SXSW offered a first look at the premiere of the new James Wan/Leigh Whannell film Insidious. My first thoughts were a bit of self-reflection. I have to appreciate horror movies on a different level than the target audience. I’m not scared by ghosts and monsters and slasher killers. I can appreciate it as a story, and often some deep fantasy, but I’m not scared. Insidious has enough that should scare the horror believers and creates an in-depth mythology that objective viewers like me can respect.
Renee (Rose Byrn) and Josh (Patrick Wilson) move into a new house where apparitions pop up behind windows and push books off the shelves. Their son Dalton falls into a coma. That’s a taboo plot twist that Hollywood horror wouldn’t allow. The visions get stronger and Renee experiences them the most.
The scares at this point are solid. You see enough unsettling disturbances, some grinning twins or a bloody handprint on the sheets, to get your Shining on. Here is where the film gets smart though. They move out of the house. Josh may be skeptical but he’s willing to do it for Renee’s well being.
Of course, it wasn’t the house, it was the family. In the new house, the ghosts get more interactive. A ghostly child actually makes Renee play hide and seek. Josh’s mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) calls a spiritual advisor, Elise (Lin Shaye) to help. That’s when the mythology gets deep.
Elise explains astral projection to create a really mature, perceptive view of the supernatural. Leigh Whannell’s script incorporates spiritual powers and philosophy that even casual readers of pop metaphysics would appreciate. Elise and her assistants Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell) can’t stop the other world from causing trouble so the pace builds as the mythology develops.
Elise introduces the concept of The Further, which the film explores as a new vision of the world beyond our own. It’s more dreamlike than Nightmare on Elm Street and full of unsettling images and sound. The characters aren’t passive. Renee and Josh get hands on to save their son. Josh has to be the nay sayer but they make him reasonable.
I was most interested when the film kicked into its spiritual gear, but the whole film is well done. James Wan shoots the houses so that every angle on a room or staircase makes it look completely different. He reveals the disturbing elements in effective tracking shots, obscuring some things and playing with screen space. It’s not just jump scares.
I was invested in the otherworldly adventure of Insidious, which is definitely more epic than the usual haunted house story. I would look forward to further adventures in The Further.