‘Insidious’ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated October 5th, 2011 at 5:18 pm,

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Screen Rant’s Rob Frappier reviews Insidious

Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell may be best known for kicking off the long-running (and phenomenally successful) Saw franchise, but the pair’s latest film is arguably their first attempt at pure horror. There’s no blood, no guts, and no devious death traps. Just a spooky old house, a collection of things that go bump in the dark, and a hell of a lot of jump scares.

And did I mention that Insidious is the scariest movie I’ve seen in years?

For the most part, Insidious sticks closely to the haunted house genre of horror (a sort of revival of classics like Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror). A married couple, Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne), move into a beautiful old house with their two young sons and a new baby. The early scenes in the film establish the characters very clearly. Renai is the put-upon mother and Josh is the loving, but somewhat aloof husband.

As the family adjusts to their new home, Renai begins noticing unusual events in the house (classic horror movie stuff like the books being moved from one place to another).  Their oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) also seems aware of something faintly sinister lurking in the shadows. While exploring the attic, Dalton is spooked off of a ladder and bumps his head.

The next morning, Dalton simply doesn’t wake up. Josh and Renai turn to doctors who run Dalton through a variety of tests, but nobody can explain the boy’s coma. (Duh! Because it’s not a medical coma. Don’t doctors watch scary movies?)

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Over the next few months, Renai does her best to care for her son, all while dealing with increasingly spooky stuff happening in her home. Using tried and true techniques (the slow build jump scare accompanied by raucous strings), Wan delivers some of the most effective scares in the film during this stretch of the plot.  I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent a good portion of this sequence digging my nails into my arm rests and crouching low in my seat.

Eventually, Renai convinces her husband to leave the house. In a smart bit of writing, Josh agrees with his wife and they move. (I hate how in haunted house movies, there’s always someone who wants to stay. Why? I’d be gone in a second if my wife wanted to leave.) Of course, anyone who has seen the trailer for Insidious knows that moving doesn’t help the situation because it’s not the house that’s haunted… IT’S DALTON HIMSELF!

What’s a family to do? Why, bring in a psychic medium of course. Lin Shaye plays the medium and writer Leigh Whannell plays one half of her two man team paranormal investigation team. While each of these characters was somewhat familiar, I enjoyed all of the performances and was impressed by the fresh writing. The film’s obligatory seance scene, which could have been rehashed from past horror films, is given a unique twist and makes for one of the movie’s most effective moments.

I won’t talk much more about the story. Suffice it to say, the rest of the film revolves around Renai and Josh’s efforts to save their son from slipping away from them forever. Astral projection, demonic possession, and other issues are brought up, but always intelligently and with a certain realism that allows the film to be that much scarier.

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With the exception of a somewhat offbeat third act, which is very clearly Wan and Whannell’s personal touch and something that I actually enjoyed, the movie hits mostly familiar beats. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing though. I think of it as a master chef preparing a basic recipe. Just because something is simple, that doesn’t mean it can’t be amazing in the right hands. While the movie doesn’t break much new ground in the haunted house genre, Wan and Whannell handle the formula like pros.

I’ve criticized the overuse of jump scares in horror movies, but I don’t think that’s an issue here. Almost every scare is set-up and executed well and the additional elements of the film (score, cinematography, etc.) work together seamlessly. Technically speaking, what Wan was able to do with this movie on a relatively limited budget is incredible. (Insidious producer and Paranormal Activity director Oren Peli probably deserves credit here too.)

In our interview with James Wan and Leigh Whannell, Wan talked about working on a tight budget and how it forced him to be creative during filming. It really shows throughout the movie. Where other films might have relied on special effects, Wan (who also edited the movie) uses unique camera angles and ominous shadows to inspire dread. Likewise, Wan does a great job getting believable performances from his cast. Despite the potential for the movie to devolve into silliness, the actors keep the plot grounded. Credit also goes to Whannell for writing relatable characters.

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Bottom line: Insidious is the movie that horror fans deserve. Even with its oft-maligned PG-13 rating, Insidious serves up more frightening imagery and pulse-pounding scares than any other recent horror movie, with the possible exception of Paranormal Activity. The movie simply works. I sincerely hope that people flock to see Insidious this weekend and scare themselves silly.

I love blood and gore in movies as much as the next horror fan, but I’m very tired of the so-called “torture porn” genre (which, somewhat ironically was kicked off by Saw). I hope that Insidious convinces audiences that a real horror movie doesn’t need to be gruesome and that, sometimes, there’s more to be scared of in the shadows of your own house than in some fictional faraway torture chamber.

Insidious trailer:

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Our Rating:

4 out of 5

TAGS: Insidious
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  1. This was terrifying – how cn anyone think otheriwse?? i missed half of it from looking between my fingers and from what I caould tell everyone else in the theatre too!

  2. Im quite disapointed that because the film was absolutly rubbish. Im not a big fan of horrors as they creep me out but that film didnt scare me at all!.
    I though the parents(in the movie) had allmost forgot about he other children instead of Daulton, I think the biggest surprise was the ending when it turns out the witch had survived instead(although i kinda was exspecting it..!)
    Plus I think that it was more a comedy that horror, me and my friend though the dancing thing through the window was hilerious!! And the monster looked a bit like the person from Starwars!! :D :D :D

  3. this movie is scary! worth every bucks I paid and I do recommend to watch this in a movie house than DVD.

  4. i loved incidious! one of the best horrors ive seen, literally had you sitting on the edge of your seat! apart from the fantastic scares, the story line was very excellently written and very original! couldnt have asked for a better horror!

