James Wan and Leigh Whannel will be names familiar to those who watched the Saw series of films – a good idea subjected to the law of diminishing returns which inevitably saw its sequels descend into repetitive, gruesome, derivative torture porn. While Insidious is thankfully gore-free, it’s still lacking original ideas, borrowing elements wholesale from other movies and knitting them into a patchwork quilt of horror clichés.
A family – sceptical teacher Josh (Patrick Wilson), mum Renai (Rose Byrne) and three children move into their new dream house and are promptly harassed by all manner of poltergeist phenomenon – things go missing, doors slam unexpectedly, whispers are heard on the edge of hearing. Events escalate when their young son Dalton falls into an unexpected coma and Renai starts seeing apparitions.
Terrified out of her wits, she demands that they move house only to find that the spooks have followed them. Here the film takes a sharp veer to the left as the couple hire psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) who tells them that Dalton has been taken to a spiritual realm called “The Further” and demons (one of whom bears a striking resemblance to Darth Maul) are trying to possess his soul.
The plot is paper thin – more than once whole chunks of the movie are explained directly to us by Elise, resulting in unintentional hilarity. Writer Leigh Whannel seems to be aware this might be a problem and partially deflects it by including two comedy ghost-busting types (Whannel himself appears as one of them) who to their credit are genuinely amusing. Comedy and horror can be blended successfully – just look at Sam Raimi’s excellent Drag Me To Hell but Insidious doesn’t have the smarts or the scares to fully live up to its influences.
Originality in the horror genre is a rarer commodity than sincerity in a Hollywood executive so it’s no surprise that Insidious brings nothing new to the table. But while it might not be inventive and seems determined to mine every horror trope in existence – everything from its screechy violin-laden score, quick cuts, scary children, faces at the window, several “it’s behind you” moments and a decidedly unsettling family of mannequin-esque ghosts, it does succeed in generating the requisite number of unsettling scares.
Insidious offers plenty of cheap thrills and makes for suitable date-night fodder but those looking for more depth had better look elsewhere.