Say what you will about James Wan and Oren Peli, but with “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity” under their respective belts, it’s hard to deny that they have been a major force in Hollywood, helping to shape much of the direction of contemporary horror films. So when the two decided to team on “Insidious” — with Wan directing from a script by “Saw” co-creator Leigh Whannel and Peli producing — curiosity about what they would conjure ran high. So who knew that it would be an old school haunted house flick in the vein of “Poltergeist“?
Starring Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, “Insidious” finds the two leads playing parents to a young, comatose boy who begins to channel some freaky entities. And where it goes from there…it’s perhaps best saved for when you see the film yourself. With the movie opening this weekend, we recently chatted with Byrne about her work in the film and the collaborative spirit that Wan encouraged in a film that had the same pressure on the actress as shooting a comedy.
For most audiences, Byrne will likely be recognized for her role as Ellen Parsons on the hit FX series “Damages” but for those who have been paying attention, the actress has been working her way up the Hollywood ladder steadily for the past few years. As for why she chose a grimy horror picture, it was an opportunity to work with two names who command attention in the film world combined with her desire to stretch her wings.
“Each [movie I choose] has a different reason to be honest. Something like ‘Sunshine,’ I’ve never done a film in set in space [or worked] with Danny Boyle. For these it was working with the guys who made ‘Saw’ and the producers of ‘Paranormal Activity’ so that was a huge draw card,” she told us revealing that she’s always been a fan of scary movies. “It’s sort of more of a classic horror [film] which is something I loved as a child growing up. I was a fan of ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street‘ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby‘ and things like that.”
“I watched them definitely before we began,” Byrne said about her preparation for the film. And as the actress learned, making people scared is just as much of a skill as making them laugh. “Patrick and I were discussing certain domestic things at the start, and setting all that stuff up. Horror is such a specific genre and really all about timing in a lot of ways like comedy. And [James Wan] knew the beats innately, and was editing as he went, but he could still be collaborative within that.”
In the film, Byrne’s character Renee goes through quite the ordeal as her sick son goes from bad to worse. “Renee she starts to have a nervous breakdown effectively for the first half of the film. She’s very much through the audiences’ eyes, so it was important to me to make it as authentic as possible,” Byrne said. And in order to that, she did a bit of research about what a parent goes through when their offspring is severely ill to get as close as she could reality in her portrayal. “I did a bit of homework about parents of sick children, because of the psychological effect it has on you and the damage it does,” she noted adding, “I did my own personal work on [the script] and I had my take on it, and James had his and we took it from there.”
It’s certainly shaping up to be quite a year for Byrne. She has “Insidious” opening this weekend, the superhero flick “X-Men: First Class” in June and the ensemble comedy “Bridesmaids” next month. And despite the variety of genres Byrne is flexing her muscles in — particularly comedy which is relatively new world for her — she finds the expectations when compared to horror to be pretty much identical. “It’s not any more difficult than doing a comedy. It’s the same pressure. It’s slightly different in terms of what is demanded of you, but it’s no greater or less.”
And Byrne definitely has no problem stepping up to the challenge of “Insidious” and even she was surprised when she saw the finished how scary it all was. “I got completely sidelined, it was a real curveball how terrifying the film is. I think they did such a good job,” she enthused.
Powered by lead performers by two terrific actors and influenced by the classic horror pics of yore, you can see if “Insidious” delivers the scares when it opens this Friday, April 1st.