Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Monday June 15, 2020 


Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) are a happy family with three young children. When a strange tragedy strikes their young son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) Josh and Renai begin to experience things that science cannot explain. But Josh's mum (Barbara Hershey) has some experience in such matters, and once again she calls in Elise Rainier (Lin Shave) to help rid the Lamberts of their demons.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Insidious ... the title has, well, an insidious, nasty ring to it, and the Whannell/Wan duo of writer and director (who gave the world the Saw franchise) demon-strate they can come up with more than one devilish idea. The film is a haunting horror story at its core, but there are some decent flourishes with new ideas that make it worthwhile for fans of the genre. If you want go get scared, Insidious is your poison.

Fans of David Lynch will be thrilled to see some Lynchian surrealism in the representation of the tortured souls of the departed, who roam the netherworld, both in imagery and cinematic style. And an inspired piece of musical surrealism in the form of that unforgettable Tiny Tim number, Tiptoe Through The Tulips.

Just as well the film has no need of romance because there is virtually no chemistry between Patrick Wilson's Josh Lambert) and Rose Byrne's Renai, the husband and wife who move into their new home - but quickly move out again after strange bumps in the night. But moving to yet another house doesn't fix the problem, and their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) goes into a strange coma one night, which doctors cannot fathom.

Simpkins is terrific - in the few scenes in which he is not comatose - and there is also great support from Barbara Hershey as Josh's mother with a secret that has direct bearing on the events that cause the Lamberts such fear. Lin Shave is excellent as Elise, the psychic called in to help evict the evil spirits.

The introduction of ghost-buster figures Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) is intended to provide comic relief amidst the dark murmurings and shrieks of the afterlife ('referred to as 'The Further' by Elise) with their continuous ego-driven bickering. This feels so much like a device that it not only fails to work as intended, but takes us out of the film.

Makers of fright films (including this one) still haven't been able to overcome the problems of presenting their soundscape. We must be able to easily tell what sounds the characters can hear and which ones only we are meant to hear - like the underscore signalling eerie, or be frightened NOW, and so on. When we can't distinguish between them the very purpose of both underscore and source sound is undermined. Yet these are the tools at the forefront of the cinematic language of this genre.

All other tricks of the trade are well mounted and there are some genuine shock moments, as well as some subtle, creepy ones. Plus there are some neat twists (including the ending) that make these flaws tolerable for those who enjoy the deep, dark forest of fear that scary movies deliver to us in the safety of our seats.

Review by Louise Keller:
In my capacity as a professional singer around 1980, I had the unique experience of sharing a dressing room with American singer and ukulele player Tiny Tim, whose curious world-wide hit song Tiptoe Through the Tulips was delivered in his distinctive high falsetto voice accompanied by acres of vibrato as he pushed the lanky strands of his shoulder length frizzy hair from his face. Who would have thought that 30 years later, this rather freakish version of the song could have as much impact as the way it is used in Insidious, a taut and terrific thriller that sends shivers up your spine from the first frame right until the last.

Insidious makes it fun to be scared. The scares are creepy rather than terrifying but they build up nicely and with some tongue-in-cheek in the hands of the Saw franchise filmmaking team of James Wan and Leigh Whannell, as a story of an ordinary family whose life is kidnapped by evil spirits unfolds. There are some interesting ideas including a chilling soundscape (sometimes overdone) plus the unsettling, effective integration of black and white images. Under Wan's astute direction, Whannel has concocted a tasty brew of a screenplay that relies not only on special effects and the usual tools of the horror trade but on its excellent cast. The film's twist of an ending leaves us with a feeling that can best be described as - well, insidious.

The queasy mood is set from the opening sequence in which the camera pans across a room at night, revealing that we are not alone. The characters and setting are quickly established: attractive married couple with young family has just moved into its new home. Conveniently (for the filmmakers), it's a two story house that creaks with nooks and crannies for scare potential, including a dark attic. It starts with a few incidental issues - like misplaced items and a few noises. By the time there's an accident involving one of the children (who becomes comatose), there are noises in the night, an evil face at the window, lights don't work, the alarm goes off, there's heavy breathing, the door inexplicably opens when there's no-one there and worse.

Rose Byrne continues to make good choices in her film roles, and here she is lovely as Renai, the loving wife and mother whose vulnerability makes us warm to her. She has a disarmingly natural presence onscreen, exemplified in moments like when she and son Dalton (Ty Simpkins is impressive) are looking at photos in the family album. We instantly take note when we learn there are no photos of Josh (Patrick Wilson) as a boy. Wilson is fine in the role, which requires him to be distant much of the time. Hence, there is little chemistry or romance. The tension is built around the couple, whose concern for their son prompts the introduction of various other characters including Barbara Hershey as Josh's mother and Lin Shaye as the oddball psychic Elise, who works with Specs (screenwriter Leigh Whannel) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), two hilarious characters that can best be described as gauche Ghostbusters who take themselves extremely seriously.

The scene of the séance when Elise (wearing what looks like an alien's scuba-diving gear) tries to make contact to the dark realm called The Further, where demons and tortured souls gad about is hilarious, although it is not played for laughs. This is the foreplay for the film's climactic sequence when Josh goes astral-tripping among strange, scary-looking beings including a man with fire on his face. It's a bit like being in one of David Lynch's dreams - like an inexplicable nightmare gone wrong. It's wonderful - as is the ending. Just when we think we have all the answers, we are given the final, intriguing thrust, leaving us as unsettled as when we began.

Published September 14, 2011

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2011)

CAST: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Angus Sampson, Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor

PRODUCER: Jason Blum, Oren Peli, Steven Schneider


SCRIPT: Leigh Whannell

CINEMATOGRAPHER: David M. Brewer, John R. Leonetti

EDITOR: Kirk M. Mori, James Wan

MUSIC: Joseph Bishara


RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes




SPECIAL FEATURES: Insidious entities & trailer


DVD RELEASE: September 14, 2011

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020