By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood December 30, 2010 at 5:23AM
New distributor FilmDistrict is launching its 2011 slate April 1 with horror-flick Insidious (trailer below), a seven-figure Toronto Fest Midnight Madness pick-up from Sony Worldwide Acquisitions Group that many expected to be a Sony genre label Screen Gems release. Sure, Sony is making nice to new distribution partner--and ex-Sony exec--Peter Schlessel. UPDATE: But, it turns out, SWAG doesn't acquire films for Clint Culpepper's Screen Gems; District 9 and 88 Minutes went through Sony's Tri-Star. SWAG knew in Toronto that FilmDistrict was eager to release Insidious.
Sony is invested in making FilmDistrict a success, so that the fledgling distrib can start out with a solid commercial release. Announced pick-up Drive, starring Ryan Gosling and Cary Mulligan, is set for September; still to be officially slated are two Graham King shelf-titles, the Hunter S. Thompson film The Rum Diary starring Johnny Depp, and William Monahan's London Boulevard starring Colin Farrell. The distrib plans to release four to eight commercial titles a year.
The familiar-looking low-budget thriller, which IM Global was selling in Toronto, stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as a family trying to keep evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in their realm. James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence, Death Sentence) directs a script from long-time writing partner Leigh Wannell, and Paranormal Activity's Oren Peli and Jason Blum produce.
The movie played well at Toronto, where FirstShowing described it as a scary mash-up of "Poltergeist, The Exorcist and old school Sam Raimi" that could launch a franchise.
Variety found it more fun than chilling:
A young family is forced to confront its demons -- literally -- in "Insidious," a possession thriller less terrifying than fun. This latest shocker from the original "Saw" buzzers, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, flaunts an adequate measure of the duo's trademark borderline-camp humor while channeling as if by Ouija board the unholy likes of "The Exorcist" and "Paranormal Activity."
On the other hand, Hitfix's Drew McWeeney calls it "an instant addition to the horror canon,"
an exuberant haunted house ride that throws some great narrative twists at the audience while always doing one thing consistently: actually scaring the audience. It is uncommonly good, and Wan's best film by a wide margin. I am not surprised to see Sony pick up "Insidious" immediately so they can make a ton of money with it. More importantly, I hope they distribute it as a big mainstream title because i want the widest possible audience to have a shot at seeing a film that reminded me tonight that there is always room for a new riff on an old idea if it's done right.