[INSIDIOUS screens Friday March 25th at 11:40pm and Saturday March 26th at 4:10pm at the Cleveland International Film Festival. The film opens nationwide Friday April 1st.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
I could tell from the trailer that James Wan's INSIDIOUS bore some similarities to POLTERGEIST. Still, I wasn't prepared for just how closely screenwriter Leigh Whannel's script followed the plot and structure of that eighties fright-fest. To be sure, there are differences. In particular, the cause and nature of the supernatural shenanigans is completely different, and the overall tone is more malevolent. But by the time Lin Shaye shows up as a quirky psychic with a couple of pseudo-scientific assistants in tow, looking to help a flustered middle class family deal with the spirit world, you half expect someone to say, “Carol Anne, come into the light.”
And yet, for the first two thirds of its running time, I was willing to let the film's cinematic larceny slide. INSIDIOUS is at its best when it's at its most subtle, and Wan delivers some effective jolts as we glimpse disturbing figures in the shadows and things go bump in the night. Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson make a believable married couple, and when Byrne says she's scared and wants to leave the house she believes is haunted, there's none of the usual horror film nonsense where her husband refuses to take her seriously.
Perhaps influenced by producer Oren Peli's PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, Wan shoots this part of the film in a realistic, almost cinema verité style. It's not the faux documentary shaky-cam shtick that has been done to death of late, but there's a fair amount of (professional looking) hand-held camera work and a subdued, realistic feel. And then everything goes down the tubes in the protracted and ridiculously over the top third act.
Much of the conclusion looks and plays like outtakes from Wan's previous post-SAW horror flop DEAD SILENCE, with the added bonus of a “big bad” who looks like Darth Maul from STAR WARS EPISODE ONE sporting a Freddy Kreuger glove. While Whannel's script is perfectly content to lazily follow each beat of POLTERGEIST right to the end, the one area where he exerts any effort at originality is in trying to convince us this isn't just a garden variety ghost story. There's some crap about astral projection and the spirits of the dead looking for empty vessels to occupy, but for all his efforts in this area, Whannel just winds up with a convoluted pile of woo-woo nonsense that even he doesn't seem to completely have worked out the rules for. 2 out of 4 stars.