Right from the opening credits, James Wan’s Insidious evinces a much gentler, more stately approach to horror movies than his earlier Saw, which is one of the centerpieces in the early aughts’ torture porn derby.
The credits simply show still shots of various interiors of what we’ll eventually come to know as an Amityville-style haunted house. Each shot slowly fades in, a credit appears on the screen, and then fades out. The music is uneasy but still quiet. The credits roll on for what seems like five minutes.
Without a doubt, Wan seems to want to distance himself from the raw psychological grue that made his name in the first place. (Well, almost. Look closely and you’ll see an in-jokey reference to Saw‘s master of ceremonies, Jigsaw.)
Unfortunately, the effort extends so far as to render much of his PG-13 family horrorshow somewhat inert.
Josh and Renai Lambert are a Wonder Bread couple with three peachy young children who move into a stately old abode with loads of mahogany woodwork. There are a few references to some trauma Renai has recently suffered, but aside from the worry lines on her forehead and the fragile melodies she plunks out on her upright piano, her condition isn’t much more fully elaborated.
Actors Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne do very little to fill out their empty-vessel roles to chilling effect. They are The Stepford Parents, and when one of their children falls off a ladder and into what seems like a coma but, naturally, can’t be physiologically confirmed as one, one wonders if he’s merely cocooning to later emerge in his parents’ bland image.
But no. In short order, Renai convinces Josh that the house — full of creaks, whispers and old ladies — is haunted and they immediately rent a U-Haul. Very resourceful but, alas, futile. They relocate to a friendlier Crate & Barrel flat, but their son remains comatose … and shadowy figures continue to cue up Tiny Tim records on the old turntable.
Of course, the mundane (super)nature of Insidious is sort of the point. The fact that the entire template is pretty baldly ripped off from Poltergeist (right down to the arrival of a prunish clairvoyant and her two bumbling grad school stooges) tips off Wan’s strategy — to inject the otherworldly into a almost satirically humdrum temporal existence.
It’s a smart formula, but the contrast between Poltergeist‘s everyday family and the extremity of their subsequent ghost encounters was much more pronounced than it is in Wan’s neighborhood.