'Insidious' relies more on tension than gore - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

'Insidious' relies more on tension than gore

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Posted: Saturday, April 2, 2011 6:00 pm | Updated: 4:52 pm, Thu Sep 13, 2012.

Insidious is one of those horror movies where you can often predict when the scares are coming. Although you might anticipate the creepy little boy lurking in the background or the dark figure leaping out of the shadows, you can't help but jump out of your seat when these moments occur. Insidious isn't an original supernatural thriller, borrowing numerous elements from movies like Paranormal Activity and Poltergeist. In its pursuit to consistently frighten the audience, however, Insidious succeeds while offering some effective performances along the way.

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play Josh and Renai, a married couple that moves into a house with their three young children. Their eldest son is Dalton, played by Ty Simpkins, who somewhat resembles Danny from The Shining. When Dalton randomly falls into a coma one morning, the doctors are baffled. Matters become even more peculiar when the rest of the family begins to see strange figures going bump in the night.

What I appreciate about Insidious is that it never plays its characters for idiots, unlike so many other movies of its kind. As much as I enjoyed the first Paranormal Activity, I was always annoyed with how the protagonists never think of simply leaving their possessed house until it's too late. Here, however, the characters make the decision to leave their new home fairly early. Even after moving into another house, though, they continue to be pestered by the unknown. Josh and Renai finally resort to calling a spiritual expert played by Lin Shaye to help get to the bottom of their unusual circumstances.

The film was directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, who have collaborated on several projects. I haven't been the biggest fan of Wan and Whannell's work, which has ranged from unintentionally silly like Dead Silence to flat-out malevolent like the first Saw movie. But with Insidious, Wan and Whannell finally deliver a film that's more reliant on ideas and tension than gore and cheap shocks.

Whannell, who also co-stars in the film as a nerdy ghostbuster, has developed a well-crafted screenplay full of clever twists. With a better story to work with, Wan is able to put his keen visual eye to great use. The end result is a hauntingly-shot, carefully-plotted thriller that's a lot of fun.

The one thing that holds Insidious back from being a near-classic contemporary horror film is its ending, which isn't necessarily bad. To me it just felt a little abrupt and uneven with the rest of the picture.

That aside, Insidious is a highly entertaining romp that overcomes its familiarity with style and plenty of genuinely scary moments. Plus, it's nice to see something that's at least remotely original in a generation where every horror movie seems to be a retread, a sequel, or a sequel of a retread.

• Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for five years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com. Reach him at nspake@asu.edu.

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