Writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan, best known as the creators of the popular SAW franchise, come together again for INSIDIOUS, a haunted-house-cum-action chiller. No sooner have Josh (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Renai (Rose Byrne), along with their three children, moved into their new house than they encounter strange goings-on. Books fall from shelves, boxes transport themselves into the attic and Renai hears sinister noises on the baby monitor. Then she starts seeing things...
If it sounds familiar, it is. INSIDIOUS borrows heavily from THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, POLTERGEIST, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (PA writer/director Oren Peli produces), and, when one of the children is possessed by an evil spirit, THE EXORCIST. But at this point it becomes interesting. Confronted by an unrelenting barrage of seemingly supernatural assaults, the family makes the eminently sensible decision to move. They soon realise, however, that the ghosts have come with them. It isn’t the house that’s haunted, it’s the child.
A nice idea. Unfortunately it’s soon squandered. The problem with INSIDIOUS, as with so many modern ghost stories, is that it doesn’t understand that less is more. Spooks and spirits, as with anything that goes bump in the night, are scarier unseen than seen. The shadowy face at the window, glimpsed for only a moment and then gone, is far more frightening than any number of prosthetically-enhanced spectres. INSIDIOUS indulges in every ghoulish staple you can think of, from women in wedding dresses to creepy kids, and not one of them is even half as frightening as PARANORMAL ACTIVITY’s unseen menace.
This sense of overstatement, of unnecessary exaggeration, only gets worse. What starts as a fairly low-key riff on the haunted house motif soon becomes a bombastic, effects-laden mess. It all goes downhill when ace psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) turns up and announces to the parents that the soul of their son has journeyed to ‘the Further,’ a kind of limbo/netherworld, in which it has come lost. A demonic feeding frenzy is taking place for possession of the child’s body. Where POLTERGEIST had the good sense to leave the astral realm firmly off-screen, INSIDIOUS jumps in with both feet. The journey through a dark dreamscape of foreboding houses and mannequin-like lost souls is supposed to be both surreal and scary, but mostly is just silly. It’s reminiscent of a cut-price version of THE CELL, without Tersem Singh’s flair for haunting imagery.
INSIDIOUS starts well, and the premise is intriguing, but it soon becomes overblown. The scares mine familiar territory and it’s overly reminiscent of POLTERGEIST and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, without being nearly as good as either. The performances are strong, and by SAW’s standards it’s positively restrained, but it’s let down by a laughable final act and a predictable twist.