Joseph Bishara as Demon and Ty Simpkins as Dalton in INSIDIOUS, a film directed by James Wan. Picture courtesy of FilmDistrict. All rights reserved.
- Alliance Films
- IM Global
- Haunted Movies
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Opened: 04/01/2011 Wide
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Trailer: Click for trailer
Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language.
The creators of Saw and Paranormal Activity team up to reinvent the haunted-house genre for a new generation with Insidious, paying tribute to such horror classics as The Exorcist, Poltergeist and The Sixth Sense.
Renai (Rose Byrne) and her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) are unpacking boxes in their family's new home when they first start to sense a sinister presence. Eerie events slowly escalate into supernatural attacks until one accident puts their son in a mysterious coma. When the family flees its ghost-ridden home and attempts to heal itself, Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey) brings in a team of paranormal investigators led by occult expert Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye). Josh and Renai are initially skeptical, but all doubts are swept away with one terrifying discovery: It's not the house that's haunted. It's their son.
Insidious comes from the writer-director team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan (Saw) and is produced by Oren Peli, Jason Blum and Steven Schneider (Paranormal Activity). The film stars two-time Tony-nominee Patrick Wilson (The Watchmen, Little Children), Emmy-nominee Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later, Damages), Golden Globe-winner Barbara Hershey (Black Swan), Lin Shaye and Ty Simpkins.
About the Production
Like their previous films Saw and Dead Silence, the latest project from the writer-director team of Leigh Whannell and James Wan traces its origins to their student years at Australia's M.I.T. "James and I went to film school together at the Melbourne Institute of Technology, where I quickly became his biggest fan," Whannell explains. "He would make Super-8 stop-motion animations, these outrageously inventive and schlocky fun stories about robots killing zombies! Immediately after I first saw his work, I buttonholed him in the hallway and told him his direction was great but that he needed a writer because the dialogue was terrible! [laughs] After graduating, we were just sort of hanging out and wondering what to do next, throwing around lots of ideas but feeling aimless. We decided we needed to find a film we could do really cheaply."
They came up with three ideas, explains Wan: "First, we really wanted to make a haunted house movie, but one that felt fresh and unique. There were so many entries in the genre that we both happened to love?films like The Innocents, the original version of The Haunting, and of course our nostalgic childhood favorites Poltergeist and The Exorcist. But because the genre had been done to death, we really wanted to upend its conventions and twist its cliches. If we could hook the audience with a favorite scenario, then we could subvert their expectations in ways that felt original and unexpected. We also had a second idea about astral projection, out-of-body experiences--a premise we both found inherently cool yet strangely unexplored on film."
At the time however they decided to focus on their third idea, expanding it into a feature-length screenplay and then adapting a central scene into a short film. With the script in one hand and the DVD in the other they headed to Hollywood and shopped around their proposal, a down-and-dirty exploitation film they called Saw. From a tiny amount of seed capital (just a six-figure budget), Wan and Whannell produced one of last decade's landmark horror movies, the flagship work in a franchise that's grown to seven films and grossed over $850 million worldwide.
Yet despite the snowballing commercial success of the Saw films, Wan and Whannell had to fight for creative control over their subsequent project: the Universal-financed gothic horror Dead Silence (a film inspired by the macabre movies of Britain's Hammer Films Productions in the 50s, 60s and 70s). "Dead Silence was our studio trial-by-fire," says Whannell. "It was a surprisingly hellish experience to think you're making the film you want to make only to have studio higher-ups impose major changes. Because of many circumstances surrounding the production, James and I were not able to produce the film we wanted to. So I still hungered for a chance to make our definitive Horror."
Enter Steven Schneider, Jason Blum and Oren Peli, the producers and writer-director of the breakout Horror success Paranormal Activity. "Steve Schneider introduced Oren and I to James and Leigh," says Blum. "There was so much fuss made about Saw versus Paranormal Activity, so we were naturally very eager to meet them and talk. Truth be told, we are all fans of genre movies and instantly bonded over our shared favorites." Says Whannell, "James and I instantly starting geeking out with them about all the horror films we love and we had this long, very animated conversation about how terrifying David Lynch films are and how he never gets recognized as a great horror director! So we bonded over our shared love of Lynch. We decided right then and there that we wanted to make a film with them, and ever since that day they have been nothing but supportive and collaborative. Everything you want producers to be."
