With Saw director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell at the helm, I was fearful this was going to be another slice of torture porn. Thankfully Wan and Whannell have reigned in their bloodlust to create a spooktacular haunted horror packed with shocks and scares that are guaranteed to have you jumping out of your seat.
Suspense is the real name of the game here, thanks in part to the producers of Paranormal Activity being on board with the Saw boys. It’s a marriage made in heaven – or should that be Hell? Frankly, I haven’t had such a genuine case of the frights since the underground car park scene in Drag Me to Hell.
In the tradition of classic possession chillers like The Amityville Horror and Poltergeist, Insidious begins with nice young couple Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Patrick Wilson) moving into a new home with their two sons and baby daughter.
But tragedy strikes when their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into a coma following a fall. While nursing him, Renai begins hearing and seeing unexplainable things in the house. Believing it to be haunted, Renai convinces her husband to move out. But after settling into their next home, Renai is shocked to discover that the ghostly apparitions have moved as well.
Black Swan’s Barbara Hershey then appears as Josh’s mother, who calls in the services of a psychic called Elise (Lin Shaye). No stranger to the paranormal herself, Hershey is best known for being violently ghost raped in The Entity. When she tells her son it’s not the first time she’s needed a psychic, I couldn’t help thinking she was referring to that 1970s frightener. Nice touch, guys.
With the aid of two geeky ghostbusters, Specs (played by Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), Elise holds a séance (wearing a gas mask – how very bizarre) and learns that the comatose Dalton (who has the ability to astral travel) has become lost in a dark realm called ‘The Further’. Dalton’s presence in this realm has allowed a number of entities to crossover – including baby doll twin ghosts and a malevolent red-faced demon. It’s then up to Dalton’s ‘I can’t handle stress’ dad to use his own latent astral travelling skills to save his son.
The best thing about Insidious is the way the filmmakers slowly rack up the tension before hitting you with some truly frightening scares. The first one made me jump, but another had me shouting ‘Holy F***!’ quite audibly during the screening. The ghostly apparitions are very subtle, just faces appearing in windows and from out of darkened corners, but it works. So do the sound effects: creaks, groans, whispers, and very loud piano strings dominate. It’s all very effective. Even the demon is quite something, with his cloven feet and metal talons – though it did remind me of Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace with his black and red face.
Of course comparisons will be made to films like Paranormal Activity, Poltergeist, Drag Me to Hell – even Ghostbusters, but while Insidious does draw on those classics for inspiration, it’s still a cleverly crafted chiller and a bloody good scare!
Saw fans take note: Bill the puppet makes a cameo appearance. Try spotting him.