Given the presence of director James Wan, I am claiming this review of Insidious (2010) as part of my focus on Australian film. Wan and creative partner Leigh Whannell famously had to head abroad in order to get the necessary financing for their film Saw (2004). It has worked well for them too, with both of them carving out nice little careers in America.
I have been enjoying horror films more over the last year or two, after realising that whilst atmospheric and at their best highly tense to watch, they were not going to leave me all that scared, unable to sleep for days like I feared. Whilst it didn’t keep me up for days, Insidious is one of the scarier horror flicks I have seen. The first half is a near perfect Haunted House jaunt that is seriously tense and creepy. It sees a married couple, played by Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, have their son fall into a coma. Soon after, numerous creepy happenings start taking place. One of the best aspects of this section of the film was that it felt like a pretty realistic presentation of how a couple would react to such an intense situation, as fractures begin to emerge in their relationship. The second half, whilst perhaps not purely as successful as the first, successfully takes the story into some interesting and delightfully creepy places. It also leads to a conclusion of the film that is satisfying, and I for one loved the setup for the sequel at the end.
Watching this film got me thinking how little respect or even attention Wan gets here in Australia. His films get decent releases, but there is not the same focus on him as ‘one of our own’ and how well he is doing in comparison to other actors and directors. Perhaps most of that is due to the fact that he is working in the horror genre which does not get the respect it deserves. Hopefully this will change eventually, because on the evidence of Insidious, Wan is one of our very best directors. The film looks incredible under Wan’s stewardship. Even in the scenes of relative normalcy, Wan is very good at using the camera to create tension in a really disconcerting way. He achieves this generally in a very simplistic, old school manner, by really thinking of the best place to place the camera in each scene. A level of thought that is seemingly not bothered with in so many films. I am not for a second suggesting Wan is the next Hitchcock (he isn’t), but the way he thought out his scenes and took the care to think about the spot that placing his camera would bring the most to each scene, reminded me a lot of the great Brit’s work.
The Aussie flavour to the film leaks over to the cast as well. Rose Byrne, as the female lead, gives the best performance in the film. She is able to give a real sense of her character and the troubles that have plagued her life. Whannell partners up with Angus Sampson to fill a comedic relief slot. I liked the performances of those too, but was not so fond of the characters. Tonally the comedic stylings were just a little too light and not integrated with everything else that was going on. All the performances in Insidious were at the very least decent. Patrick Wilson, whilst in the shadow of his onscreen wife Byrne, is quite good. Lin Shaye as the employer of Whannell and Sampson, does really well to balance her role as part old kook who cannot be trusted, and the only hope for those involved. I also really liked the use of sound in Insidious. One of the major gripes I have with sound in many contemporary horror films is the fact that it is used cheaply to trick people into scares. In Insidious the sound is used to build atmosphere, but more importantly to boost the effect of scares that are already happening on screen.
I’m shamefully behind on catching up with Wan’s films (this is the first I have seen). But Insidious impressed the hell out of me, so I will be getting on to the others. A clever update on the classic haunted house flick that is genuinely scary, I can definitely recommend this film to anyone with the slightest interest in the genre. Or just if you want to see the work of one of the better young directors working today.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny