Saturday, November 12, 2011

Insidious (2010) review


Patrick Wilson (Josh Lambert), Rose Byrne (Renai Lambert), Ty Simpkins (Dalton Lambert), Lin Shaye (Elise Rainier), Barbara Hershey (Lorraine Lambert), Leigh Whannell (Specs), Angus Sampson (Tucker), Joseph Bishara (Lipstick Demon), Philip Friedman (Old Woman)

Directed by Leigh Whannell

The Short Version: Absolutely terrifying low budget horror show turns on the terror to an alarming degree proving you don't have to bombard an audience with dollops of blood and guts to spread a rash of goosebumps. Sights and sounds combine to create some of the scariest imagery and audible sensations to hit the screen in a long, long time. It's the classic haunted house template told in a modern style that takes a familiar scenario and reinvents it in the most chilling fashion. Whether watching with your eyes closed, or your face covered, INSIDIOUS has the power to scare the hell out of you. And that's no ghost.

A family moves into a new home and after their son falls into a mysterious and unexplainable coma, they discover that otherworldy forces are haunting the grounds. Believing that moving to another home will solve the problem, the couple realize to their horror that it wasn't their previous residence that was haunted. Their sons comatose body has become a potential home for evil spirits and demonic forces that relentlessly wish to enter the world of the living.

Old school spook tactics have finally come home in what is essentially an ectoplasmic concoction of vintage thrills that range from everything from THE HAUNTING (1963), to POLTERGEIST (1982), to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009). The creep factor is off the charts in this excellent goosebumper from the director of the wildly successful SAW from 2004. The key to this films undeniably high level of palpably impending horror is in its meticulously creeping aura and oppressive sense of dread. The film rarely takes time to breathe in between numerous sequences infected with nerve shredding terror and soul shocking suspense.

Shots like these above and below are undeniably creepy and a welcome change from the neverending splatter that passes for fear these days.

Scriptwriter and frequent Wan collaborator, Leigh Whannell has fashioned a strikingly shock filled script that features some of the spirit showcased in the occasionally forbidding, but failed DEAD SILENCE (2007). Obviously the duo have a fascination with the morbid and the macabre and a penchant for dolls, dummies and puppets. This preoccupation with these frightening, inanimate chunks of wood was also eerily apparent in the first SAW film with the seemingly Argento influenced puppet that heralds a characters doom throughout that film. Incidentally, Argento was reportedly an inspiration for INSIDIOUS as well. If anything, a Grimm's Fairy Tale styled sense of foreboding evil pervades much of the time.

The Gothically enhanced sequences herald a return to the elder statesmen of horror from the Universal days and including those fog enshrouded landscapes present in Britain's trademark examples of fear filmmaking. It should be noted there's no gore here, no blood spraying across the screen at regular intervals and no overly complex prosthetic/CGI special effects. Granted, there are a couple moments where the film goes wild, momentarily taking you out of the domain of skin crawling fear and into a bombastic showcase akin to the finale of POLTERGEIST. But this is never to the detriment of the overall product. It may seem slightly jarring for some that a movie whose first half carefully and expertly builds an air of doom and gloom (in much the same way as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, but without that films shaky cam theatrics) to lose itself in a few abrasively loud set pieces that involve lots of heavy winds, bodies flying through the air and lots of flashing lights.

Arguably this films most vital attribute would have to be its flesh crawling, nerve jangling musical score by Joseph Bishara (who also plays the cloven hoofed, red tinted lipstick demon). An incredible cornucopia of strings, violin, piano keys and any other ear piercing sound effect that could be drudged up, this score instantly recalls the similarly scratchy, seethingly evil score by Carl Zittrer heard in Bob Clark's classic BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974). The inclusion of Tiny Tim's 'Tiptoe Through the Tulips' adds an eerie aura all its own.

The cast and acting are all top notch and the appearance of horror heroine Lin Shaye adds volumes to this creeptastically high class fright fest. Wan and Whannell know their ghosts and the terrifying imagery they concoct for this movie is the stuff nightmares are made of and it's all the more impressive that a number of the scares occur in broad daylight. Also impressive is that it's PG-13 and shot on a relative "shoe string" of a million dollars. Back in the day, a million was a lot of money for a low budget horror picture. Nowadays, with movies costing an average of $40 million and up, a single digit in the millions could be viewed as chump change. The devilish duo of Wan and Whannell worked wonders with SAW on a similarly small budget and work that old black magic here, too.

This is a splendid and highly recommended example of fear filmmaking at its finest. No doubt there will be a contingent of horror lovers that will find this lacking because of the absence of blood and grey matter splattering across the screen. But if you're in the mood for an old fashioned spooker told with a modern sensibility, look no 'Further' than this astrally projected horror show from beyond.

This review is representative of the Sony Pictures DVD
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