of my seat nearly biting through my lip.
Acting wise, Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson are both fantastic. SAW fans will recognize that Leigh Whannel who wrote INSIDIOUS also makes an appearance as a paranormal investigator and is pretty fun in his limited screen time. His appearance also happens to be during the time that the film really started to test my willingness to go along with the events. The transition from a normal family terrified and conflicted about their situation to what happens in the final acts is a little rough but Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne easily made the transition a little easier due to the strength of their performances.
The first hour is relatively slow but has a lot of big payoff in the scare department. James Wan did a great job at creating a very creepy atmosphere throughout the film. Even during the boring moments the tone carries through during every scene and a sense of dread is ever present if you are fully on board from the get go. Anyone not buying into the events will have a hard time finding anything to enjoy and when the film climbs over the midway point the non-believers will probably just give the film a big middle finger and walk out.
Without spoiling anything, the film in the first half is pretty dark and straight-faced when we cross midway things stay dark and despite how off the wall insane the story goes Wan keeps everything as serious as he can. I don’t want to say the finale ruins all the good set up in the beginning, but it comes dangerously close at times. One second I was impressed by the events and the next I would roll my eyes or scoff at the absurdity of what was happening. The saving grace that kept me on board was the fact that I cared about the characters and their fate. THE LAST EXORCISM had a similarly divisive ending but that took place in the final few minutes and INSIDIOUS starts throwing curveballs at the audience easily a half hour before the credits roll. The shock of what’s happening also wears off faster with more time to digest it, but I don’t feel like the ending to INSIDIOUS is better because of it.
Believe me when I say that INSIDIOUS is a breath of fresh air in what has been a mediocre time in ghost stories. James Wan has managed to create something new in the amalgamation of different genre flavors while almost trying to go a little too far. INSIDIOUS is far from being perfect but Wan and Whannel’s commitment to the bold material is admirable. I don’t think INSIDIOUS will be the homerun amongst fans as SAW was back in its day but for me it’s at least close to being as vital and memorable to the genre as SAW was.