The writer/director team behind the Saw movies returns with a chiller dealing in rather innocent boo-made-you-jump shocks rather than blurgh-made-you-sick extremities.
There are no new ideas here but, for a selection of leftovers, it smells surprisingly fresh.
There's very little blood or violence, just lots of things glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. It's surprisingly effective. I think it made me jolt in my seat four or five times, though afterwards I was at a lost to remember what exactly had caused these frights or indeed why they had got to me.
There is something inexplicable about it, like catching yourself laughing a little too loudly at some silly joke or pratfall.
Initially, you are struck by how blatantly the film seems to be Paranormal Activity without the shaky cam. (PA's director Oren Peli is listed among the producers.)
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A couple move into a new house but almost immediately things start to happen – boxes go astray, doors slam on their own, strange noises are heard on the baby monitor. Then the horror escalates when their son falls into a mysterious coma.
After a decade of 'found footage' or torture porn horror, this feels like a reassertion of the value of the old-fashioned scary movie. The film borrows from everyone – it even manages to squeeze in Darth Maul from The Phantom Menace. There are definitely echoes of the discrete Japanese and Korean horror style but also big budget Hollywood efforts like The Shining, Poltergeist and The exorcist.
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Insidious sets off at too fast an initial pace, leaving it with little puff left for the finishing straight. The final half hour glides by almost without incident.
Whether Insidious is an elegant reworking of the classic ghost story or just highly derivative is a call you will have to make for yourself. In one sense, it a very modern horror in that it is an exorcism/ possession story without theology. Sure there are demons and spirits and ghosts, but the film is careful not to give them any religious labels. Its version of the spirit world is labelled The Further.
The exorcist loses much of its power if you don't share its creed; Insidious espouses an all-encompassing inclusiveness.
Director: James Wan
With: Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannel and Angus Sampson
Length: 102 mins