*Skip the premise if you read the previous posts*
Regarded by many as the best horror director working today, James Wan (27 February 1977) went on also screenwriting and producing many of his movie as well as various flicks connected to his works, such as the Saw and Insidious sequels.
Being able to revitalise several horror clichés, such as tiresome jump-scares and redundant possession-driven plots, Mr. Wan is surrounded by a claque of die-hard fans.
Independently from the single person’s opinion, throughout the last 15 years or so James Wan has had a strong impact on both the independent horror market and the public discussions on the genre. Because of his impact, I decided to analyse and review his movie from the perspective of a neutral horror-lover and passionate moviegoer. I hope you will enjoy this new series.
Insidious (2010) tells the story of a married couple whose oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) ends up in an inexplicable coma after falling from a ladder in the new house’s attic. After three months of treatment without result, Dalton’s parents Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Patrick Wilson) are allowed to take Dalton home where, soon after, paranormal activity begins to occur and involve all the family members, including the other children (Foster and Kali) and their grandma Lorraine (Barbara Hershey).
I can imagine what you all think: “I’ve been there, I’ve seen the same story thousands of times already!”. And yes, besides a small detour – “It’s not the house that’s haunted. It’s your son”, the famous quote referring to the out of body experience of Dalton – the plot has nothing new to offer to the hunted house sub-genre.
However, the execution sets Insidious apart from most of the similarly plot-driven films.
Clearly executed in a highly stylistic, old-fashioned(-ish) way, the movie recalls an old style of horror filmmaking, relying on all the clichés you can think of but, at the same time, renewing them. The infamous jump-scares are revitalised in Insidious due to Wan’s direction, which relates them to those moments and situations when the audience is actually supposed to be frightened.
Beyond that, the unsettling atmosphere is established also through a great camera-work, supported by immaculate editing choices, and an eerie score which gets under your skin increasing the creepiness of the movie.
Furthermore, the characters are compelling and the chemistry between them is palpable and feels real, mostly thanks to Patrick Wilson. On a serious note, why the guy doesn’t star in more films? If you’ve seen him in Hard Candy (2005), you can’t help but notice he is nothing less than a great actor.
Back to Insidious, there are three other characters I didn’t talk about yet: the demonologists Elise Reiner (amazingly portrayed by Lin Shaye) and her sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). Called by Lorraine to help Dalton getting rid of the entity who is possessing hid body, Elise gives us the background to this world (the Further) where demons hide and people born with the ability to travel mentally to the astral plane (like Dalton and his dad, Josh) can get lost. Beyond being a bit too heavily exposed, this key concept introduces us to a universe we will be able to experience again and more in-depth in Chapter 2.
Before jumping to the ending and my final thoughts on Insidious, I can’t refuse to mention Specs and Tucker: many viewers hate these characters and consider them the weakest part of the movie. On the contrary, I believe they are the show stealers to some extent. They provide this light, quirky comic relief which is vital in this movie, which thanks to them gets also funny and entertaining.
As the last two characters mentioned, the ending of Insidious is very polarising and I can, in all honesty, see why. The final head-to-head between Josh and the Lipstick-Face Demon (yes, I know its name. How nerdy is that?) looks a bit cartoonish and not as tense as the rest of the film was. But, seriously, it doesn’t ruin the film either.
Nevertheless, Insidious is a first-class horror movie. And me claiming it, really does say something, since I’m usually more intrigued and curious about hybrid and non-cliché films. In fact, Insidious might be one of those rare cases when a movie pleases both the average viewer – the one who says Paranormal Activity and Silent Hills are good movies, for instance – and the mature audience as well. Yes, highly recommended for everybody.
Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) kicks off right after the events of the second movie and we are immediately immersed in the world we got to learn throughout the first instalment.
Same characters, same cast, same problems for our main guys to deal with – although the Red-Face Demon (A.K.A. the Lipstick-Face Demon. Gosh, I’m a freaking nerd!) is replaced by The Old Lady, which is a better and more realistic villain, in my opinion at least. She also resembles a lot Mary Shaw from Dead Silence, as I hinted in the review of that movie.
Anyway, this movie takes also a different direction compared to the first one. Indeed, there is a mystery/paranormal detective investigation which adds layers of interest to the story but, contemporarily, makes it drag a bit too much.
Nevertheless, what Chapter 2 perfectly achieves is the characters’ arc development. The protagonists, once again, look like real, reliable people.
Let’s get it out of the way: Chapter 2 is a great sequel because it fills the gaps of the first movie and, in general, it enriches plot and characters. Long story short, it’s a necessary sequel, not one made to milk more money out of people’s pockets.
Although I would slightly pick the first over the second instalment, I believe these films should be watched together as chapters of the same story (as the title suggests). Unlike the third movie in the franchise which, beyond not being completely terrible, is quite useless and disposable. But it’s not directed by James Wan either, so this is not the place and the moment to tackle it. Cheers!