Published Mar 24, 2011Opening up with a happy, idyllic nuclear family moving into a new home, mother Rinai (Rose Byrne) unpacking the boxes and father Josh (Patrick Wilson) playing with their three kids, when not off at work, this latest offering from Saw creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan comes across like a somewhat clumsier version of Poltergeist. And it's not just the tone and family dynamics that mirror the '80s haunted house chiller, but the actual plot, which finds middle child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falling into a supernatural coma amidst excess bumps in the night, moving objects and ghostly visions.
Also mirroring the Steven Spielberg-produced family horror is the eventual team of ghost busters that come to Josh and Rinai's home to help them find the spirit of their son. Lin Shaye takes on the role of lead medium and investigator, doling out endless expository, when not strapped in a gas mask to communicate with the other side, while Angus Sampson and writer Leigh Whannell play her comic relief assistants, bickering about the importance of operating equipment versus writing spiritual translations (or directing and writing).
Unfortunately, Insidious never manages to find the balance between family drama, scary movie, comedy and otherworldly allegory that its predecessor did. It succeeds with scares, having an effective first half, with Byrne hearing and seeing ghosts around the house, never relying on jump tactics or blood for genuine scares, but everything else falls flat.
The family dynamics in the film never work, being limited to the occasional argument about the house being haunted or the eldest son's feelings of invisibility in the face of parental stress, which is only acknowledged in a single scene. Similarly, the comedy that pops up with the introduction of the investigators actually distracts from the generalized eeriness that pervades the entire first act, which is only exacerbated by the endless exposition that takes up a good half-hour of runtime.
These second half missteps drag down Insidious, cramming unnecessarily convoluted explanation and unwanted goofiness into a potentially excellent low-key chiller. Sometimes filmmakers just need to learn that less is more. (Alliance)