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SXSW Movie Review: ‘Insidious’

March 24, 2011
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Insidious was one film that was high on my list of priority to view at SXSW. Essentially a haunted house genre movie, the film is from writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan, who previously worked together on Saw. No worries, this film is more carnival fun-house ride than house of horrors. I mean that in a good way.

Wan keeps the gore to a minimum, and the film is more campy than truly frightening. It’s still a darn fun ride, in the vein of Drag Me to Hell. The jump scares are plentiful, and had the audience squealing and screaming, but you won’t lie in bed at night pulling the covers up under your chin. It’s quickly forgotten as a fun diversion.

Young couple Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) have just moved into a big, creepy house with their three children. Josh is pretty oblivious to just how stressed out Renai is,  what with caring for three small children and settling into this huge house. You could even say she is (understandably) emotionally unstable.

When one of their sons goes into the attic to investigate, all does not end well. He tumbles off of a ladder, sees something frightening (off screen) and never revives consciousness. A distraught Renai and Josh take him to the hospital, but the doctors are flummoxed. They can’t figure out a single reason why he would remain unconsciousness. Naturally, this leads to them eventually sending the boy home, leaving his already frazzled mother caring for an invalid, as well.

Renai starts seeing and hearing strange things around the house, but Josh dismisses her concerns because of her emotional state (he’s not too bright). Finally, it becomes obvious to Josh that something is indeed wrong with the house. Unlike 99% of families in this type of movie, these two cut their losses and move out of their brand-new house to escape the haunting.

In a cruel twist of fate, the same exact things start happening at their new house (how pissed would you be)? This forces the couple to confront the possibility that it is their son that is haunted, and not the house.

The remainder of the movie revolves around Renai and Josh trying to figure out how to get their son back, from wherever he may be.  Josh’s mother Lorraine (played by Barbara Hershey) suggests they hire a friend of hers who is a psychic/paranormal investigator.  Elise (Lin Shaye) shows up with her cohorts (one of whom is played by writer Leigh Whannell), and the three of them provide a bit of the camp quality to the film.They perform a séance  guaranteed to be unlike any you’ve seen before.

I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I found it to be a bit hokey and disappointing compared to the rest of the movie.This is a very low budget movie by Hollywood standards (reports say $1M), so I hate to criticize the look of the last third of the film, but it does look less polished than the rest of the movie. This is where it literally reminded me of traveling through a carnival fun-house ride.

However, I am impressed by what they did on a shoe-string budget. They have great actors, an original story, creepy atmosphere, and lots of well-earned jump scares, if there is such a thing. This is the type of movie that makes you nervous the whole time you are watching it; you know something is imminently lurking around every corner. Like a roller-coaster, it’s a blast while your on it, but as soon as you get off, you move on to the next ride and forget about it.

I heartily recommend this movie for any genre fan. It’s a nice departure from the usual haunted house fare.

Rating 3.5/5

Insidious is rated PG-13. Written by Leigh Whannell, directed by James Wan. Starring Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Patrick Wilson, Barbara Hershey, Angus Sampson, and Leigh Whannell. Opens nationwide on April 1st.

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One Response to “ SXSW Movie Review: ‘Insidious’ ”

  1. Greg on March 31, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    Wow. Good review. I felt the exact same way as you. Again. I even compared this to Drag Me To Hell too back in my TIFF review for FilmJunk back in September.

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