Insidious (2010)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #201

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Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 14, 2010 (TIFF), April 1, 2011 (United States)
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States
Budget: $1,500,000
Box Office: $97,009,150
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: James Wan
Producers: Jason Blum, Steven Schneider, Oren Peli
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Special Effects: Bart Dion, Justin Raleigh, Kelly Golden
Visual Effects: Michael Janov, Darren Orr (Spypost)
Cinematography: John R. Leonetti, David M. Brewer
Score: Joseph Bishara
Editing: James Wan, Kirk Morri
Studios: Alliance Films, IM Global, Stage 6 Films
Distributors: FilmDistrict (USA), Momentum Pictures (UK)
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Josh Feldman, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Andrew Astor, Heather Tocquigny, Corbett Tuck, Ruben Pla, John Henry Binder

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Suggested Audio Candy

Joseph Bishara “Insidious”

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I adore having the living shit scared straight out of me. When I sit down to view a film like Insidious it is imperative I do so with all lights extinguished, not a soul around to huddle into and the audio cranked up high enough to evoke palpitations. It’s like an elaborate dare to me, I offer darkness my blessing and encourage its manifestation. I must be cuckoo as, for as long as memory serves, I have been somewhat easily spooked. By grabbing onto that and acknowledging my weakness, I afford myself the best opportunity of being giving a sound case of ‘the willies’.

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It becomes clear by the time the title leaps forth that director James Wan has every intention of providing the chills and, indeed, he has made a rather tidy living from it. Last year’s The Conjuring was positively dripping with consternation and he uses every trick in the book here to illicit a response. Sound plays a key role, whether audible rumblings or high-pitched strings, he draws us in and raises every single hair on the back of our necks before visuals ever need to play a part. When they do, he is again totally up to the task and populates each nook, cranny, closet and shadow with something malevolent.

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It focuses on Josh (Patrick Wilson), Renai (Rose Byrne) and their three children as they move into their new home and quickly discover there are dark forces within the creaking fortifications. Their oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) drops into an unexplained coma which dumbfounds doctors and causes cracks to appear the couple’s otherwise contented relationship. At the first sign of distress, Josh removes himself, staying late at work so as not to have to deal until which time as he realizes that running is no longer an option. They consider their new home as haunted and promptly retreat, expecting the night terrors to dissipate. Instead, they swiftly worsen. Both Wilson and Byrne are excellent in their respective roles as they pull out all the stops in order to protect their brood.

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Wan’s scare-fest is beautifully shot and he makes full use of the mothballed interiors, while his aversion to light means the film is drenched in shadows throughout. Insidious is at its most potent when merely hinting at what lays beyond ‘the further’, a spectral realm which is fast bleeding into the family’s everyday existence. The first act is riddled with instances of trepidation as the imperiled child is progressively further ensnared within his parallel plane of non-existence. It calls to mind Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist and the similarities don’t stop there.

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Josh’s mother, Lorraine (The Entity’s Barbara Hershey) calls on the assistance of two paranormal investigators, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), and medium, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) who declare that the hauntings are not tied into the structure but the comatose child himself and that Josh plays an integral part in his son’s predicament and safekeeping. The bickering cyber-geeks provide a little welcome comic relief but it is he ever dependable Shaye who excels the most. She is no Tangina but neither does she attempt to be. What she is is superb, delivering the bad news to the Lamberts with warmth and understanding, whilst making no bones about the magnitude of their plight. Shaye is a distinguished comedy actress but thankfully leaves the hijinks to her associates and plays her part suitably po-faced.

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The final act is heavy on scares but also the least effective as Josh is required to astrally project himself into the dead space between dimensions in order to salvage the fruit of his loins. At that point Wan throws everything including kitchen sink at them; making no attempt at restraining and, instead, pummeling our senses as the apparitions begin passing over into the human realm. We are afforded overt exposure to the spirits and this is to the film’s detriment as it loses its subtle approach, in favor of all-out bedlam. That’s not to say that it breaks down, merely that it accelerates to such a degree that we begin to feel a touch desensitized.

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James Wan has established himself as something of a master when it comes to scaring the living crap out of us. The Conjuring did so effortlessly and consistently and, while Insidious is fractionally less mortifying, it is still more than capable of laying on the shocks. A good indicator as to the effectiveness of these chills lays in one’s reaction after the credits have rolled and, I have to say, I was left in something of a quandary. I felt far less than relaxed in my environment and spent the next hour avoiding any dark recesses and drenching my surroundings with light. To this degree it is an unprecedented success. It does everything Paranormal Activity can but without the requirement for shaky hand-held footage and is paced far more effectively to boot.

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In lesser hands Insidious could have spiraled towards unmitigated disaster but, should one jolt leave you cold, there’s always another waiting in the wings to scare you senseless. It falls inches short of being considered bona-fide classic but does more than enough to bolster Wan’s already burly reputation. There are few horror film-makers out there currently plying their trade who can attain the same level of consternation from their addressees but it is far more than just that. Works such as The Entity and The Exorcist work because they portray family life so masterfully, before whipping the rug from beneath us and plundering us with chills. His film calls to mind the behemoths of times past and has enough impish tricks up its sleeve to incite the sleepless nights we all crave.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Dread Factor: 4/5

For the Dread Heads: Aside from the closing act, Wan doesn’t so much as put a pinky out of line. Once he has played his hand we are reminded that we’re watching a movie and this significantly lessens the impact. Regardless, there is enough shoehorned into the opening hour to give us countless reasons to sleep with the light on. Ironically, it is the instances where audio alone is utilized to such queasying effect that stand tallest and there’s an inspired rendition of Tiny Tim’s Tiptoe Through the Tulips which has never sounded so downright creepy. Similarly an early vision of a red-tinged succubus face looming over an infant’s cot left its foul stain on my psyche long after the credits rolled out.

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Read The Conjuring Appraisal
Read Poltergeist Appraisal
Read The Exorcist Appraisal
Read The Last Exorcism Parts I & 2 Dual Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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