Some films are downright scary. Jaws can still make me tremble for instance. Alien is pretty haunting too and after watching Paranormal Activity I had bitten off my nails down to my elbows. There is a new title to my list of scary movies: Insidious had me crawl deep down in my chair so I could get away from the screen. Horror movies about ghosts and haunted houses are dull more often than they are troubling, so it is quite a relieve to have sleepless nights once again. Isn’t that the reason why we watch frightening flicks anyway?
Director James Wan teamed up with producer Oren Peli to make Insidious. They are not unknown to the connoisseur: Wan directed Saw, Peli is the creator of Paranormal Activity. Both filmmakers have delivered very decent work indeed, but this project exceeds their previous movies by far. Insidious has that rare quality of making the viewer feel uneasy at every moment. This ghost story doesn’t aim at cheap thrills or easy scares, it knows how to play the audience and even though this kind of film has been made over a hundred times already it is going to feel fresh. There is simply no time to think of cliches because of its constant creepiness.
So Insidious doesn’t aim at easy scares, but it does aim at scares nonetheless. This Poltergeist like movie has a family with two children tortured by appearances after one of their kids falls into a coma. Of course they move out of their house, but the ghosts follow them to their new residence. That location isn’t scary per se, it’s just a normal, almost clinical house. In every corner there may be an apparition that will jump out with a stark sound effect that is so penetrating that it can almost be visualized. It are these sounds that play an important role throughout the movie. Creaks, voices, breathing… they will enter the brain and slowly devour it until you can’t take it no more. Remember: at that point the film is probably halfway.
Wan doesn’t shy away from showing directly what to be afraid of, albeit shortly. That stands in contrast to the aforementioned films, where the shark, alien or ghost is unseen most of the times. But Wan doesn’t give his audience the chance to completely comprehend the appearance they just saw. Did those two creepy looking sisters just… smile? And if so… it sure didn’t look friendly. But Wan also chooses to add a certain level of surrealism to his film. When a psychic puts on a gasmask during a séance it’s almost too weird to be true. It adds an new layer of creepiness over the film when she passes her words down to someone else via a giant tube while she writes down words she can hear from the netherworld. The spirit she is communicating with has a nasty choice of words…
Even though Wan does re-use an old formula (family, house, ghosts, secret), he knows what the outcome of that formula should be. He creates a dark and uneasy atmosphere with a surreal undertone. Insidious might seem like one of those old fashioned films to watch on a first date: sit tight and wait for the girl to hold you closely at all the scary moments. Until they scare you even more than her. Yikes.