James Wan makes some surprising statements during the first half of his new paranormal horror flick, Insidious. Firstly, the Malaysian director proves again that he is capable of crafting sublimely nerve-shredding horror, as depicted in his infamous early career hit, Saw (a film much tarnished by its dubious 'franchise' status, but a real genre staple when considered in isolation from its successors). He also reaffirms our assertion that one of the most powerful forms of vicarious, pant-wetting terror is that where the threat is perceived, glimpsed, and suggested, rather than revealed. Finally, Wan proves that he is a versatile and creative craftsman of his dark art, adopting a fluid and organic filming style which is both refreshing and effective, in terms of the natural and realistic sensation stimulated by the first hour of this taut story.
Almost inexplicably, Wan and scriptwriter/actor (and long time friend and collaborator) Leigh Whannell follow up an almost immaculate opening hour - an hour which depicts a masterclass of agonising, extreme tension – with a garish and demented technicolour pantomime which is so incongruous with the opening section as to substantially spoil the finished product. Perhaps the admirable restraint on evidence during the first half left Wan and Whannell bursting at the seams with creative energy. Or maybe it's less forgivable; perhaps the duo considered the woefully overblown second half the natural conclusion for the industrial-sized coiled spring of tension they built up so effectively during the first.
Whatever the reasons, though, the latter stages of the film fail, and the disappointment is all the more keenly felt following such a carefully staged build-up. The delightfully, excruciatingly terrifying opening follows the lives of Josh, Renai, and their three children as they move into a new and predictably spooky house. Wan and Whannell introduce a series of short, sharp shocks, taking remarkable care to obscure the nature and form of the increasingly looming threat. By the time their son Dalton falls into what appears to be a coma, everyone's nerves are in tatters, including our own, and we can barely watch as the family move to another house, only to discover their torment is far from over.
Our torment, on the other hand, is over at around the one hour mark, as some ridiculous reveals pop the painful bubble of tension and the movie segues into some of the least threatening sequences imaginable, which veer somewhere towards the comic and the parodic. Indeed, one is reminded of the most mediocre of poorly lit eighties fantasy horror, as Josh stumbles into a ludicrous realm of circus terror. To say that this outcome is disappointing is an enormous understatement, but one which is no less stark than the difference in quality between the two halves of this frustrating film.
For all of the grumbles, Insidious still represents one of the most rattling and unsettling chillers of the last few years thanks to its highly patient and effective first half, and if you can stomach the silly shenanigans of the indulgent and over-ambitious second half - and some won't be able to - you'll still be mainly rewarded with your investment of time.
Momentum present a region B encoded release of Insidious, with 1080p resolution, and the original aspect ratio of 2.40:1, so you can expect accuracy, clarity, and high quality definition.
The compression codec is MPEG-4 AVC, and in terms of consistency and clarity, the image is strong throughout; indeed, it almost embarrasses the latter phase of the film as it barely conceals the ridiculous set and exposes the overblown red lighting. The film is often displayed through a green filter, which lends a certain sinister and cold edge to proceedings. Occasionally, the green shades become a little artificial, especially when blended into faces, and against large white walls. Overall though, visual presentation is good, and the often muted colours provide - in the first half, at least - further impact for this extremely atmospheric piece.
There's an enticingly low key trailer for Hammer's forthcoming The Woman in Black, which I'm extremely excited about despite not being a huge fan of Daniel Radcliffe (could this break his Potter shackles?). There are also trailers for the silly looking Cloverfield-esque TrollHunter, Nicholas Cage vehicle Season of the Witch, and Limitless, which actually looks rather good. Finally, don't forget to watch the Mars advertisement at the tail end of the trailers. Unmissable.
The total disc size here is 27.8Gb, with the main feature consuming 22.3Gb of that total.
Momentum have included optional subtitles with Insidious, which are clean, clear, accurate, and unobtrusively positioned.
As a final comment, I have made a mental note to ensure I watch all films beyond the closing credits; make of this what you will.
You would be justified in expecting a high quality audio accompaniment on a major modern film released on Blu-ray, and your expectations will be met here with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The sound is clear and realistic, with no extraneous noise or other distractions. The aural delivery is especially effective during the plethora of jumps and shocks, where it plays a vital role in jangling your nerves. In fact, the levels feel so polarised sometimes that it can be a little difficult to hear some of the dialogue, especially since the film adopts quite a free form approach in the early scenes. On the plus side, this does result in the conversation feeling quite natural, with the usual ebb and flow of intonations and volumes, but it proves frustrating when you don't always catch sentences first time.
There's approximately half an hour of extras in total, which prove watchable enough.
The intriguingly titled Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar isn't quite as exciting as it sounds, but does lend an insight into the thought processes behind the movie, with film clips and shooting interspersed with interviews with James Wan and Leigh Whannell.
On Set with Insidious is similar fodder, packed with interviews, behind the scenes joviality, and an insight into some of the stunts. James Wan proves a surprisingly energetic and playful presence behind the scenes, and looks a good deal more of a handful than the child actors.
Insidious Entities grants us a glimpse of the design and methods used to create the nefarious nasties in this shocker. You really must not watch this before the film itself, as full on shots of these creatures bursts the bubble of fear that the first half of the film so brilliantly inflates.
The clutch of extras is rounded up with a rather respectful Trailer.
A mainly decent transfer and a smattering of extras make this a good quality release of a genuinely unsettling chiller, and whilst the climax of the movie will prove frustrating and incongruous to the extreme, the quality of the shocks which punctuate so much of this movie make Insidious a film that fans of disturbing, low-gore horror will extract much enjoyment from.