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Insidious

Dir: James Wan. US.  2010. 97mins

The reunion of ‘Splat Pack’ Saw veterans James Wan and Leigh Whannell on paranormal chiller Insidious will be catnip for a sizable body of genre fans. Everyone else will recognise it as derivative, convoluted codswallop that shuffles a disparate range of influences into a lumpy, bumpy theme park ride of a film given credibility by the efforts of a fine cast.

Actors Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson are major assets to the film.

The shameless nature of this ghoulish little effort often flirts with risibility but there are enough jolts, jumps and nervous laughs to make it entertaining. The very marketable nature of the ingredients should ensure a profitable theatrical release and possibly a new horror franchise for Sony, which was reported to have acquired worldwide rights for a seven-figure sum.

Returning to the horror genre after the vigilante revenge thriller Death Sentence, director James Wan seems intent on creating a reasonably restrained haunted house tale in the tradition of Amityville, Poltergeist and the more recent Paranormal Activity.

Renai (Byrne), husband Josh (WIlson) and their three children move into a creaky old house. Soon, there are grumbling noises in the attic, objects move of their own volition and strange voices can be heard on the baby monitor. When son Dalton (Simpkin) falls from a ladder, he lapses into an inexplicable coma.

The family move house but it becomes clear that Dalton is the one being haunted. He is physically present but spiritually absent as he goes travelling via astral projection. Trapped in a territory known as The Further (the film’s original title), his abandoned body is coveted by the spirits of the dead, including an evil red-faced devil with an “insidious” agenda.

Insidiousis definitely a film of two halves. The first half builds tension as the sanctity of a home is violated by unexplained phenomena and every day objects are seen in a different light. That growing unease is broken by the introduction of mildly comical low-tech paranormal investigators Specks (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) and the need to consult the services of medium Lisle (Shaye), the film’s biggest nod to Poltergeist. Campier, schlockier B-movie elements start to prevail as we enter territory that feels more like the world of Herk Harvey, Sam Raimi and even William Castle.

Actors Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson are major assets to the film as no matter how far it strays into grinning ghouls and dastardly devils, they maintain your emotional interest in the fate of the central couple. Barbara Hershey also adds a touch of class as Josh’s mother Lorraine, who is strong, supportive and shrouded in enough mystery for us to realise she has fought these demons before somewhere in the past. Hershey’s role in The Entity (1981) ensures that she arrives trailing some appropriate genre baggage.

Wan manages to orchestrate some genuine goosebump and shiver-down-the-spine jolts even if the action moments suffer from a certain clumsiness and lack of budget. Horror fans will probably appreciate it all the more because of these flaws and even critics prone to shake their heads and scoffs might grudgingly admit that it seems to deliver what many fans look for in a genre film.

Production company: The Astral Films, LLC/Haunted Movies

International sales: IM Global, www.imglobal.

Producers: Jason Blum, Steven Schneider, Oren Peli

Executive producer: Brian Kavanaugh Jones

Screenplay: Leigh Whannell

Cinematography: David M. Brewer

Production designer: Aaron Sims

Editor: James Wan

Music: Joseph Bishara

Main cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkin, Barbara Hershey

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