As a devout movie collector and horror connoisseur, a lot of films in my collection stay on the shelf and collect dust, rather than have themselves reviewed on Readers Digested / Mashers Club, in an effort to remedy that, the new series of reviews “From the Shelf” will focus entirely on remedying just that. I will be certain to document my progress in later editions!
Nowadays, James Wan and Leigh Whannell are recognized as the rightful trailblazers they are in the horror genre, but in 2010, the jury was still out on them. In 2004, Wan and Whannell teamed together and brought us a juggernaut that practically claimed the horror genre for a small period – Saw. Every year thereafter (until Saw 3D in 2010), the series (ahem) saw new iterations to the series, but James Wan and Leigh Whannell had most removed themselves from it (Leigh did go onto write Saw II and III, respectively).
In 2007, the dynamic duo aligned again for Dead Silence, a film that received negative reviews from critics and failed at the box-office. The film had since developed a cult-following, but I wouldn’t consider myself among them. Personally, I believe the verse “Beware the stare of Mary Shaw,” is the part that stayed with me most about the film, but the rest of the film is a decent horror story hurt by its execution. 2010 was their junior collaboration, so to speak, the release of a modest horror film called Insidious.
Directed (obviously) by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, Insidious appeared at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010 before its theatrical release in April 1st the next year. The film received a mixed-to-positive reception from critics and moviegoers, but was a financial success overall, grossing just shy of 100 million off a minuscule budget of 1.5 million. As history tells, Insidious went onto become a very successful franchise in the horror genre, with over half-a-billion from theaters and three sequels.
The film stars a cast comprised of Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpins, Leigh Whannell, and Angus Sampson. The score was composed by Joseph Bishara, who interestingly also appears as the demon in the film.
Insidious follows a family as they move into a new home. How they are able to afford such a nice house and take care of three children on a high school teacher’s salary while the mother pursues a music career, I am not certain (and not seriously criticizing). Maybe the mother dropped a hit album someways back? Everything goes bad, however, when their son goes into what is believed to be a coma. Unbeknownst to them, however, is that their son’s comatose state is due to him being used as a vessel for ghosts in the astral dimension.
The film introduces a different world called “The Further,” which reminds me of Stranger Things’ “Upside Down” or Silent Hill’s … “Silent Hill”. I like the idea and the depictions of it offer a lot of room for expansion. The acting is about what you could for from such a concept. Rose Byrne is a naturally likable actress and does solid as the “victim” of The Further, whereas Patrick Wilson does really well as the “skeptic”. Lin Shaye’s character has more of an understanding of what’s happening to them, and sometimes her dialogue can feel a little like an info-dump in-terms of its exposition. I do like the actress, however, and I am grateful the film offered a role to sink her teeth into.
Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson act as the comedic relief in the film. I like Leigh Whannell a lot as a writer, but I can’t ever forget how hammy his performance was in the Saw film. I feel this film is either more in his element or that it draws less attention to him, acting as a support that is deliberately meant to be silly and fun.
I re-watched the film prior to writing this review and I think that fact might work to the film’s detriment. Similar to when I re-watched Dead Silence, I found that a lot of what I thought about Insidious in-retrospect was better or more effective than when I actually re-watched the film again.
That said, the scares and idea are still enjoyable and technically efficient. It doesn’t hammer us to death with jump-scares and it often has a lot of old-school techniques and tricks in-order to insight scares. My favorite part of the film was the incorporation of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” by Tiny Tim into the film, which created a playful disturbed-ness to its conflict.
It is often argued that what goes “unseen” is scarier than what is shown and I think there is a lot of logic behind that. People so often fear what is unknown or what is misunderstood. However, I often find that this ideology is used as a crutch in low-budget horror and leaves us with a lot of supernatural horror that feels workman-like or like a concept that has not been realized. Insidious does a lot of the parlor tricks, but somethings that I think elevates is when it “delivers the goods,” showing us a view into The Further and that world. It is not very in-depth, but it was satiable and left me interested in seeing more later on.
I don’t think Insidious is a film capable of setting someone’s world on fire and if you haven’t seen it, it will unlikely redefine what you have already seen in the supernatural horror genre, but it is a solid film. The technique and cinematography is skillful, as is the acting and the incorporation of music and sound. I would say I prefer the first Saw film over this film, but I believe that is more conceptual. I am drawn more toward the Jigsaw character and how uncommon it is (or was), but I think you could make an argument that Insidious was James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s best film up to this moment.