Unless you’re talking about a visionary horror genius like, say, Guillermo Del Toro, I generally think it’s better to imply but not show the BBST (big bad scary thing). Frankly, our imagination of the horror is generally much more terrifying than whatever the director and CGI wizards can come up with. In fact, more often than not, the demon/ghost/witch/alien is kind of a joke.
Which brings us to Insidious. The first half of the film, about a beautiful young family that moves into a house that seems to be haunted (the whole thing is a rather explicit homage to Poltergeist, which I endorse), is filled with the genuine dread of the half-seen and hinted at.
The second half, where the family hires a medium and tackles the BBST head on, shows us the evil creatures that are afoot in a big way. And while I have to admit that the evil freak show does provide some nice chills, it replaces the slow burn of dread with something overcooked and cheesy.
Still, no one can accuse director James Wan of holding back.
A somewhat wooden Patrick Wilson and a seriously low-key Rose Byrne play the pretty young couple. They have two young sons and a baby girl. Although we’ve seen small children in horror films many times, somehow putting a helpless baby in any kind of supernatural peril is too much to take. Wan wisely moves her out of harm’s way fairly quickly. The same, however, can’t be said for their young son Dalton (Ty Simpkins). He goes up to the attic, sees something horrifying, falls, screams, and—the next day—slips into a coma-like state.
From there, things start banging around the house, alarms sound, spectral figures are seen and heard—the baby monitor here is put to good use—and for reasons not yet clear, hubby is taking this uncertain time to work extra long hours at the school where he teaches.
One thing I love about Insidious? They leave the damn house! No one ever does that in a haunted house film. Sadly for the nice family, their troubles may not be restricted to those four walls.
The strangely passive acting of the two leads notwithstanding (perhaps to compensate for the histrionics that the actors know are forthcoming?), Insidious is a pretty skilled and nifty horror film. (And character actress Lin Shaye gives a doozy of performance as the medium.) It may leave little to the imagination, but it gets the job done.