The problem, I think, with most horror movies these days is that they’ve forgotten how to scare us. The relationship of today’s horror film to the audience is very much like that of an old married couple who’ve fallen into a rut. They both go through the motions of the relationship as they have over the course of the years on auto-pilot. Maybe they do things not really even knowing why but just because they’ve done them for so long that it’s become the only way they know. Similarly, horror fans go to horror movies hoping for something new, but nothing really ever changes. We hope for something better, but if we don’t get it – well, that’s just the way it is.
Horror movies startle us.
Sometimes, they shock or disgust us.
Scaring us, however, is a nigh forgotten art.
Thankfully, James Wan and Leigh Whannell haven’t forgotten. The duo that put the genre on its collective ear with the game-changing “Saw” have teamed up again to put their spin on the classic haunted house story in “Insidious”.
Here, we find Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) and their three kids moving into a new house. Everything seems normal until their son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), fails to wake up one morning. His condition baffles doctors and, as he remains in an extended coma, strange things begin happening around the house. Things get so bad that Renai asks that they move. They do, only to find that the haunting has moved along with them. At the insistence of Josh’s mom (Barbara Hershey), a psychic (Lin Shaye) is called in to help the beleaguered family.
This film not only brings us the horror heavyweight team of Wan and Whannell but also the driving forces behind the “Paranormal Activity” series Oren Peli, Steven Schneider and Jason Blum as producers. Given the perceived enmity between the two series, one would think this would make for strange bedfellows, but instead it is a perfect mix. The film they created is part “Paranormal Activity”, part “Poltergeist” and part “Dead Silence” (Wan and Whannell’s under-rated throwback horror film) and not just any parts, but the good parts.
The film does a remarkable job of building tension and then releasing it in unexpected ways. I pride myself on anticipating where a story is going or what a film maker will do to elicit a response, but I found myself pleasantly surprised by the choices that were made. The film is funny without being jokey and scary without having to rely on jump-scares. It does what horror movies should do: create likable characters and then put them in a horrific situation and make us fear for them. Wilson (whom I best remember from “Watchmen” as Dan Dreiberg/Nite Owl II), fits that bill as the skeptical husband while Byrne is perfect as the wide-eyed and terrified wife. Initially, it would seem that they are the stereotypical couple in these types of movies, but as I said before, “Insidious” is a movie that’s not afraid to walk away from the tropes. As I like to say, it is a slave to the story and not to the genre. This is not to say that there aren’t occasions in the movie where all the clever writing fails and we get smacked right between the eyes with something predictable and clumsy, but it is otherwise entertaining enough to overcome these moments.
“Insidious” is a fun, creepy and chill-inducing ride breathes a little life back into the relationship between horror fans and the genre and proves that not every horror offering coming out of Hollywood has to be derivative crap.