A blog exploring the sexy, shocking, surreal, and silly side of horror films.

April 18, 2011

Insidious (Review)

Insidious (2010

Director: James Wan

I love a good ghost yarn. However, after Poltergeist, The Changeling, The Amityville Horror, and countless other films including the influx of Japanese ghost stories like The Ring, is there really any new ground to be broken in the sub-genre?  Insidious, the new horror film from Saw collaborators James Wan and Leigh Whannell, was finally released this year, and it proves that, yes, we shouldn't give up the ghost yet.

While the story is not startlingly original, Insidious rearranges the time-tested conventions of the haunting story into a smart, tight, and expertly manipulative "boo-machine" fine-tuned to get you jumping out of your seat. Insidious is a relatively bloodless film compared to recent gore fests but will nevertheless get your blood pumping with an even deeper sense of dread.


Looking for a new start, Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) move their family of three children into a brand new home, but soon they encounter a very old and insidious evil. At first, things start slow. Books fall from bookshelves and items do not remain where they are left. Things only get worse after their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls and bumps his head while exploring in the attic. He seems okay at first, but the next morning he doesn't wake up. The doctors are baffled. For lack of a better term, Dalton appears to be in a coma, yet there's no brain damage. As Josh, Renai, and their other young boy struggle to come to terms with Dalton's condition, the family is plagued by a series of increasingly terrifying ghostly encounters and unexplainable events that follow them from one house to the next. After they bring in a psychic medium (Lin Shaye) for help, Josh and Renai discover that the paranormal activity centers around Dalton and is connected to a hidden family secret.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 Insidious Specters


Except for some blood-red hand prints left on pristine bed sheets, there's no blood to speak of in Insidious. No one is cut. No guts are pulled out of bodies. No brains are munched and no flesh is flayed. Then how shocking could Insidious be? Well, as a seasoned horror-viewer, let me say that I can't remember the last time a horror film got me to jump out of my seat until I saw Insidious. And I'm talking about an honest jump; I don't count cheap jump scares in which slashers or monsters lunge at the camera and loud musical stings assault your eardrums. Yes, Insidious, managed to spook me -- honestly and genuinely spook me -- with its creepy atmosphere, expert editing, and startlingly creepy slow burn that climaxes in a series of startling reveals.

 In the first two-thirds of Insidious, the art of the shock is produced by combining sound design and deliberate yet floating camera moves to draw in the audience's attention with the anticipation of scares to come. It's not what you see that's terrifying so much as what you might see. Sometimes the scene resolves itself on a mundane detail that takes on an eerie importance. Sometimes the scene resolves itself with a shocking twist of perception. Other times, the scene will explode with a truly uncanny experience. One of the film's most effective scare techniques is the reverse-jump scare: Instead of the film hitting you with an overt ghost or goblin that jumps in your face, you realize that something creepy has been lurking quietly in the frame the whole time.... Also, by setting the action exclusively within the home, Insidious exploits a host of domestic fears and scenarios. Insidious is a film that knows exactly how to shock you and manipulate your emotions without pandering.

So a Mormon and a Psychic walk into a haunted house....
In the third act, the creepy imagery and power of suggestion become more overt, and the story takes a turn away from horror into dark fantasy, but this change of pace works in its favor. I felt the haunted house full of "boo" moments was losing its novelty; eventually I was craving answers, resolution, and then catharsis. While Insidious changes its pace to pull back the curtain on the ghostly mysteries and place the story within a detailed metaphysical mythology, the catharsis remains elusive. Even when you think Insidious is wrapped up in a nice bow, it has a few more slippery tricks up its sleeve.

Aside from the "boo" moments and thrill scenes, Insidious is also extremely well-acted. Rosie Bryne and Patrick Wilson perform as extremely natural and likable parents even under stress. They fully commit to keeping the film grounded in a domestic reality even as its metaphysical plot threads begin to tighten. In this symphony of scares, without the strong cast hitting each of their character notes, the "boo" beats certainly would have fallen flat too.

I was both incredibly surprised and satisfied with Insidious. It plays safely within the sub-genre of ghost films with all the available conventions as established by other movies, but it fixes them in a new arrangement that even managed to scare a horror junkie like me.

With the glut of remakes and reboots flooding the horror genre,  why not take a chance in the darkened theatre with an original film like Insidious? The worst that can happen is you'll begin to wonder what else is lurking unseen in the dark with you.

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