Oh, James Wan. There are few filmmakers I love to hate as much as this man. This hatred isn’t a result of Wan being an incompetent filmmaker, which is what makes it such a frustrating viewer/artist relationship. The problem with Wan is that he makes such technically sound films and has such a flair for style that he has a tendency to turn a blind eye to (or flat out ignore) a semblance of logic. Oh, and he’s guilty of the worst climaxes outside of a Shyamalan joint.
Bearing my feelings towards Wan’s previous films and his craft as a filmmaker, I went into INSIDIOUS with low expectations. Very low, at that. Not only did this have Wan’s track record going against it for me, but it happened to be yet another PG-13 horror flick. Now, I’m a rugged, seasoned, bearded horror veteran that does not abide the sanitation of my beloved genre. If anything ever saved Wan’s previous films it was his penchant for not shying away from brutal violence, just take a look at DEATH SENTENCE to see what I mean. To my surprise, however, INSIDIOUS managed to be scarier than the shit-fest that was DEAD SILENCE and more intense than torture-porn-purveyor SAW, both of which earned R ratings.
INSIDIOUS is to Wan what POLTERGEIST was to Tobe Hooper (and, no, I’m not putting Wan remotely in the class of Hooper). Both filmmakers were (and still are) known for their visceral, graphic and potentially genre defining early films. In this case with Hooper’s film being THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and Wan’s being SAW, naturally, and the two following up with POLTERGEIST and INSIDIOUS years after their initial success. What interests me more so than how related the two filmmakers’ careers are, is how much in common the two films have as well, with both being targeted to a younger demographic than their previous works and focusing on haunted house scare tactics rather than graphic violence.
INSIDIOUS, like POLTERGEIST, is a haunted house tale. Well, sort of. Saying too much about this one really does ruin its surprises, and it has plenty of them. Wan’s film is a little more restrained than Hooper’s in that the set pieces are much more subtle. For instance, Wan utilizes a lot of shadow play to scare the viewer and, of course, the soundtrack enhances this. Now would probably be a good time to point out how damn good the score for INSIDIOUS is. Actually, it may be my favorite aspect of the film in general. It is effective without ever being overbearing and conventional without feeling trite. In all honesty, it is everything a horror film score should be and, if anything, feels more underused than necessary. The scares in the film don’t rely totally on the score though, Wan demonstrates his technical competence once again in how well composed certain sequences are. I mentioned his use of shadow in the film and you obviously can’t achieve shadow without light, which is something else Wan uses to his advantage here. The entire film has an eerie, natural aura about it that Wan manages to maintain, even after the film has begun to fall apart. And fall apart, it does.
Well, it was inevitable. I knew, even as I was watching the film, that there was no way a James Wan film good be entirely good. I was right. At this point, if you have not seen the film, you should stop reading as I will be spoiling a few moments. It will be nothing major, but if you want nothing revealed than just go see the film and then come back. With that said, the final act is fucking tragic. The first two-thirds of the film are some of the best haunted house horror I’ve seen in years, it even borders on being some of the best American horror to hit multiplexes in recent memory. But then Mr. Wan had to go and introduce motherfucking DARTH MAUL into the mix. To clarify, the boy in the film that is haunted (yeah, it’s not the house) is being hounded by a demon that is painted up like Darth Maul. No joke, this is some Star Wars shit. I can’t understand how this passed make up tests. Either Wan completely ignored it or he has not seen THE PHANTOM MENACE (not that I can blame anyone for that). Either way, it is a rather inexcusable decision and makes an otherwise serious film become laughable. Hell, even the tweens in the back row that were screaming for the majority of what came before were in hysterics. Congratulations Mr. Wan, you made a 12 year old laugh at your horror film.
INSIDIOUS is a hard film to review. It is from a filmmaker that I want to respect but have a hard time doing so due to the poor decisions he consistently makes (the entirety of DEAD SILENCE, for instance) but shows many signs of maturity on his part. However, he manages to stumble in the last act and hard at that, nearly ruining the otherwise solid genre effort that he has created here. With all of that in mind, INSIDIOUS is still not a bad film. It is too much fun to shrug it off entirely, but it is hard to think of what it could have been had someone held Wan’s hand through the last act.