by Ryan Hill
Few things are more cinematically cringe-worthy than a PG-13 horror film – typically watered-down, blasé and just plain ridiculous. “Insidious,” the latest film from James Wan and Leigh Whannell (creators of the first “Saw”) is a PG-13 film that, like 2009’s “Drag Me to Hell,” doesn’t suffer from the rating.
Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson star as a married couple that move into a house of creaky floors and doors, complete with a spooky, old attic. When their son, Dalton, ventures into the attic, he falls, injuring his head. The next day, he doesn’t wake up. Or the day after. Or the next. He’s apparently in a coma, but doctors can’t find anything wrong with him.
That’s when strange things begin happening around the house. The floors creak a little more. Doors are opened. The security system goes off. When scary-looking poltergeists start showing up, Byrne and Wilson do the smartest thing in the history of haunted house films: They move. Immediately. “The Amityville Horror” would have been 20 minutes long if that family had been this smart.
In a genre twist, the incidents continue in the new home. It’s not the house that’s haunted, it’s Dalton, who’s being stalked by a Darth Maul-looking demon trying to cross over into his body.
“Insidious” hits all the right notes for a haunted house film. With help from executive producer Oren Peli (director of “Paranormal Activity”), the haunting scenes play out much like the ones in “Activity,” but on a budget.
Wilson and Byrne play their parts perfectly – Byrne as the tortured mother trying to save her son and Wilson as the skeptical father refusing to believe in the supernatural despite what he’s seen. Lin Shaye is cast as the kindly, old exorcist and her two cohorts, one of whom is played by screenwriter Whannell, look like their day jobs are with the Geek Squad at Best Buy.
Wan and Whannell, whose last collaboration was the silly killer puppet movie “Dead Silence,” have easily crafted their finest movie since “Saw,” and one that’s even more frightening. It’s interesting that the people who reimagined the gore film for mainstream audiences with “Saw” have created a film that relies on old-school horror tropes such as long takes and sound effects.
But the film does hit some sour notes as well. While “Insidious” tries to play with genre conventions, it fails to fully elevate itself from them. Though scary at points, as soon as the horror stops it quickly devolves into the same old fluff found in every other haunted house film.
Despite being a PG-13 horror film, “Insidious” is a moderate success in old-school horror, and proves that something old can be new again, even in a genre that’s been mostly devoid of original ideas for years.
Grade: 2.5/4 Stars