Insidious review

Josh and Renai have just moved with their two children and new baby to a new home. Josh (Wilson) is a schoolteacher, and Renai (Byrne) a musician and full-time mother. Soon after the move strange things begin to happen around the house, books are found strewn about the floor furniture moves. A creeping tide of strange events starts to invade and disrupt the family home. Matters escalate dramatically after their son Dalton has a minor accident and is discovered in a coma the next morning. Doctors cannot explain his condition. Soon Josh and Renai are out of their depth as malevolent supernatural forces begin to manifest.

Insidious is the new film from director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell, the minds behind the original Saw. However with this film they have moved very far from the violence and gore which made their reputations. This is a blend of classic and modern approaches to the ghost story blending the subtleties of The Haunting (1963), with the practical FX shock-and-awe of Poltergeist, and the You Tube-era scares of Paranormal Activity.

Wan directs with ferocious invention, utilising two directors of photography to brilliant effect, creating a palpable sense of lurking menace with his ever-roaming camera. Wan also (for the most part) eschews modern CG wizardry, for pleasingly old school 80s effects. Whannell’s script is tense, clever, and introduces humour at just the right point when proceedings threaten to become too po-faced. Special mention must be made for Joseph Bishara’s score, a fantastic string-based traditional horror score that provides several memorable shocks in its own right.

The inherent ludicrousness of the material is beautifully offset by the lead performances from Byrne and Wilson as the film’s leads. The two actors play their parts straighter than straight, allowing Wan to go majestically over the top piling scares on top of scares. Wan has this freedom because he knows the audience is going to be invested in his actors. I would go so far as to say that Byrne and Wilson give one of the most convincing and relatable pictures of normal loving parents faced with the supernatural since Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Nicholas Roeg’s Don't Look Now. There are also great supporting turns from Hershey, Shaye, Sampson and Whannell.

Best of all, Insidious is scary, some of its shocks are of the “BOO!” variety, some are far subtler, but they are plentiful and the come along like buses at rush hour. Clearly this is not an original film or story, but it cleverly takes styles of supernatural horror from at least three different decades, weaving them into something which feels really fresh. Insidious makes the old shocks new again.

This is the best edge-of-your-seat, pant moistening, white-knuckler of a fairground attraction to hit the genre since Drag Me To Hell. In fact I’d go so far as to say that it may be better as – in Byrne and Wilson – it has something Raimi’s film didn’t, a heart beating inside the well-tooled carnie sideshow machinery.

Insidious at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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