Review: 'Insidious'

A high-concept horror that oozes atmosphere and unease without relying on computer-generated effects or buckets of gore.

Shortly after Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) move into a new home, one of their three children, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), finds a door to an attic space and hurts himself in a fall. The following morning, Dalton is found comatose and medical professionals are unable to determine the cause. While taking care of her son alone during the day, Renai becomes convinced her new home is somehow haunted, but an impromptu move to a new house doesn’t end the occurrences. When her husband’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), hears Renai’s story, she encourages Josh to believe his wife and asks to call in an old friend (Lin Shaye) to assess the situation. As it turns out, it isn’t the house that’s being haunted… it’s Dalton.

Advertised as being from the makers of Saw and Paranormal Activity, Insidious falls back on a few tried-and-true horror genre techniques to great success. Director James Wan seeds his film from the opening credits with back story images while also showcasing the production’s design and sound. Fans of the genre will notice similarities between this ghost story and Poltergeist as well as guess the inspirations for the film’s main monster, but the premise allows for random bits of creepiness whenever the filmmakers choose, creating a big playground to give audiences exactly what they paid for.

For fans of plot, there are plenty of clues dropped as the story unfolds, but there isn’t a requirement to figure anything out to enjoy the film. Insidious accomplishes much with primarily makeup effects, smart editing, and imagery instead of dialog. String instruments are used to create a creepy atmosphere reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (and that’s not a bad thing.) Then there’s the so-called Lipstick Demon (as named in the credits), a creation equally inspired by Yellow Eyes from “Supernatural,” Sqweegel from “CSI,” and Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street. Additionally, the story also allows for other imaginative critters to lurk about, giving the filmmakers more freedom to surprise their audience with the unexpected.

All is not perfect, however. The actors cast in the roles of the parents seemed oddly subdued, as if their characters are little more than victims or plot devices; even the child actors playing their kids consistently upstage them. Fortunately, the rest of the cast steps up, including a pair of geek ghost hunters in the third act who provide a little levity just before the production ramps up the creep factor. Both Lin Shaye and genre-veteran Barbara Hershey easily pull the script out from under the rest of the cast, but the best bits come from the other critters who do little more than stand perfectly still (and that’s all the creepier.) With a reported budget of under two million dollars, you can be sure this is the start of a franchise that could easily crank out a couple of sequels. That said, the real accomplishment is how well the filmmakers were able to work within their budget constraints with music, makeup, and editing to create something both imaginative and damnably spooky.

(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)
3.5 out of four skulls

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