Despite brimming with classic horror movie devices, James Wan’s Insidious continues to attract considerably more attention than other haunted house films even 8 years after its release. That is, indisputably, because of the novelty and quality the film exudes on every level.
Insidious starts off with a married couple Renai and Josh (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) moving to a new place with their kids in the hope of a better life.
Expectations come crashing down as eerie, unexplainable things begin to happen in the house on a daily basis, resulting in their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falling into a coma for no apparent reason.
The distressed parents turn to a psychic medium, played by Lin Shaye, who reveals that the house isn’t actually haunted. It’s their son that is.
Therefore, screenwriter Leigh Whannell weaves a demonic possession movie into a haunted-house one.
It gives the story another layer as we learn that Dalton is an accomplished astral projector, who has detached himself from his body and got lost in a realm filled with tortured souls of the dead.
Modern horror hasn’t vastly explored the theme of out-of-body experience. That makes the film innovative at its core. Unlike most horror films, Insidious takes the risk of showcasing us the underworld where all the spooky entities dwell.
James Wan fulfills this challenging task superbly. He makes the other dimension look like the exact same replica of our world with the exception of it being dimly-lit and ominously empty.
The representation of the nether realm is refined and subtle yet chilling.
It suggests that the supernatural world may be just too close to ours.
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The uncanny score with occasional bursts of shrill music sets a disturbing tone. The film pulses with hostile energy.
Most of the scary moments are accompanied by seemingly harmless sounds — the beeping of the heart on the monitor or the sound of security system going off.
But somehow, they induce just as much terror as the retro song ‘Tiptoe through the Tulips’ by Tiny Tim that turns on the gramophone by itself.
Cleverly set up scares work their magic with identifiable situations lying at their roots.
Such scares produce a heightened effect. They harass viewers on a much more primal and visceral level.
Say, a scene where Renai hears a raspy voice of a stranger on the baby monitor directly resonates with the deep-seated fear of failing to protect your child from danger.
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The fact that the creepy stuff happens in broad daylight also serves as a great tool for building up tension and making the situation relatable.
When it comes to cinematography in Insidious, the camera doesn’t recreate the perspective of a character. It seems to exist on its own as a wayward omnipresent being.
Another detail, which I found particularly atmospheric, is James Wan‘s ability to turn the most mundane of objects into symbols and fill them with malevolent dark meaning.
Be it a lantern that Josh takes with him to the Further or the ticking metronome that puts him in a trance.
All in all, Insidious is a tastefully crafted, suspense-driven film that manages to both pay homage to classic horror as well as introduce new elements and techniques to the genre. And while you may not tremble with fear as you watch it, you’ll surely find yourself entertained and intrigued until the end credits start rolling.
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