A Fun Horror Throwback
Horror films are one of the most reliable staples of cinema. If you look back in film history, you see that horror has produced some of Hollywood's most memorable experiences and biggest stars. It is not a genre that gets much recognition by the industry, but recent horror masterpieces such as "Sinister" (2012) and "Insidious" (2011) from Stage 6 Films continue to find their audiences.
Directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, "Insidious" features the Lamberts, a normal, happy and loving young family. Renai and Josh, along with their three children, have just moved into a new home. While looking through a family photo album with son Dalton, Renai explains to Dalton that there are no childhood pictures of his father, Josh, because Josh had been camera shy. Later, Dalton hears noises in the attic and goes to investigate. Climbing up, the ladder breaks and Dalton falls, but as he does so, he seems to see something odd. The next morning, Dalton does not wake up as normal, and it turns out that he is in a coma.
|Josh in his trance|
Months later, Dalton is moved back home from the hospital. Renai then begins hearing strange noises and voices, and she sees a bloody hand-print on Dalton's bed. Youngest son Foster then strangely says that Dalton has been walking through the house at night, which is impossible since Dalton remains in a coma. When Renai investigates that night, a strange man assaults her. Terrified, Renai convinces Josh to move the family somewhere else.
|Ty Simpkins as Dalton|
Nothing changes at their new home. The family sees things such a weird dancing boy, and Josh's mother, Lorraine, says that she had a dream about going into the comatose Dalton's bedroom at night, only to see someone standing there who said his name was Dalton. Dalton also winds up being attacked by a red-faced figure. Understandably concerned, Lorraine calls her friend, Elise Reiner, who specializes in investigating paranormal activity. After Elise arrives with her assistant, everybody gathers together and enters Dalton's bedroom. Elise claims that she sees a strange black figure with a red face on the ceiling of Dalton's bedroom. The description matches the figure that Lorraine had seen earlier.
Elise tries to figure out what is going on, and concludes that Dalton is astral projecting while comatose. She surmises that Dalton has been doing this since he was very young, and that doing it too much is what caused him to fall into his coma. He travelled too far into the spiritual world and got lost in "The Further," the land of the dead. Dalton's spirit remains there, among the dead, while all that is left in this world is his body. Dalton's new dead companions know about his empty vessel of a body and wish to use it themselves, to live again. Some also want to use the body for nefarious purposes, to torment people in the living world. It is only a matter of time, according to Elise, before one of the demons from "The Further" succeed in occupying Dalton's body for good.
|Rose Byrne as Renai|
Elise's analysis is confirmed when Josh learns that Dalton had been drawing pictures which bear a strong resemblance to the red-faced figure seen by Lorraine and Elise. At a seance, they try to communicate with Dalton, but the red-faced demon possesses Dalton's body and interrupts. It turns out that Josh also can astral project and had experiences somewhat similar to those of Dalton when Josh was a boy. Looking at childhood photographs of Josh, they suddenly notice a strange old woman (who had been seen briefly at the beginning of the film) who acted in a menacing fashion towards him in the photographs. This explains Josh's childhood fear of being photographed.
|Elise with her assistant|
Elise convinces Josh to use his ability to astral project in order to save Josh, Strapped in a chair and placed in a trance, Josh leaves his body and walks outside to search for Dalton. He encounters many strange people there, including a woman who shot a family and left them for dead in the Lamberts' original house. Going up to the attic of that house, Lambert fights off an attacker and, seeing a strange red door, proceeds through it.
The red door opens up into "The Further," where the red-faced demon lives. Finding Dalton chained to the floor, Josh frees him. The demon attacks them, so Josh and Dalton flee, chased by the demon. On the way to find their bodies, Josh and Dalton also find and attack the old woman from Josh's childhood photographs, chasing her away.
|Barbara Hershey as Lorraine|
Josh and Dalton then awaken, and Dalton finally is recovered from his coma. Everybody assumes that the problem is solved, but Elise senses that something is wrong. Taking a picture of Josh sends him into a rage, causing him to strangle Elise to death. Renai then investigates, but finds that everybody is gone. Looking in Elise's camera, Renai sees a new picture of the old woman, and she concludes that Josh has become possessed by the old woman. The film ends with Josh reappearing and simply telling Renai, "I'm right here."
|Dalton's room is the center of the proceedings|
Everybody seems to like "Insidious," but calling it a classic is a bit much. It is a very enjoyable, low-budget horror film throwback that has all of the standard tropes of the genre: the family moving into the new house which has "secrets," people being possessed, the false ending which turns out to be not an ending at all, and so on and so forth. One-word titles are all the rage, and one wonders what will happen when they ultimately run out of appropriate words. If you've seen half a dozen horror films in your life, you will recognize many of the standard conventions being honored in "Insidious."
|Yes, this is a horror film|
The thing to remember about horror films, though, is that they are not good because they are original: they are good because they are executed well and have scary scenes and character that press some of our collective buttons. "Insidious" succeeds beyond all expectations on those scores.
A new trend is horror is the involvement of photography and video. "Sinister," for instance, used that new theme to perfection. Everybody knows that women tend to enjoy reviewing old family photographs and video more than men, so the film craftily works that natural penchant into the storyline in a fairly subtle but very significant fashion. It is this kind of subversion of ordinary life that marks a truly creative new take on a tired old theme. It is fairly obligatory these days to thrown in supernatural explanations for the strange events rather than just have it be some weird guy from the forest with too much time on his hands, so that twist also is incorporated in "Insidious."
|Things that go bump in the night|
The direction and acting both are very competent. Director Wan projects suspense without gore, always the best way to the hearts of horror fans. To boil it down to its basic element, "Insidious" is a "spooky house" film where things go bump in the night and strange surprises beckon in every dark corner. It follows in the honorable tradition of classics such as "The Old Dark House" (1932), starring Charles Laughton, and well-known horror heir "Last House on the Left" (1972).
|A spooky moment|
The "Insidious" leads, Patrick Wilson as Josh, Rose Byrne as Renai, Ty Simpkins as Dalton, and Lin Shaye as Elise, do what they have to do, and do it without too many unnecessary flourishes. Everyone is smart enough to realize that horror film fans don't go to see Academy Award-winning performances, but rather well-crafted situations which affect ordinary folks. Everybody in the cast delivers. That said, old pro (I hope she wouldn't mind me saying that) Barbara Hershey is a spooky stand-out as Lorraine, and her role was upgraded for the 2013 sequel, "Insidious: Chapter 2."
|Director James Wan|
Horror is no joke, especially at the box office. "Insidious" was the most profitable film of 2011, being made on a tiny budget but raking in $97 million worldwide. Naturally, a sequel was put in the works, and "Insidious: Chapter 2" opened in September 2013. The original "Insidious" is well worth the time of any horror-film fan, and the sequel, "Insidious: Chapter 2" came from the same team.
Below is the trailer from "Insidious."