  5. First time commenting, watched this last night, i read all reviews and friends recommending it, so went into it excited and looking forward to finally seeing a horror film that could scare me, first 20 minutes were in my opinion extremely boring, there’s no chemistry between the man and wife. after first 20 minutes it does pick up a little but for scare factor there was none, i laughed most of the way through it at how bad some the effects were.
    All in all id give this 1.5/5.
    It’s a good concept but, bad choices for the actors and actress’s and could have been scipted and done better.

    • For having a limited budget the effects were very decent.
      I admit though that when the husband goes into the layer, the monster looked a bit fake in a sense.
      But personally i think you’re wrong, the actors did an amazing job and the script was very sincerly unique.. how often do you see a movie with that much creativity?

  6. I still find it incredible how one comment can say “This movie wasn’t scary at all. It was cheesy. I didn’t like it” and the one right below it says “This is the scariest movie ever! I peed myself multiple times”. Haha

    I guess it just depends on what scares you…

  7. Just watched this yesterday night and I really enjoyed it although I do agree about the third act. The movie definitely had a very creepy feel for the first half and there was a LOT of suspense but the ending took away from it a bit. Don’t get me wrong, the final act was still very good and frightening as heck but some things are scarier when they are left to the imagination and showing the alternative universe (“the further” as it was referred to) took away some of the thrill factor for me and put me at ease.
    On the other hand, I am sure that many people will find the final act to be the scariest of them all but to me not knowing and imagining how things could be like is always scarier

    • same i watched it last night and it was soooooooo scary i had nightmares after the movie thinking of the red-faced devil.


  9. Personally I thought this movie was scary and i love scary movies but that movie was freaking awesome. I personally think that this movie should be rated higher than pg-13. that movie will give kids nightmares forever they wont want to go to sleep because they will think that they will get trapped into a parallel universe. Kids are very gullable and will believe everything. I think it is a bull rating and should be looked at again. But I think its great for teenagers and older people! I loved this movie!

  10. I think it was alright. I wasn’t scared at all, but it wasn’t too bad. Like most people said, the third act was a letdown. The one thing that annoyed me specifically, was those two tech guys. I understand there can be some comedy in a horror film but every time they talked to each other, that’s all they were! Those guys ruined the atmosphere for me. They weren’t even that funny. As for the “twist” ending, I expected that as soon as the dad let his son go on ahead. Overall, it had some faults, but it wasn’t all that bad. At least it didn’t turn into a slasher flick.

  11. My husband and i thought this movie was very freaky one of the better scary movies out there hands down……

  12. The plot is original enough for me. The first few minutes i almost think that it won’t work but as the film progresses it became very interesting. Highly recommendable. If you’re looking for a movie that will shake you this one might really do it.

  13. I thought the movie was brilliant – just the type of horror film I needed to send shivers down my back. People’s expectations for movie standards are becoming ridiculously high – this is a classic horror film that people need every now and then for a bit of scare-action! I for one was terrified – I only wish they didn’t show us the full figure of the demon, he looked scarier without the close-up. Other than that, the storyline kicked-ass! Come on – vampires and werewolves are currently dominating media – we need some demon/exorcist replacements!!

    Thumbs up for Insidious – would totally recommend to anyone (especially horror fans) looking for a creepy horror film to freak out over!

  14. i LOVED the demon! he was a legit demon. i bet thats what the real deamons look like. :) i hope so. i also am gonna draw him in my art class.

  15. You’ve got to be kidding me. What’s a scary movie without blood, there wasn’t a scene in this thing that made me flinch. And as for that bastard son of Darth Maul and Freddy Krueger, they call a demon, I wasn’t impressed. The claw sharpening scene was totally ripped from “Nightmare on Elm Street”.

  16. There are a little too much resemblance to poltergeist that i though it was a remake. However, despite the huge similarity, this movie is fantastic. Also, trying to explain a phenomenon with theory add more suspense than having no explanation like some crappy movie. 4.3/5

    Some of the ghost was well made..some failed….
    The most terrifying entity IS TERRIFYING, but look ridiculous after the third time

  17. It has been a while since I watched a good scary movie. I started to think that they just do not make them the way they used to. Then BOOM, Insidious comes out and scares the heck out of me. This is a great movie. It’s about time! There is something wrong with who ever does not like this movie. They probably think that scream is a good movie, even worse, scary. Ha! Tell me a movie you think is scarier than Insidious besides Exorcist.

  18. I really liked the movie. Im a scary movie hunter and the fact that it was original made it better. Very scary, although the beginning was very boresome.

  19. I think the movie gave me too many thoughts. I started off assuming that their son was being haunted but how? Something about him being able to leave his body while in a dream state and go into a “further world”? To me that makes it sort of confusing and slightly difficult to follow throughout the rest of the movie. Then, near the end it just gets worse? The boy’s father turned out to be the one to have passed it down to his son..he too could ‘dream’ and leave his body. Him having to leave his body..again sort of changes the haunting aspect of the movie and more of like a spiritual type thing. It seemed like an excorsism type thing except the opposite. The end was pretty frightening in a satisfying way but sort of leaves me with alot of questions? Like here we go again..what are they trying to say?

  20. It seemed pretty run of the mill and cliched to me. It was certainly more interesting than Saw but didn’t do much for me scare-wise… The ending was signposted and obvious for me, weakening the whole film by simply just allowing for a sequel – as you have to do with any over arched horror film like this. I’d give it three stars simply for the twist on the old idea and the quality of the acting even despite the hackneyed script and dull un-original cinematograghy.

  21. awesome movie……:) ;)

  22. I’m 10 and I thought it was awesome! Can’t believe people could be scared of a devil with hooves! It is comedy with a scary kick! The second one is just pure scary! The first one just sets the scene really! I can’t wait for a 3rd one ( because there has to be a third one… Right??