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From the Makers of Saw, Insidious Will Make You Jump, Jump

In Insidious, which opens this weekend, there is a great deal of prowling motion: a recurring sideways dolly outside an ominous house, a trench-coat-clad cacodemon pacing outside a second-story window. It's the restless motion of a movie stalking its prey--you, dear viewer.

A married couple, Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have just moved into their new home, its light-absorbent dark-oak interiors suiting director James Wan's aversion to bright color. The boxes aren't yet unpacked when one of their sons, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), drops into a medically inexplicable coma.

From the Makers of Saw, Insidious Will Make You Jump, Jump

The beep of his EKG monitor joins the sound-design orchestra, and is

shortly followed by more incomprehensible noises: a salivating

speaking-in-tongues coming over the baby monitor, the most

teeth-grinding burglar alarm on the market announcing a burst-open door

with no one there.

As symptoms of a full-blown haunting pile up, Wan and screenwriter Leigh

Whannell smartly maintain a measured ratio of supernatural to everyday

horror (a couple noticing together that they are no longer quite young,

Dalton's nurse explaining the workings of a gastro-nasal feeding tube).

Insidious continues the partnership that Wan and Whannell began at the

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology's film school, which was

vindicated by the success of their handmade, dingy, low-budget Saw

(2004)--a surprise hit whose inventiveness has since been overshadowed by

the diminishing returns of its farmed-out sequels.

Their latest contains more prickly, scalp-crawly moments than any other

mainstream horror release in recent memory, filled with slow-approach

build-ups that give you plenty of time to anticipate something awful,

even if that preparation doesn't do you a bit of good.

At times, watching Insidious is like floating through the

chronologically arranged displays in a Museum of Haunted-Movie History.

You see Herk Harvey's blanched ghoul from Carnival of Souls, pass the

scampering little It from Don't Look Now, then enter an entire wing

devoted to Poltergeist, with Dalton the imperiled child stuck between

worlds, and an intervening medium who guides us through the rules of the

supernatural game.

Insidious's Zelda Rubinstein part is played by redoubtable character

actress Lin Shaye, who explains that Dalton's astral-projecting soul is

lost in an ether called "the Further"; until the boy's spirit is fetched

home by Dad, the harassing bogeys can't be escaped by simply calling up

a realtor.

Voyaging into the Further, Insidious pays self-homage to what is

recognizably Wan and Whannell's own silly-surrealist sensibility.

Everyone brings their own set of phobias to the movie theater. If

age-curled formal family photos and Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the

Tulips" falsetto are among yours, you will experience no slackening in

terror.

But if you screamed--with laughter--when Saw's "Billy" puppet first

wheeled out on his tricycle, then this bric-a-brac of mothballed

creepiness will not ruffle your psyche. We need visionaries--but also

solid craftsmen who seem to enjoy their work. Insidious is the product

of the latter. It doesn't build a better haunted house but, when on its

game, reminds us of the genre's pleasures.

 --Nick Pinkerton

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