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A House Is Not a Host

Insidious (2011)


With “Saw,” Australian director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell created arguably the most successful horror franchise of the last decade. Although the two brilliantly plotted all the twists and turns in that film, they evidently made a huge miscalculation by distancing themselves from five out of its six sequels. Instead of being branded as one-trick ponies, they now run the risk of being known as one-hit wonders.

Four years after the embarrassing double whammy of “Dead Silence” and “Death Sentence” (the latter Mr. Whannell did not pen and only starred in), the two finally redeem themselves with the respectable “Insidious.” And they have done so in spite of many obstacles, not the least of which is that the film’s first major twist is now an open secret. “It’s not the house that is haunted,” the trailers and posters explain. Thanks a lot, marketing geniuses.

Another problem for the film is the fact that Mr. Wan isn’t a particularly atmospheric director. In the hands of a craftsman such as Hideo Nakata or Kiyoshi Kurosawa, “Insidious” might be a contemporary horror classic. While Mr. Wan is uncharacteristically restrained here, he still relies too much on cheap scares rather than the slow-brewing tension that would best suit the material.

“Insidious” ultimately works because of Mr. Whannell’s script, which manages to be inventive and unpredictable despite its paint-by-numbers formalism. To be sure, its flaws have much to do with the fact that the first major twist is now a throwaway. The measured performances from a cast that includes Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and the reliably creepy swan mom Barbara Hershey also lend believability to what could have been a hysterical mess. Overall, it’s a solid effort with franchise potential. And Messrs. Wan and Whannell could certainly use another hit franchise to earn their induction into the horror hall of fame alongside the likes of George A. Romero and Wes Craven.


Opens on April 1 in the United States and on May 6 in Britain.

Directed by James Wan; written by Leigh Whannell; directors of photography, John R. Leonetti and David M. Brewer; edited by Mr. Wan and Kirk Morri; music by Joseph Bishara; production design by Aaron Sims; costumes by Kristin M. Burke; produced by Jason Blum, Steven Schneider and Oren Peli; released by FilmDistrict (United States) and Momentum Pictures (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 42 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Patrick Wilson (Josh Lambert), Rose Byrne (Renai Lambert), Lin Shaye (Elise Rainier), Ty Simpkins (Dalton Lambert), Leigh Whannell (Specs), Angus Sampson (Tucker) and Barbara Hershey (Lorraine Lambert).


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