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.
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
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
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
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.