I just finished watching Insidious for the first time since its opening night in 2011. This time around—sitting on my couch with my pup instead of in a mildly uncomfortable theater filled with raucous teens—I was reminded of a few of the things I learned to be true upon my initial viewing.
First, Patrick Wilson is very handsome. James Wan probably has a crush on him, and I mean, who can blame him? Personally, I’ve always waffled over whether or not I find Patrick attractive. But this Insidious reviewing confirmed that my flip-flopping has been because of how put-off I am by Ed Warren’s pseudo-religious/creepy spiritualism and not because I don’t like the look of his face, which I actually do like the look of very much. So, off to a great start.
The second thing I was reminded of is that if I ever write a horror film, I want (read: need) Joseph Bishara to score it. Bishara also scored The Conjuring, which is another film by James Wan, starring Patrick Wilson, that I have somehow already managed to reference once. But back to Insidious.
Bishara’s style is the sharp edges of rusty metal. It is dynamics—ear-splitting highs and quickly hushed, ghostly silent lows. His style feels like how I would imagine chewing on steel wool would feel. It is incredible, and it is impressive. It makes my jaw hurt. It raises the hairs on the back of my neck and tenses my shoulders. Insidious simply could not be the effective horror piece that it is without Bishara’s inspired contribution.
And, by the way, that inspired contribution also includes playing Lipstick-Face Demon, the film’s main antagonist and the baddest bitch in the whole of the Further. So we can thank Bishara for that, too.
The final thing is something that I knew even before Insidious, something that I’m often delightfully reminded of. And that’s the fact that no one makes a horror film quite like James Wan—especially when that story’s stage is a beautiful house.
I can’t think of another filmmaker who can manipulate fixed walls better than James Wan. His ability to track shots around landings, through thin doorways, out of sticky windows, and up and down stairs is truly unmatched. Wan can make a room seem warm and cozy in one shot and icy and cavernous in another. The fact that he’s able to infuse such impressively authentic character into his sets really make them come alive in a believable way on screen.
And on the topic of believability, Wan’s horror villains are some of the most impressive in the genre. Many filmmakers dealing with similar sorts of demonic antagonists rely quite heavily on CGI to create their monsters, but Wan takes a more subdued approach. By choosing not to conceal the humanness of the monsters to such a degree, they end up a fair bit more terrifying and don’t distract or cheapen the film’s overall polish.
Now, I’m not implying that the demons in Insidious are natural beauties made up with naked eyeshadow palettes. It takes a fair bit of expertly applied makeup and, of course, costuming to make these monsters what they are. But the fact that Wan takes an analog approach to something often met with CGI means that his characters are less overtly inhuman, making them more realistic and terrifying.
On a story level, Insidious succeeds as well. I was already a Leigh Whannell fan before Insidious, as he penned (and acted in) 2004’s Saw, which was also directed by James Wan and was one of my favorite horror films of the decade. I thought his work here was clear and focused, refreshingly free of both cheap scares and rambling, over-complicated plot development.
As a Saw fan, it was great to see Whannell execute an entirely different kind of story so well. Even if Jigsaw the puppet and Lipstick-Face Demon overlap aesthetically, they’re both very different kinds of monsters, and that gave Whannell a chance to showcase how dynamic he is as a screenwriter.
Overall, Insidious is a damn fine film, and I highly recommend it.