October brings with it many beautiful offerings – cooler temperatures, cozy sweaters and the comforting embrace of horror movies. While I will happily watch a ghost story or gory blood bath any night of the week, most people stick to Halloween for scary movies. Over the past few years, there have been a number of great mainstream horror flicks and you can thank director James Wan for more than a few of them. Wan is responsible for the first Saw film and both of The Conjuring movies, but today I’m looking at a scene from the first movie of his that really got my attention.
I honestly don’t remember knowing anything about Insidious before I went into the theater. I do, however, vividly remember the loud imposing title card that filled up the screen. The whole thing had a retro vibe and I was digging it. Shortly after the opening credits I found myself fighting off cardiac arrest as Wan ratcheted the tension and played mercilessly with my emotions.
Insidious is a fairly straightforward Haunted House story with a dash of possession thrown into the mix. A suburban family starts to experience radial paranormal disturbances after their son suddenly slips into a coma. Terror ensues. Admittedly, it can be hard to choose a scene from the movie that is effective out of context but this one I choose demonstrates exactly what Wan does best.
Let’s break this down a bit. While our matriarch Renai (Rose Byrne) is busy expelling the trash from her gorgeous Craftsman house she sees a small child through the window. This would be strange for anyone but not necessarily creepy. What Wan does in this scene is enhance the suspense by letting the viewer in on just a few more key details: the first identifier being a short but still lingering camera pan to a back shot of the boy in the laundry room, then when Mom is out of the house the music changes. The audience is on the hook and terrified of what this will mean. Now back to Renai’s troubled reaction, “Who is that? Is he real? Am I really seeing this?” She rushes inside to scope out the situation. Nothing. Then a door slowly creeps closed. The audience shivers but Renai is startled, still not sure what to make of the entire scene. Then SHIT! That is a little kid! It just ran through the house. We all fucking saw it now! Stunned, Mom follows the kid into her son’s room. It seems still but…that rocking chair is moving…it’s…FALSE alarm. But what about those boots? Now both Renai and the audience are shaking with fear. When the curtain pull reveals another false alarm, Wan wastes no time hitting us with a legit jump scare.
You see, Wan is so good at what he does because he knows exactly how to leverage dramatic tension. He knows when to show, when to fold and when to do whatever that other poker reference is that’s equivalent to scaring the shit out of you.