It's Horror Movie Month! "Insidious" Review

Photo Credit: FilmDistrict

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It's Horror Movie Month! "Insidious" Review

Rating: PG-13 (violence, terror, frightening images, and brief strong language)
Length: 103 minutes
Release Date: Apr. 1, 2011
Directed by: James Wan
Genre: Horror/Thriller 

With "Insidious: Chapter 2" sweeping the box office, now is a good time to revisit the original movie that thrilled fans of the horror genre. James Wan, director of "Saw" and "The Conjuring," once again teamed with writer Leigh Whannell and brought to "Insidious" his trademark combination: an element of simplicity combined with a twist on classic horror. Wan combines a typical American family, a pair of less-than-professional ghost hunters, the requisite psychic, an innocent 1929 Al Dubin song, and some ghost-busting techniques reminiscent of the classic movie "Poltergeist" to send chills up the spines of viewers. 

The film begins with the Lambert family moving into a new home. Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is taking a break from her job to focus on writing music and care for her children. Tending a crying baby and his two rambunctious older brothers while facing a house full of packed boxes can be daunting. The fact that things keep disappearing and reappearing where they shouldn't be only adds to the frustration. Subtle foreshadowing weaves its way through the plot from the first scenes.  While settling into the new home, Renai notices odd but small occurrences, such as books inexplicably being knocked off a shelf. Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) assures his wife that all is well. Meanwhile, Josh is growing distant from his family and begins making excuses to be away from the home.

One evening while their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is playing alone, he hears a noise in the hall. He sees the attic door hanging ajar and starts toward the creepy attic to investigate, but the ladder breaks under his weight. Renai and Josh make sure Dalton is not hurt and admonish him not to play in the attic before tucking him into bed for the night. The next morning, they find that they can't wake Dalton up.  The frantic parents assume Dalton was hurt when he fell and rush him to the hospital, where doctors tell them Dalton has fallen into an unexplainable coma. After a few months in the hospital, Dalton, who is still comatose, is moved back home to his own bed, and Renai takes up his care. After Dalton is moved back home, the odd little occurrences become more frequent and more noticeable than before. Renai feels unseen eyes upon her. She hears menacing voices on the baby monitor. She and her husband hear banging at the front door just before the burglar alarm is set off, but no one is outside. 

The disturbances in the house become ever more threatening when Renai sees an evil figure through the windows and even inside the house. As reality continues to unravel for Renai, her middle son informs her that he gets frightened when Dalton, still in a coma, walks around at night. Renai, at the end of her wits, convinces Josh they must move to another home. The Lambert family moves, but just as Renai is settling her family in their new home, she begins experiencing the same terrors she thought they'd left behind.

When Josh's mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), dreams about an evil presence in the Lambert home and subsequently sees a horrific apparition in the house, she recommends that Josh and Renai seek the help of a psychic named Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Elise and her two-man team of ghost hunters investigate the hauntings. Specs (played by writer Leigh Whannell), and Tucker (Angus Sampson), employ modified childhood toys as their ghost-detecting equipment. Elise is able to communicate with spirits by donning a gas mask attached to a vacuum cleaner hose.

In true James Wan fashion, innocent implements are utilized to exaggerate the creepy essence of each scene as the suspense builds to a crescendo.  Finally, Elise announces that the home is not haunted—the child is. The psychic concludes that Dalton has entered another realm through astral projection and has become trapped there. The evil figure that frequently appears in the Lambert home is trying to steal Dalton's body for himself.  Wan's films are anything but typical. He always manages to add a twist to classic plots, and "Insidious" is no different. Wan is a deft master of marrying innocent elements to horrific ideas to bring about a unique sense of horror. Anyone who has appreciated Wan's tactics in other films will enjoy "Insidious." Certainly, no one who watches it will ever think of the 1929 Dubin song "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" the same way again. 

Rating: 3 out of 5