Horror, it has been said, is one of our most repetitive genres. Yes, the films can be divided into smaller sub genres — slasher, possession, evil child, and so on — but from that point on there are rules that are typically followed and genre hallmarks to be touched on. This is why it’s so difficult to make a truly great horror film. It must be not only well executed, but also show us something new and unpredictable.
Insidious is not a great horror film. It may not even be a very good one, but it at least takes a honest stab at trying to be somewhat original. Helmed by James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence), the film gives us the Wilson family, who have just moved into a brand new home which will undoubtably be haunted. Sure enough, shortly after the move their young son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into an unexplainable coma, and his mother Renai (Rose Byrne) begins to see shadowy figures and hear menacing whispers throughout the home. Her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) is skeptical (the husbands always are), but in a surprising instance of horror movie logic, he agrees to move into a new house anyway to set her mind at ease.
But these strange happenings continue at their new home, and soon Renai and Josh find themselves confronted with the possibility that their house isn’t haunted, but their comatose son Dalton is. With his soul floating somewhere between life and death, other spirits are trying to gain access to his body to enter our world. The Wilsons are left trying to find a way to rescue Dalton from the in-between realm known as “The Further” before he’s lost forever.
For a while, Insidious actually works. Despite some uneven directing and issues with the films color, Wan is able to establish a solid tone, giving the Wilson home a good sense of the uncanny and all the tension it creates. The less he shows us, the more anxious we get because we’re furiously checking every corner of the frame to see what might be lurking there. The problems start when Wan shows us the ghosts, who aren’t nearly as frightening as we could’ve imagined. From that point on, the film falls back too heavily on pop-outs and gotchya moments, which are jolting in the immediate sense but carry no further implications to haunt us afterwards. It becomes a hollower sort of horror.
The film’s finale is also underwhelming, partially because it feels like Insidious doesn’t have any real idea how (or when) to end. There are a handful of opportunities for Wan to wrap his film tidily, but he keeps wanting to go bigger and bigger, and the eventual ending he chooses is far too absurd. Wan, who was able to turn the original Saw into a hit with similarly limited means, gets too big for his budget and tries to capture something that the film simply cannot realize, and so it ends up feeling fake, forced, and ultimately foolish.
This crash and burn in the final act is a disappointment, because even though Insidious wasn’t going to be a classic, it was still a decent, enjoyable horror show for at least an hour. Walking away, we get the sense that James Wan is very close to making a good horror picture, possibly even a great one. He just isn’t there quite yet.
Insidious is initially effective and shows plenty of promise, but ultimately falls apart because of an overdone ending: C