Schneider, Blum and Peli had partnered with the U.K. company Alliance Films to found the Haunted Movies label, a division aimed at bringing creatively ambitious, low-budget horror movies to a mass audience. "It's a great opportunity that Alliance offered us," says Blum. "The fund offers us total creative freedom in terms of casting and final cut. All creative decisions are up to us and we pass them onto the filmmaker." Blum and Peli asked Wan and Whannell if they had any ideas that would fit the parameters. They did. Dusting off their unproduced scenarios about astral projection and a haunted house, Wan and Whannell decided to combine them. "Marrying the two treatments into one storyline made for a surprisingly organic fit."
"We thought it would be a very interesting opportunity," says Oren Peli of the partnership. "As great fans of Saw who saw much talent on display in Dead Silence despite studio interference, we wanted to see James and Leigh make the horror movie they wanted to make. By carefully planning the shoot, we could achieve high-quality production values on a modest budget and compressed shooting schedule, and provide James and Leigh the creative freedom one rarely gets within the industry."
Where Saw's use of body horror and squirm-inducing violence pushed the recent cycle of "extreme" genre films to its baroque limit, Insidious looks back to a more classical style of horror. "I wanted a chilling film in the vein of The Innocents or The Others," says Whannell. "Saw couldn't have been a PG film. But Insidious [rated PG-13] is a haunted house movie, and I think the gore can almost be a hindrance. It's better to see a shadow in your peripheral for a blinking second than have someone rush out of the corner and rip your head off. One puts the audience on edge and scares, the other just viscerally slams them."
"I think Insidious is the kind of movie Hitchcock would have made today," says Peli. "I thought I was immune to these kinds of jump scares, you know? But every single one of them got me. I haven't had that experience since I was a kid. A lot of horror movies today are going for shock factor. This one goes for old-fashioned horror, you know? When the film goes 'BOO!' you jump out of our seat."
"The first horror movie I saw was Poltergeist and it scarred me for life," says James Wan. "And honestly, on Insidious we set out to make the scariest film EVER. That was really our goal, to shoot for the moon. When someone described Insidious as Poltergeist meets The Exorcist on acid, I thought: I'll take that!"
"Sixth Sense was another big inspiration," Wan continues. "It was a drama about a young family, a single mom and her son, where it just so happened that the drama was of the supernatural type. The film doesn't make anything too big. It's very grounded in reality, and because of that the horror plays stronger. Our guiding principle on Insidious was that the more dimensionality and humanity we gave the characters, the more the scare scenes would register." Rather than cast actors associated with cartoonishly heroic roles and schlock genres, the filmmakers gravitated towards Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, Tony- and Emmy-nominated performers (respectively) who have been acclaimed by critics for their serious dramatic work on both stage and screen. "I wanted great actors that felt real, and I got that in Rose and Patrick," says Wan. "I think their performances help to ground the film in reality. When their son falls into a coma, you really feel their anguish and pain. I cannot speak highly enough of these two." Adds Whannell, "Both of these actors lend an air of credibility to the film. They are such strong actors that you instantly believe that this is a real family."
Once the audience was fully engaged with the characters as characters, the filmmakers deployed three main strategies for heightening the scares. First, they based their suspenseful set-pieces on details drawn not from other movies but from real-life experiences that had happened to them or to their friends and family. "As much as possible, we decided to draw from supernatural stories that have happened to us personally, and our friend and families. So technically, I can say Insidious is based on true events!" explains Wan. "I tried to focus on the stories and inexplicably weird events that actually scare me in real life. I trust that what scares me would send chills up the audience's spine too, so I become my own guinea pig in a way."
Second, they invested a disproportionate amount of time and attention into the soundtrack. Layering ambient atmosphere, eerie foley effects and the occasional scream of orchestral strings into an unsettling audioscape, Wan and Whannell consciously sought to go beyond the groaning-floorboards and howling-wind cliches of the genre. Says Whannell, "James and I talked a lot about the music in this film, and I even gave him a mix CD of music to listen to while he was reading the script after I first gave it to him. While I was writing, I compiled different tracks from avant-garde composers like Krzysztof Penderecki and Angelo Badalamenti. The music was not 'obvious' horror film music - it had more of an experimental nature and I like that about it. I wanted the film to be unpredictable, and this music fitted that."
Wan and Whannell's' third strategy for heightening the horror was to continuously tweak the editing and timing of set-piece scares again and again until they were perfect. "There's a real similarity between a scare and a joke," explains Blum. "In both cases, if it's not cut and timed exactly right, the audience won't jump and scream or they won't laugh. It was amazing to see James observe preview audiences, see them react to a scare and say 'We're getting there but not quite yet,' and take 15 minutes to shift the timing and cutting ever so slightly. Sure enough, at the next screening more people are jumping instead of just squirming."
And it builds so quickly because they feed off each other's hysteria. Horror and comedy are two genres that have continued to work theatrically because they are very collective experiences, and James and Leigh understand that."