'Insidious' rehab of haunted house
Husbands: When your wives desperately beg you, “I want to leave this house. I can’t spend another night here,’’ listen up.
Especially if your wife is the teary, doe-eyed Rose Byrne (from TV’s “Damages’’) and, in the case of “Insidious,’’ the disquieting goings-on in the Craftsman dream house you’ve just moved into include creaky doors, voices over the baby monitor, and other unexplained phenomena — such as your child inexplicably falling into a coma.
Hubby Josh (Patrick Wilson of “Little Children’’) deals with the situation with aplomb — in his mind, his wife, Renai, is crazed.
Responsible for the gross-out “Saw’’ franchise, the writer-director team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan are not exactly known for their subtle touch. But they have reformed their ways, joining forces with the producing trio who delivered the unnerving, minimalist “Paranormal Activity’’ movies. They mean “Insidious’’ to be a throwback to the beloved haunted house movie genre: “The Haunting,’’ “Poltergeist,’’ “The Shining.’’
The film begins with promise. As Hitchcockian violin screeches jolt us from boo! to boo! and apparitions that began as flashes in Renai’s peripheral vision leave bloody handprints on the bedsheets, the first reel builds up genuine heebie-jeebies. Josh finally takes the wife seriously. The family moves, but the spirits follow them. That’s when the unintentionally creepy Barbara Hershey, playing Josh’s mom, brings in a team of occult investigators headed by Lin Shaye. Tone shift: The assistants, the comedic duo of Angus Sampson and screenwriter Whannell (who also acts), break out their “Ghostbusters’’ shtick, wandering the premises with cameras and ectoplasm meters. There’s the relief of a chuckle or two, but any mood of unease is harpooned.
The crazy train of “Insidious’’ runs fully off the rails when the filmmakers go logical and some of the strange gets explained away as a double shot of demonic possession and astral projection. After a séance, we are on a magical mystery tour through “a dark realm filled with the tortured souls of the dead,’’ straight out of David Lynch Central Casting.
The final shocker succeeds in shocking, and does so sans gore. But first we have to wade through a red door and a red hallway, pleas to “follow my voice,’’ and an infinity of fog about as scary as dry ice vapor spilling onto a dance floor. Thankfully there’s no “redrum,’’ or dancing midgets, anywhere in sight.
Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.