Movie Review: James Wan's Insidious, starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Lin Shaye (with trailer video)

After an accident in the attic (a conspicuously ominous attic, of course), oldest son Dalton falls into some kind of extended sleep that boggles the doctors. Once Dalton returns home, still in his coma-like state, the haunting begins. Renai goes through all manner of strange experience while Josh is at work, soon convincing her husband that the house is evil and they must move. But when they do just that, the creepy stuff continues. Renai then calls in some "experts" to assess the situation, including two ghost hunter-type stooges and a spiritual expert Elise (Lin Shaye). Elise gives her outlandish evaluation to Renai and Josh (I won't spoil it for you), and we as the outside observer know Elise is correct.

[image-1]All too often in horror movies there's one character who thinks the so-called “expert” is just trying to exploit the situation to make a few bucks. The protagonist in this situation is Josh. Despite that, I admired how writer Leigh Whannell (best known for creating Saw with Insidious director James Wan) opted to not portray Josh as the bad guy. Sure, he's the typical work-obsessed father who spends too little time with his family, and but he comes around and we root for him all the while.

Insidious features more than a few clichés in its plot points and is predictable in areas, but because the situations this family endures seem grounded in reality the film kept my chills from subsiding. David Brewer and John Leonetti’s cinematography leaves us feeling nauseously claustrophobic — an element which works because it's used sporadically and at the perfect times, leaving the viewer feeling closed off from what they’re trying to see. We are teased with close-ups of the character’s faces, their look of terror, and must wait that extra second or two before we see what they’re seeing. This tactic, while arguably annoying, builds the tension despite the audience's knowledge that something scary is about to happen.

Insidious plays a little too much like a Halloween haunted house in parts, with miscellaneous ghouls and goblins seemingly lurking around every corner, and music that is eerie and abrupt. (It got to be bombastic in areas where it didn’t need to be. Sometimes it’s more effective to let that realistic horror play out in unsettling silence, while saving the pompous and jolting noises for the big scares.) But the genuine fear we feel as an audience with every step of the characters outweighs the camp factor.

It’s interesting; after leaving the theater, I was surprised by how little I was still scared by the movie. The following day, my psyche changed a bit. As night came around, I became frightened. My phone vibrated harshly against my desk and startled me. I wanted as much light on around the house as possible. And I can forget about using my ceiling fan for a while. (That thing is just too eerie, the way it aimlessly swivels.) This post-movie fear made me appreciate Insidious even more.

Good horror films succeed at making subtle things in life horrifying — a swirling ceiling fan, a ticking clock, the sounds of a baby monitor. We must be doomed if we live in a world where even baby monitors can be scary. Containing shades of The Amityville Horror and 1408, Insidious mixes in some original concepts with the pieces of those other films to become a successful horror movie.

The success of Insidious lies in a steady progression of terror invoked by regular objects and actions that would otherwise seem harmless. The hauntings escalate from silhouettes of unrecognizable figures and disturbing noises, to full-blown spirits roaming the halls. If you go into this film not knowing what the word "insidious" means, you will quickly figure it out.

The victim of the haunting is the Lambert family. With two young sons and a new baby, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) move into a new house that has all the familiar makings of being haunted. The structure, however, is not the problem.

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