SXSW 2011: Some Thoughts on James Wan’s INSIDIOUS

     March 14, 2011


James Wan’s a polarizing figure amongst horror geeks:  he co-wrote and directed the first Saw– which, at the time, was an awesome, nasty little indie horror flick– but in the time since that film’s release, we’ve seen a parade of lackluster Saw sequels…and two mediocre follow-ups from Wan in Death Sentence and Dead Silent.  With Insidious, though, Wan seems to have gotten his groove back:  Insidious is one of the scariest, most entertaining, enjoyable horror-watching experiences I’ve had in a theater in years.  Read on for my first impressions of Insidious after the break.

insidious-rose-byrne-patrick-wilson-movie-imageWhen I asked the publicist moderating this weekend’s cast and crew interviews for Insidious why critics were being embargoed from reviewing the film– especially after yesterday afternoon’s screening seemed to play like gangbusters for the critics that had assembled at the Alamo Drafthouse– I was told that, “Well, if everyone writes their reviews now, no one’s going to write reviews when the film hits theaters”.  Two things: One, Insidious hits theaters on April 1st, and you’re not going to be able to avoid that (it’ll generate plenty of publicity); and two, I’ll be happy to run another (full-blown) review when I go see Insidious again.

James Wan’s Insidious holds the distinction of being the only film I’ve ever seen that’s made me yell, “Holy shit” out of abject terror.  I’ve been frightened in scary movies before, but never to that extent.  Insidious crawled right under my skin, and it appeared to scare the hell out of the other critics in attendance, too.  I spoke with a few of the critics that caught the screening afterwards, and all of them seemed to enjoy it (which makes it all the more unfortunate that Sony wouldn’t let us write up our reviews).  James Wan oughtta be proud:  scaring a jaded, horror-going audience (especially one made up entirely of people who watch movies for a living) is a tricky thing to pull off.

The fact that Insidious is able to accomplish this without spilling a single drop of blood– it’s rated PG-13, a fact that I’m still having trouble believing thanks to the film’s pervasive tension– is even more impressive, and I simply cannot wait to see how audiences are going to react to this one.  Will the gore-hounds be satiated by a bloodless horror flick?  Willl the fact that the film’s not really a “haunted house movie” (more on that in a moment) turn off enthusiasts of that sub-genre?  We’ll have to wait and see.  I’ll be there, opening night, extremely interested to see how Insidious effects a sold-out crowd, and I suspect that it’ll be just as effective the second time around.  If Sony’s smart, they’ll start filming audience reactions and using them in the commercials for Insidious, much like they did with Paranormal Activity.

insidious-rose-byrne-patrick-wilson-movie-image-2About that “haunted house” thing:  The film’s trailer leads you to believe that Insidious will be another entry in the ol’ “haunted house” genre, but even the trailers let you in on the “secret” that Insidious isn’t really a “haunted house” movie.  There’s a house in Wan’s film, to be sure, and it does have some ghostly hijinks happening behind its front door, but calling Insidious a “haunted house” movie isn’t entirely correct.  If you’ve seen the trailers and dismissed the film because that’s what you’re expecting it to be, well, allow me to assure you that it isn’t.

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play the married couple at the heart of the film– and they’re great– but it’s Lin Shaye’s performance that really impressed me.  Shaye will be instantly recognizable to anyone that’s seen the films of the Farrelly Brothers (she played the hideous landlord in Kingpin, for instance), and perhaps that’s why she’s not the first person that I would’ve picked for this role.  But, wow, does she nail it.  Also appearing in the film: Saw‘s Leigh Whannel, who wrote the script for Insidious.  He appears alongside Andrew Astor, and the two provide some much-needed levity in an otherwise nearly-unbearably tense film.

Additionally, I’d like to point out that Wan is operating at a level here that I didn’t even think he was capable of.  The first Saw was a great, atmospheric, done-on-a-micro-budget horror film that proved Wan was a talent worth watching, but I didn’t really dig either of his follow-ups, Dead Silent or Death Sentence.  In all honesty, I wasn’t sure that Wan had a film like Insidious in him.  But he does, and– even more impressively– I learned that Insidious was made for less than a million dollars.

insidious_movie_image_01Do you realize how remarkable that is?  I’ve seen thousands upon thousands of movies, and many of ‘em have been horror films.  I’ve not seen many horror films that I’d deem as scary as Insidious, and an even smaller amount that weren’t rated-R.  On top of that, the film was made for a fraction of the cost of most wide-release films.  If Hollywood’s smart, they’ll toss James Wan a million dollars each year and let him continue to make movies that are this good, this scary, and this unique.  Hell, it has to beat giving someone $120m to make a romantic comedy that doesn’t even crack $30m on its opening weekend, right?

For what it’s worth, though, they don’t need to make another Insidious Insidious 2 isn’t necessary, and I pray that the powers-that-be at Sony don’t push for one.  I predict that Insidious‘ll make some serious bank upon its release, but let’s use that as a jumping-off point for other original projects from this team rather than more of the same.  After seeing what happened to the Saw franchise, I’d like to avoid seeing Insidious fall victim to the same fate.  The horse is dead (and awesome), so let’s leave it be.  But for now, let’s concentrate on Insidious‘ April 1st release:  When Insidious hits theaters, you need to round up every one of your horror-loving friends, find the biggest, loudest movie theater in the area, and reserve your seats for Insidious when it opens:  I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

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