Insidious (2011)

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Movie Review written by: Born Movie Reviews
RT Critics Rating: 6.7/10

Born Movie Reviews' Rating: 7/10

INSIDIOUS (2011) - James Wan

What many filmmakers do not understand in the horror genre is that what you *do not* see can sometimes be far more terrifying. To quote The Wall Street Journal: "[W]hat makes a movie scary isn't what jumps out of the closet. It's what might jump out of the closet." An impressive element here is that Insidious is not your average haunted house flick. Even more impressive, the suspense building and flesh crawling techniques are delivered by a director who came out into the industry in 2004 by a film that is flooded with blood and gore, that film being Saw.

Named by critics as one of the scariest films in recent years, Insidious follows Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson), who have just moved into a new house with their three children. After their ten-year old son inexplicably enters a coma and several strange events unfold in the household, the worried couple moves into a new home, only to find the scares following them. Soon, they discover that it is not the house that is haunted, it is their son.

The movie is undoubtedly atmospheric, smartly executed by the director with strategic uses of color correcting, Kubrick-like cinematography, and creepy music. The vibrancy on screen is bleached, closer to a black and white approach. This cleverly brings about the sense that the household in the film is "lifeless," providing an eerie mood that things are not going to go well for our characters. Aside from his previous film that relied on visuals to scare, Wan takes the Shyamalan approach with Insidious, barely showing one drop of blood and yet being able to crawl under our skin.

Cinematography is crucial in a horror film, usually heavily assisted by skillful manipulation of lighting as well. Here, Insidious takes on the style of Stanley Kubrick for its camerawork, following characters' backs really closely, turning corners with them, opening doors with them. Despite it having an effect different from scaring us, it surely disturbs us, dragging us into the dread forcefully since we are locked to where the camera goes. This brings about the same nightmarish effect that Kubrick's The Shining delivered so memorably, and when the cinematography this time is enhanced by bleached coloring and purposely dissonant use of strings in its music, Insidious is guaranteed to create the mood.

The acting in the movie, however, is mediocre, which is a shame if you were one of the audience members who was heavily convinced by the performances in Saw. This is where Insidious loses part of its full potential. Underneath all the technical elements that build up a horror film, it also needs an engaging storyline as well as a powerhouse performance. Although the film does indeed have the storyline done, it lacks the performance aspect. None of the characters in the movie are lovable nor easy to follow, even when the protagonists are parents caring for their children. Rose Byrne, despite noticing her efforts in the film, cannot push through the boundaries of contrived acting to naturalism. One cannot feel her as the mother, but still an actress portraying a mother. This goes the same for Patrick Wilson, which is even more disappointing because of all the great films he has been in before this. When it comes down to what kind of execution it approached in the horror genre, Insidious did not go for strong acting, but rather just pure atmospheric building. Even when Leigh Whannell makes a minor appearance, you would rather rewatch his portrayal of Adam in Saw.

Fortunately, Insidious is not your average supernatural film. Its first half may appear as predictable and cliche, but its third act introduces something completely new. Despite many critics calling the third act "weak" and "shaky," it is a far more compelling concept to go with instead of picking something in the familiar realm. Indeed, critics also criticize Insidious for borrowing too many horror movies to assist itself. This may be true. In simple words, Insidious is probably Paranormal Activity plus The Omen plus Poltergeist. Nevertheless, it is no doubt that Insidious is still an engaging thrill ride.

Now to settle an argument: Is Insidious scary? Or better, is it really what people call it "one of the scariest films in recent history"? Well, if those people call the atmosphere scary, then yes. But does it put us to the stage of ultimate fear? The answer is no. Going back to Saw, maybe Saw is more scary than Insidious simply because it was far more intense. In spite of Insidious having legitimate jump scenes at times, they are still random and out of the void, and thus, the scares are sadly unmemorable. All in all, the film is more of an impressive direction that James Wan takes after doing Saw. That's about it. It is indeed heavily packed with clever tension building, cinematography, and music, but it is also slow in its narrative at times. This is not the most unique horror film of all time and is definitely not the scariest. It only deserves its respect if one already knows the history of its director. As a horror film alone, it is just the usual, and that is perhaps the biggest disappointment in Insidious.

In conclusion, Insidious is a nice approach made by Wan in the horror genre. The story comes forth as cliche at first, then becomes original afterwards. The film is entirely equipped with sinister music and powerhouse atmosphere, though it lacks powerhouse acting. Setting the film's interesting premise aside, it is not the scariest film in recent years, but there is still a lot to recommend in this haunted house supernatural roller coaster of a movie. Perhaps the greatest respect I can give Insidious is the fact that it can make us feel uneasy without showing a drop of blood. To quote Rolling StoneInsidious is still indeed an interesting and captivating horror film, "mostly because [it] decides it can haunt an audience without spraying it with blood."


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