The opening titles to the new film by the Saw franchise creators (director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell) suggests that we are about to experience a fun and slightly self-aware horror film in the same vein as Sam Raimi’s terrific Drag Me to Hell. A spooky opening credit sequence ends with the film’s title Insidious filling the screen accompanied by a blast of music that forces the viewer to sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, with the notable exception of a couple of genuine scares, the rest of the film falls short of this introductory moment.
Insidious is essentially a haunted house film with several nods to other classics from the genre. The use of discordant music occasionally evokes the György Ligeti and Krzysztof Penderecki compositions used by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining, but the dull, dark and washed out cinematography in Insidious is too distancing and never creates the same graceful menace of Kubrick’s masterpiece. The type of young family who are in peril places Insidious closer to films such as Poltergeist and more recently Paranormal Activity, but it lacks the magical supernatural tone of the former and the home video recorded footage novelty of the latter. Insidious is certainly part of a great tradition of scary films, but it’s a little too bland and visually unappealing to be memorable.
The film does take a bold and unexpected move into fantasy in the final act that somewhat redeems it, but it still doesn’t quite work. For a start the film annoyingly shifts all attention away from the up until then protagonist Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) to instead deliver all the excitement and interest to her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson). And sadly, the use of a smoke machine and a bunch of candelabras to create the otherworldly dimension just isn’t convincing enough to make such scenes any more memorable than similar moments in some of the later A Nightmare on Elm Street sequels.
Insidious is not that bad a film, but it’s a forgettable one. Wan and Whannell clearly know and love this genre but the inventiveness and craftsmanship they’ve previously displayed, most notably in the original Saw film, is not nearly as evident here.