Movie Review: Insidious

By Matthew Huntley

April 11, 2011

No, I don't know what Insidious means, either!

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Watching Insidious is like walking through a haunted house. Every few minutes, someone or something jumps out and attempts to startle you. Seconds later, you laugh it off, forget about it and wait for the next one. That’s pretty much this movie’s M.O. Startling is the more appropriate word to describe it, as opposed to scary. When something is scary, it tends to stay with you longer. When something is startling, the effect is temporary, which isn’t to say it can’t also be fun and entertaining.

Next to the classic slasher picture, movies like Insidious” are what define horror as a genre, right down to their opening titles and score, which rivets with string instruments. If you’re not a fan of horror movies, this isn’t for you. If you are, it could be your idea of heaven. The movie doesn’t offer much in the way of originality, but it’s entertaining and well made.

The set up is routine. A middle class family moves into a new house and strange, inexplicable things start happening. Renai (Rose Byrne), the mother, notices her books are out of order on the floor; there are deep, creepy voices coming over the baby monitor; and an ugly, ghoulish-looking man briefly appears outside her infant daughter’s window. Meanwhile, her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) hears a knock at the door but no one is there. Or is there?


Then, one morning, the couple’s eldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into a mysterious coma, the likes of which the family doctor has never seen before. Renai begins to suspect their house is haunted. For her, the last straw comes when she finds a blood stain in the shape of a hand on her son’s bed sheet. She wants out. So they move, but the strange phenomena follow them and Josh’s mother (Barbara Hershey) enlists the help of a psychic (Lin Shaye) to rid the family of its evil presence.

Right away, the plot calls to mind other horror movies like The Shining, The Haunting and Paranormal Activity. It doesn’t bring anything fresh to the table story-wise, but it delivers the goods. There are plenty of moments in Insidious that will make you jump, feel uneasy and have you looking around the screen with caution. It’s that kind of a horror movie, but it’s not the kind you’ll remember for very long after leaving the theater. Once it’s over, it’s over.

I’m personally a fan of horror movies that are slower and more psychological in nature, where not everything is explained, seen or heard. These seem to take more planning, effort and craft. But don’t get me wrong — director James Wan (“Saw”) knows how to startle us and his movie keep us on our toes (there’s something to be said for that). Leigh Whannell’s screenplay also tosses in some unexpected humor, as when two Ghostbuster-wannabes (Whannell himself and Angus Sampson) try to detect poltergeists with their makeshift scientific equipment. I liked how these guys lightened the mood in case the audience (or the movie) started taking things too seriously.

Insidious feels sort of old-fashioned compared to modern day horror movies, which seem all about torture and gore instead of apparitions. On that level, and on the level of being startled from time to time, I enjoyed it. I won’t remember it for very long, but I jumped, I laughed and I clenched up. Those are signs a horror movie is doing its job.



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