I am one who is wary to make premature proclamations about where a film stands when relative to the rest of the year and I believe I will be able to stick to that when discussing Insidious, however, with much difficulty. The reason that is so is that after seeing Insidious the kinds of comparisons I started to make were within the horror genre and comparing it to my favorite film in the genre from last year, or the year before or even further back.
And when I say in the genre I mean purely so, for if there’s one thing you cannot mistake in this film is that the makers most definitely intended to make an ode to old school horror tales but what is most impressive is that while keeping in mind classical elements, motifs and tactics there is still a concerted and successful effort to put a new spin on things.
Anyone who is very familiar with the genre will at some point start to be reminded of several different films such as Poltergeist, Pet Sematary, The Shining, The Haunting, The Amityville Horror and others but it’s always a passing notion that comes from a place that’s much more “Oh, isn’t that neat?” as opposed to “Man, what a rip off this is.”
While all these allusions and homages do exist there are some very refreshing elements to the tale as well. First of all, many horror films, especially those which have an element of the supernatural within them, struggle with the notion of belief. There needs to be a certain level of disbelief amongst the characters, when dealing with the supernatural, so that we can then suspend disbelief. This, however, is a very delicate balancing act for the audience of a horror movie is very aware that they are there to see a horror film and are very ready to believe. There are no such concerns here. Insidious has one of the quickest, deftest and most naturalistic dismissals of disbelief I can recall seeing and it is crucial to the functioning of the film.
Perhaps what’s even more impressive is that it is a twist and a take off on the haunted house tale, and you know that, the tag line for the film is “It’s not the house that’s haunted.” Having said that, however, the film perfectly follows a haunted house structure.
The cinematography is great throughout and is particularly effective during the first seance scene which is perfectly choreographed chaos but perhaps the most effective section is when Josh (Patrick Wilson) travels to an alternate dimension referred to in the film as The Further. This alternate plane is created entirely through cinematography and the use of negative fill. It’s been quite a while since a film in the horror genre has so aptly exploited the most primal of human fears, which is that of the dark.
Furthermore the sound design of this film is absolutely fantastic. There are disembodied sounds throughout the soundtrack that are later identified and everything sounds like what is should and it becomes a very fun guessing game and also hauntingly effective. What’s paramount in importance is that the sound effects enhance the visuals and aid scares as opposed to becoming the scares. There are several jolts within this film, one of which sent a tidal wave of goosebumps down my body and the sound effect accompanying the visual was an afterthought. “Oh yeah, that sound effect was good too,” I thought but the visual already struck home in all these jolts.
How scary one ultimately finds it is always a very personal thing. I found it to actually to be quite scary. The testament to that was later that night after having seen it unexplained noises within my house caused a lot more distress than they normally do. What cannot be argued is that screenwriter Leigh Whannell and director James Wan have crafted one of the finest examples of the horror genre to have come along in a long, long time.