So... this is "from the makers of SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY," eh? In truth, this comes to us from the original SAW team of writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan... the producers include some PARANORMAL folks. Still, it was the latter film far more than the former that paved the way for INSIDIOUS--in fact, it wouldn't be at all unfair to suggest that the majority of INSIDIOUS plays like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY without the video cameras, while Wan and Whannell are playing more towards the creep factor of DEAD SILENCE than anything like SAW (but don't let the PG-13 rating put you off like it almost did me).
The setup is almost TOO familiar: Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne have moved into a ridiculously luxurious mansion (the guy's a grade school teacher--whence the mega-millions?) with their two young boys and their infant daughter. But an attic-related 'accident' to one of the boys serves as a prelude to his mysterious, inexplicable coma... scary things start happening, and they DON'T stop when the family moves... and eventually the psychic investigators show up.
Fine. If I'd told you that this was P.A. 3, you'd have believed me. Nevertheless, it's quite decently done, with some good jumps and a rather jangling use of a certain Tiny Tim classic. I didn't see anything (outside of a much-too-obvious chalkboard gag) that would have tipped me off that this was a James Wan film, but it still worked decently enough. And it certainly didn't hurt to have Barbara Hershey on hand as the mother of the Wilson character.
Things started to get a bit awkward when writer Whannell and Angus Sampson showed up as the nerdy, competitive psychics. They're amusing, all right, but the film went for the laugh much too soon after one of the better scares. They're much more successfully integrated at a later point in the film--the "mine's bigger" gag is a perfectly-timed howler.
Okay--I've served up a 'reasonably' okay impression of a genre staple to this point. But don't let THAT put you off, either. It's all a trick... INSIDIOUS comes into its own in the last half hour of the film. I won't tell you what happens, but as the story builds to a climax, it takes you where PARANORMAL ACTIVITY most certainly didn't. THAT's when we really see James Wan in action... here's the guy who loves creepy dolls, chains around the ankles, boogeymen under the bed AND heaping helpings of Mario Bava. Here's the REAL movie hiding behind the P.A. clone--and while it's by no means a gore film, it's damn scary!
What starts as "been there, done that" ultimately becomes a fine candidate for top horror honors in 2011. See it.
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