After the unimpressive box offices performances of Dead Silence and Death Sentence, James Wan and Leigh Whannell return to the realm of the low budget horror flick with Insidious, easily their best since Saw.

The results are pretty darn scary, too. In fact, this film frightened me to the extent that I wasn’t enjoying it. Of course, it all depends on what scares you, but Insidious is definitely top of my list for outright creepiness.Insidious The terror is focussed on creepy shadows in your house at night, or barely visible faces in windows. It’s the stuff that terrified me as a kid, and whilst it may seem mundane for some, it’s incredibly effective here.

Insidious is effectively a variation on the haunted house movie. Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) have just moved into a big new house with their two sons, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor). Josh and Renai already seem a little distant, but things get worse when Dalton suffers a terrible accident.

Wan and Whannell have clearly seen Poltergeist. I’m not saying that to be critical, but there are certainly many parallels between the two films. If you enjoyed Tobe Hooper’s classic (which, to be honest, I didn’t see until I was 20 and didn’t find in the least bit scary) then Insidious should be right up your alley. There is no gore whatsoever and only a little blood, though I suppose that isn’t surprising, since Wan and Whannell have never tried to duplicate the torture porn genre they helped kick-start with Saw. Instead we have a film that’s all about scares – and there are a lot of them.

From the moment the film began, I was terrified, and Joseph Bishara’s deliciously over the top score really rams the horror home. Full of squealing strings, even the music in isolation is unsettling. Byrne really sells the scarier moments, also. It’s fair to say that half the credit in a horror film goes towards the actors’ portrayals of fear, and Byrne nails it in Insidious. The film should get props for the best use of a baby monitor in a horror film since Signs.

The film isn’t without its flaws. For a time, it slips into the frustrating narrative tradition of the terrified female lead and the partner that won’t believe her, and although this is eventually addressed, it’s annoying all the same. This makes it hard to really empathise with Josh. The final act is a bit of a letdown also, as it gets bogged down in carnivalesque imagery that distracts from the story. The “more is more” ethos eventually wears thin.

The cinematography and editing is stunning, and Insidious is a perfect example of why horror films don’t need big budgets (this was reported to be $1.5 million). Whilst aspects of the film are a little predictable (within the first ten minutes I’d worked out exactly what type of characters Whannell and Angus Sampson were going to play, even though they didn’t appear until much later), this film sees the Melbourne boys back at the top of their game.

Rating: 4.0 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 19th May 2011
Hoopla Factor: 3.5 stars

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