Insidious is a scare fest that uses old fashioned tactics to make you jump out of your skin.

Having loitered in the horror genre long enough, I am always skeptical when gauging a film’s alleged fright factor. This has more to do with personal expectations rather than what the film promises through pre-release trailers. When this film starts, the credits have names disintegrating into ghostly smoke. To me, this animated effect is hugely similar to the light hearted Scooby-Do episodes, or even Bill Cosby’s Ghost Dad. Within just a few minutes, I realized I underestimated the film’s potential to induce hair raising chills. Perhaps this is director James Wan’s way of saying “Think you can handle a scary move? Wait till you see this!” Then Wan threw me off course again. Having scripted, directed and initiated the Saw franchise, I was prepared for some blood and gore along the lines of a slasher/thriller, and no way was I expecting a true horror story. Amazingly, Wan goes on to offer a horror movie with minimal use of blood and even confines the content to a juvenile rating of PG-13. But don’t let this rating misguide you.

Having recently shifted to a new house, the Lamberts barely start to unpack before facing increasingly disturbing occurrences. Things take a turn for the worse when their eldest son slips into a coma after a minor fall. Doctors are baffled by Dalton’s rare condition and after three months without respite, Renai and Josh bring their son home. Thinking the house to be haunted, the lamberts move again, only to realize that the problem is not the house, but that malevolent forces are using Dalton’s body as a gateway into our world.

Along with screen writer Leigh Whannell, Wan’s success lies in the screenplay and its execution. For me, his use of the triple S formula is what really works here. At the fore is a well written script with clever homage to old school classics like Psycho. Wan has also used the element of suspense, skillfully amplified by moments of deliberate silence. You just know something is going to happen, but not knowing what or when makes it all the more intense. His final S is the choice of soundtrack or score. Ominous and jolting, are the two words that come to mind. Cinematography is another area he gets right. Combined with the soundtrack, angles of filming and just the right amount of lighting, cinematography here creates the right atmosphere for the story.

Aside from the technical bearing, human elements play the part to perfection. This is where most horror movies go off track, relying on effects and sound editing to do the job. As Dalton’s parents, Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson dish out some plausible portrayals. With lesser screen time but with as much prominence are Barbara Hershey and Lin Shaye in custom made roles. Although each plays vital roles in the film, Shaye has the edge as an occult specialist.

A common problem with Hollywood horror movies is that every now and again, a hotshot film maker thinks he/she has what it takes to outdo the previous hotshot film maker who thinks he/she did a ‘hell’ of a job in scaring the audience. Think about it, how many times has a haunted house, demonic possession or a Halloween themed movie been remade? No doubt, with each re-make, the makers assume superiority over the previous releases. For Insidious, the outcome is not entirely original. Some scenes of the house are also reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Even with the well written script, the ending appears to have a lot more going on than the first half. Possibly Wan and Whannell attempted to through everything they had at the audience, including a dark caricature of the Ghostbusters. I am not entirely convinced if this was a right move, but I can say with certainty that if this movie is meant to scare people, people will be scared. Even if this story was not made into a movie, it would still make a compelling tale by a campfire.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.