Synopsis: A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Joseph Bishara, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson
Director: James Wan
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: One of my all time favorite horror films is 1982’s Poltergeist. Following a family experiencing strange goings on in their house, the film came from the mind of Steven Spielberg and was directed by Tobe Hooper who shocked audiences with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It remains a shining example in the horror genre as a perfect balance of supernatural horror and family drama.
So it’s no big shocker that I have a fondness for 2010’s Insidious which, if you really think about it, is practically a modern day retelling of Poltergeist. It follows the Poltergeist formula quite faithfully, i.e. suburban family of five is terrorized by ghostly happenings, eventually calling on a medium to figure out what (or who) the heck is reaching out from the other side. Frights and freak-outs abound until the final showdown when the living and the dead collide.
I’m still aghast that 2014 will see the release of a Poltergeist remake so why am I letting Insidious off the hook so easily? Well, it’s because Insidious is still very much its own movie with its own twist on the well-worn ghost story. Director James Wan (The Conjuring) and screenwriter/supporting star Leigh Whannell (Saw) cleverly work in more than a few spine-tingling turns and several honest-to-goodness terrifying moments. There are certain sequences in the film that to this day I find hard to watch without feeling my heart start to race.
It helps that Wan has gathered a unique cast together that you may not normally associate with horror films. Patrick Wilson (Prometheus) has come a long way from the guy I saw in the The Full Monty on Broadway and he is an interesting enough actor to not let himself get pigeon-holed in one character. While Bridesmaids was still a year away for Rose Byrne (The Internship), she’d already made a minor splash on television with her twisty, layered role on Damages. The first time I saw the movie I remember not caring much for Byrne’s performance but revisiting it recently I found her to be the true solid center of the troupe.
Colorful supporting performances abound including Barbara Hershey’s minor role as Wilson’s mother who has some key information about the origin of the strange events besieging her son and his family. Though Hershey memorably starred in the otherwise unmemorable The Entity from 1982 (in which her nude body was famously molested by a ghost) she wasn’t known for her work in this genre. Lin Shaye, Whannell, and burly Angus Sampson are part of a trio of paranormal researchers that help the family get to the root of the evil that gives way to a spooky as all get out finale.
Wan’s freaky final act of Insidious has the same effect as going through a haunted house – working with cinematographers David M. Brewer and John R. Leonetti he puts the audience right there with the actors never letting the viewer see something that the others don’t. It’s a nerve-wracking sequence heighted by Joseph Bishara’s nightmare-inducing score, not to mention Bishara’s performance as “Lipstick-Face Demon”.
Though a low-budget film, the movie has a nice shine to it and holds up on repeat viewings…which is saying something for a horror film dependent on the element of surprise. It’s a tad too long and some viewers may find a few passages a little silly but it’s all part of the fun and (scary) games Wan and company have waiting for you.