Directed By: James Wan
“This is the first line of a joke, right? A guy comes home to find his wife with a priest.”
If you had told me that in one year I would’ve liked two movies from the Director of Saw I would’ve told you, quite rudely, to shut up. But here I am with the first of those two films. The second was The Conjuring. A film that was a hugely enjoyable ride despite the rather spurious claims of it being a true story. But I feel that’s a story for another day.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A family moves into a new home, when they’re getting settled they start to notice strange things happening. They hear voices, there’s something strange going on with their son and they slowly come to realise their new dream home is haunted.
Wan and his Saw writer Leigh Wannell (Who takes on a small role here) seem aware of the set up and deliberately avoid the standard haunted house cliche. The first big upending comes when the family have simply had enough, so they move out. Of course it doesn’t put an end to their troubles, but it’s nice that the characters behave like real people and just leave when things get too much.
One of the other aspects I liked is the role reversal of the parents. It’s too easy to follow the Poltergeist template, wherein the mother is the proactive one over the largely ineffectual father figure. While the first half of the film sets that up to be the case it wisely shifts focus to the efforts of the father. It also helps when that father is played by Patrick Wilson (Also in The Conjuring) who manages to avoid playing yet another emasculated male for once.
I like Wilson, and I like Rose Byrne as his wife. The two have an easygoing chemistry which helps get through some of the standard early “This is our family” scenes. Wan clearly has an eye for casting these roles, as Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston made a similarly likeable couple in The Conjuring (Which amusingly puts up real life portraits of the characters at the end, and you realise that Taylor and Livingstone were playing people about two hundred years older than they are).
When he was writing the script, Wannell supposedly had a list of clichés to avoid. And while I wouldn’t say he’s entirely successful, the ones that are present have enough of a spin on them to make them seem like something you haven’t seen before. Sure there’s a séance scene, but it’s done by a woman in what looks like a gas mask. It’s enough of a spin on a familiar scene that it demands your attention.
Most surprising of all is the last third which, without giving spoilers away, heads in a very different direction than you’d expect. I completely dug where Wannell and Wan went with this, though I was surprised to learn that others weren’t. That’s a shame because it serves up some of the more inventive visuals of the film. Slow chills give way to out and out mayhem, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
My only real issues with the film is the music is ramped up to 11. While the bombastic score is fantastic and disconcerting, I don’t think it needed to be played even during some of the quieter scenes. It does well at putting the viewer on edge, but Wan does that enough already and everything else seems like overkill. There’s also the small matter of one child in the film having one scene and then completely vanishing, I’m guessing he was part of a longer cut, but as it is both the film and family seem to forget about him, but that’s nitpicking on my part.
I had a blast with Insidious. There’s no delusions of grandeur here or any deeper themes. Wan, like Sam Raimi and Drag Me To Hell, just wants you to have a good time. So turn off the lights and crank up the sound. You might get a headache afterwards, but it’ll be worth it.