If there's one thing that I will always be indebted to my parents (in particular, my mother) for, it's raising me in a highly superstitious Mexican-Catholic atmosphere that taught me to not only believe in evil, but in the fact that it surrounds us at all times, laying in wait to possess us and ultimately do it's bidding. Demons are real, devils are real and, if you want to go there, Satan is real.
Now I know this isn't a kosher attitude to have in today's "do what thou wilt" climate, where it's easier to profess a belief in nothing as a way to fully exonerate ourselves from any and all physical and spiritual wrongdoing, but, throughout my relatively short life, personal experiences with demonic forces have led me to eschew this popular line of rejectional thought and truly see that the dark side of life and death, heaven and hell, redemption and torture does exist and manifests itself when we are at our weakest. I have dealt, head-on, with otherworldly evil and it has dealt with me right back. Take that as you will.
But try talking to self-proclaimed skeptics about all that and, well, all of a sudden their loudly advertised "open-mind" is sealed tighter than Fort Knox on lockdown. Maybe that's why I completely identified and remained utterly enthralled with INSIDIOUS. It's like having a friend who you can tell your unbelievable experiences to and they actually understand, nodding in approval and breathlessly waiting to commiserate with their own story. I don't know director James Wan or writer Leigh Whannell's actual thoughts on the matter of evil and it's regards to the afterlife are, but these guys seem to, at least subconsciously, "get it", managing to put every single fear and shiver that runs through your mind as you're laying in a bed, in the extreme dark, unable to sleep and absolutely sure that someone or something is staring at you, studying you and waiting for you to fall asleep, right there on the screen.
The basic story is nothing new: family moves into house, gets terrorized by ghosts, needs to get rid of them. But what is new is how Wan and Whannell use this plot as a device for a study in total anticipatory fear, to see how far they can go--and it works. INSIDIOUS is pure terror, pure fear, pure tension, but also pure entertainment. Think of the movie like a Jack-in-the-Box: you turn the crank, "Pop Goes the Weasel" chimes and you know, you just know, that any minute that damn clown is going to pop out, and even though you know this, you still can't help but build up that internal fear and tension. You done this a million times, but, when it does happen, when that evil little harlequin springs up and out, you still let out a surprised shriek, followed by an uncomfortable giggle, ashamed that it got you. Again. This is how INSIDIOUS works, and works in spades.
Married couple Renai and Josh (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, respectively) move into a new house with their three children and, while things might go bump here and there, nothing too ominous really happens until their middle child, Dalton, falls off a ladder in the attic and, eventually, winds up in a quasi-coma that can't be explained.
It's here where the proverbial shit hits the fan and Wan and Whannell unleash a torrent of ghostly scares, one right after another with almost no time to breathe as the parents try to deal not only with the depression and helplessness of having a child in such a sickly state, but also the unseen forces toying with them as well. It's during these scenes where INSIDIOUS is at it's most viscerally effective, leading me to jump and scream and white-knuckle my theater chair for a good hour. I hadn't done that since 2002's SIGNS, and that was only twice. Here, I was truly scared a record six times. Six. Proof-positive that I'm not the jaded horror fan I like to think I am.
In the final third of the movie, the parents call in a paranormal investigator (Lin Shaye) and her two bumbling assistants (I know this addition might have lost a few people, but, believe me, I needed the comic relief. It was completely welcome as far as I'm concerned, or else it might have been fright-overkill.) to prove their haunting and get to the bottom of why they are being haunted. Astral projection, demonic possession, and a brilliant twist ending all figure into it, creating a totally solid, structurally sound, absolutely perfect horror film.
But, even more than that, it's a thesis on what makes us truly afraid as a culture: the afterlife and what's waiting for us there. Sure, I'm afraid to be walking down the street and get stabbed, but, to be honest, I am even more afraid of what's waiting for me after I bleed out and die there on the sidewalk. Is there a Heaven, a Hell or do we wander the world, alone and unseen, filled with regret and constantly reliving our torturous demises? No matter how coolly atheistic we want to play it off as, deep down, inside each and everyone of us is a total fear of the great darkness that lies in waiting because, no matter how much science and reason we want to throw at it, we simply don't know for sure.
And what about those, the spirits and specters, that do know for sure? The ones watching us as we go about our daily lives, unknowing and unaware? The ones watching me as I type these words right now, waiting for that moment when I let my spiritual guard down? This is what scares me every minute of everyday and Wan and Whannell have perfectly and adeptly exploited those fears in a true masterpiece of horror cinema, cementing their reputation as the premier, if woefully underrated, genre filmmakers working today.
INSIDIOUS will scare you, will disturb you, will question you and, best of all, will thoroughly entertain you. Just get ready to sleep with one eye open for the rest of the week.