Copyright © 2011 by FilmDistrict
Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) have just moved into a new house with their children. The eldest, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) begins to explore the house and goes to the attic after hearing sounds coming from there. After witnessing something terrifying, he leaves the place and before going to bed, both Renai and Josh remind him never to go back into the attic. All seems well until the next day when Dalton does not awaken from his sleep. The doctors are unable to justify the cause of Dalton’s coma and when he is moved back to the house from the hospital, strange events begin happening. Afraid that the occurrences are coming from the house, Renai pleads with Josh to leave in search of a new home. The disturbances still continue until they realise that the haunted is actually Dalton himself.
Having ghostly apparitions while sleeping in your cozy little bed or seeing objects move from the living room to the kitchen are staple ingredients for a good scare when you are dealing with a vengeful omnipresent force in a too-good-to-be-true-priced newly purchased dream house. Both originals of ‘The Haunting’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’ kept you at the edge of your seat while ‘What Lies Beneath’ presented another ‘spiritual’ option for the soul to connect with the living. With the growing interest in a different kind of horror i.e. the ‘Saw’ or ‘Hostel’ series these days, it is no wonder horror films that rely on memorable characters with great build-up tensions and atmospheric vibes are no longer in fashion for the new generation of fans.
Thankfully, the renaissance began with 2009’s ‘Paranormal Activity’, a ‘little’ found-footage feature that made it big all across the globe. It required none of the sordid sort to catapult its success. Just plain old good word of mouth and I can see why this offering from Malaysian born James Wan who rose to prominence from his ‘Saw’ debut has the legs that is rarely seen in this genre. The buzz started when ‘Insidious’ was first screened in the Toronto International Film Festival to much critical delight from the audiences there and the momentum continued until its theatrical release on April 2011. It ended up making almost seventy times from the budget spent, becoming the most profitable film for that year.
It is no denying that this sleeper hit took the familiar and reconstructed it with a touch of science thrown in for the added originality. What is fascinating about the revelation is the idea of introducing astral projection into a seemingly generic take on the haunted house tropes. The house is not cursed this time around but rather malicious entities surround it due to our protagonist’s ability to perform such skill. The dread that is made known throughout the film is brilliantly brought out by composer Joseph Bishara and cinematographer John R. Leonetti. Watch out for the musician’s cameo as one of Dalton’s tormentors as well. His physical appearance will definitely leave an impression not easily forgotten.
Another standout scene to look out for is the emergence of a frightening man in Dalton’s baby sister’s bedroom. It will jump at you at the most unexpected of times. The sense of unease lingers thanks to a well rounded cast. Its two leads, Byrne and Wilson put on understated performances and their chemistry together is believable as a couple who is struggling to save their son from a ‘hostile’ takeover. It truly is a remarkable year for Byrne especially since this is only her first out of three hits; she follows it with ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘Bridesmaids’.
Frequent collaborator with Wan, Leigh Whannell who wrote the script and plays a supporting role in the film has crafted another well-conceived idea sans the blood and gore that were featured heavily in their earlier work involving games and death traps. While the thought of featuring such a twisted and intelligent murderer who can concoct inventive ways to kill his victims has spawned six sequels and is a key factor to the birth of a new kind of terror, I, for one am glad that Wan did not participate in Saw’s continuity and decided to advance his career on future endeavours with a more restrained and subtle approach. A welcome return to old school horror and its success is testament that moviegoers are indeed discerning about quality above everything else.
Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language