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.


  • jymmymack

    A few weeks ago, Goldberg and the commentators blasted the trailer for being dull and unoriginal. Glad to see Wampler’s review is right in line with what everyone else is saying about Insidious: that it’s a fun, scary, thrill ride.

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  • Josh

    1. I think it’s Dead SilENCE.
    2. YESSSS! I saw the Pg-13 and I thought it would be like Roomate, but Im so happy its not! :D

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  • VictorK

    Okay, it’s not “The King’s Speech” or “Black Swan,” but Insidious does deliver some good, fun horror. The film uses kind of a mish-mash of imagery inspired, in my opinion, by films such as “Poltergeist,” “The Sixth Sense” and “Thirteen Ghost.” It’s quite effective and at times downright disturbing – but not really original.

    “Insidious” is a great movie for jump-out-at-you horror. It’s the type of film you’d bring your girlfriend to in order to to get her to hold you tight in the movie theater. While I won’t give away the ending, let’s just say that it’s not surprising that the film was made by the folks who did “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity.” My guess is that it will bring in just enough money to have sequels, and a bunch of them.

    We can all hold our breath for “2012 – an Insidious odyssey”.

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  • Katie

    I’m a little scared to watch this movie with my friends….. Is it really scary!?

    • VanceR

      I think you should, Katie. The first half does deliver some “jump-out-at-you” horror moments that are pretty cool. For avid horror film wathcers, though, it’s pretty garden variety. In fac,t I thought the fil showed way to many ghost scenes. Seriosuly, I would be scared the first few times I saw a ghost in my home. After that, though, I’d pretty much be like “Ok, you’re a ghost. I get it. What do you want?”

      • Colin

        yes, two many ghosts scenes. I knew exactly when a face was about to pop out so i was ready for it haha.

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  • Colin

    I went and saw Insidious with my girlfriend, she was so scared she buried her face in my chest. But honestly i didn’t get scared, the movie made me jump but i wasn’t scared. So i guess it depends on your ability to withstand horror. But overall this is an AMAZING movie, if you get the chance to watch then i suggest you do(:

  • Danielle

    INSIDIOUS- Well it’s jumpy in parts and the main idea of the film was great [the whole haunting and strange poltergiest events etc]. The dark image of the demon stood by the little boys bed was also frightening, but the demon itself and the other ‘spirits’ were i’m afraid very corny, and unrealistic, and that really spoilt the film for me and probably will spoil it for alot of other people too. So really towards the end the film lacked realism, the beggining was ok, but the ending really spoils it. Hope this helps

  • onika

    I saw INSIDIOUS 2 times and I had trouble sleeping for a very phenomenal reason! At the age of 5 I began having recurring nightmares that I was Fighting the devil. The Demon Creature in the Further is the same Devil or beast I had night terrors over as a child! I’m 28 now and I screamed and cried when this bloody creature chased the little boy down the hall while climbing the walls which is exactly what happened to me ion my nightmares ! The weird high pitched song that play when he comes around has yet to leave my consciousness and I personally can’t watch this movie and enjoy it. I found it far to disturbing and the fact that a man I’ve never met was able to write about a creature I had dreams of and write situations that I’ve had dreams of is what really Spooks the heck out of me! I wondered if Wan had nightmares of this being as well. That’s the phenomena behind my experience with INSIDIOUS. What he’s writing about actually happened to me in many situations in the film. I had to start seeing a psychiatrist by the age of 5 because of the night terrors I had and continued through my adolescence. Now in my adult life the real terror for me is that if a complete stranger was able to write about this being that haunted me for so many years, might mean that things this dark do exist ! plus I have been a clairvoyant and medium my whole life and experienced and practiced Astral Travel and I know that these dark dimensions really exist ! I saw no comedy in this at all!!! I change the channel when I see the commercial about to play. I read the Exorcist and have seen it numerous times, That film is funny. Insidious is down right traumatizing!

  • Jesse

    heh heh ohhh onika……leave fiction for writters .

  • sana

    i watched insidious last night whith my family and LOVED it!!
    it scared the shit out of me especially the red faced guy and the old lady at the end.
    i loved the ending and really want to see more of this movie but i think a sequel would kill it
    but this movie in my opinion was totally better than parnormal activity which was totally made up as well and wasn’t even that scary!!! insidious is what i call a classic horror film that makes your skin crawl.
    best expeirence if u watch it on pay per view at night with some friends in a big dark house—last night i couldnt come down on the computer cuz i was so freaked out and scared……….

  • tara

    In line with what the girl with the night terrors said – this film is very scary but to people who have studied things like astral projection etc, its down right terrifying because it has a basis in reality. Research was definitely done to pull this movie off. Remember the Sixth Sense? That movie was a make-you-think movie and if Insidious has laid off of the ghostly makeup and effects just a bit, it would’ve been in that same category. Go out, get a book on astral travel, and see what I’m talking about bc in that girls’ defense – she is describing some pretty common themes. Scary other-world places filled with strange looking spectars who will attach themselves to you – waiting for the right moment to snatch your body. I have the book, can you see why I’ve never tried it? If these places by some chance did exist – why in the hell would I want to go? Lol

  • dylan

    I watched this film tonight and the only thing that spookd me was the old lady. I thougt the red faced demon was a joke , fewjumpy parts thats all. I would give it a 7/10

  • alexandria

    Firstly, the film title is Dead Silence- need to be credible. I found it equal to Insidious, Wan is brilliant in being simply scary. I have not seen Death Sentence, but as far as Dead Silence and Insidious are concerened- can’t get more original. His movies have layers to them, which draws the watcher deeper and deeper. Dead Silence is perhaps one of my favorite movies- not because of it’s shocking horror, but its subtle chill. I think Wan is an expert at this, a skill that is much over looked in ‘hollywood’- otherwise I think an Insidious 2 could be worthy- if done correctly!

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  • Jack Dignan

    Haha in the review they said Insidious 2 isn’t necessary and guess what’s coming out next month!