‘Insidious’ Review

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

insidious banner image Insidious Review
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. Well, it was between this and Source Code this weekend (Would have been both, but we’ve got a VERY busy weekend ahead of us).

    Thanks to this review though, we will definitely be checking this one out! Can’t wait to see it.

    • source code had a 89 on rotten tomatoes, and this movie a 5.8

      • Yes, we should probably just do a compilation of Rotten Tomatoes reviews instead of writing our own.


        • I think there should be multiple writers reviewing each movie. Therefore its a more reliable source for what the general consensus is.

          • Or… you could just read reviews on different websites. :)

            Ideally, I’d love to do all the reviews myself, but I don’t have the time. What I can tell you though is that the folks that I allow to review films here generally have the same opinions on the films – so while scores may vary, overall you’d probably see a similar take on a film regardless of which of our writers review it.


            • im with vic! :D

  2. Does it deserve its PG-13 rating Rob?

    • There’s little profanity and no real violence, so PG-13 is the right rating. It’s definitely scary though, so I wouldn’t recommend bringing young ones.

      • Well, I have never said that there had to be tons of gore or even four lettered words for a horror movie to be scary, I’m more worried about the tone of the film. Even without the f-bombs that Paranormal Activity had, it had that R rated tone/feel to it.

        • A good comparison is Drag Me To Hell, which also got a PG-13 rating (though it probably pushed the MPAA to its very limits). Tonally, Drag Me to Hell is more fun and self-aware, whereas Insidious is generally more serious, but I would give both of them 4/5 star ratings.

          • Well, after watching Drag a second time, I will admit I did like it a lot more than I did the first time I saw it.

      • Rob,

        I want to see this. Just have to find someone willing to go with me. :)


        • Hey Vic, hop over to West Virginia and I’ll treat ya. :)

          • INK,

            Long way to go for a free movie. :)


            • What if he offered to pick up the air fare too LOL.

    • I talked with a bud that is in the industry. Both he and I agree this movie was incorrectly rated. IT should have been rated R and this is why. We both noticed 8-12 yr old kids running in and out of the theatre. Nervously fidgeting and basically scared out of their minds. The teenagers laughed and walked in packs in and out of the theatre. To rate it PG13 is Insidiously evil. Leave your kids at home at any age up to 16 I’d say. Just my opinion. This movie did not let up and there was little to no comic relief except at the very beginning.

  3. Yesss. I had a feeling this would be a good old fashioned scary movie with a modern twist. I think im gonna go catch this tonight with the girl. I knew when I saw the trailer last night and critics were calling it “unsettling” and “disturbing” that this could be a special movie. I guess I was right, thanks for the review :)

  4. Did you catch the Saw reference earlier in the movie?

    • Yeah. That had the audience I saw it with laughing pretty hard.

  5. The trailer I saw of this in the theater freaked me out. That hasn’t happened in a VERY long time. Good to hear it is worth the watch.

  6. Thanks for the review. I will be checking it out this weekend for sure.

  7. Agree on all counts. But if the film tanks this weekend, Hollywood will trot out more remakes and sequels and forgo original stories. I hope horror fans don’t let that happen. Go support a smart, well crafted movie!

  8. I always trust Screen Rant, so I’m glad to hear that you gave it a positive review! Can’t wait to see it !

    • OMG what a funny, yet gross Screen Name^ hahahahahaha

      • If it’s a dude, I’m betting there is absolutely know way this can be true. A chic … possible. But a dude … nope. Of course I’m a heterosexual male so …I may be a little biased. :)

  9. Good to hear that we are getting a good U.S. horror movie! As much as I love the foreign ones like “Martyrrs” and “Inside”, not reading subtitles is a plus!

  10. It sounds like you scare easy,,,


  11. I saw this movie tonight and I’m still creeped out! My wife screamed at the top of her lungs six times and I tried to act tough but I was honestly cringing inside. Easily the scariest movie I’ve seen in years. I was very interested to see what the review would be since I usually check this website first. Dead on review. Go see the movie people.

    • im going to see it tomorrow night! can you kind of see the jump parts coming or are the unexpected? :/

      • Both, but even the ones your expecting scared the heck out of me. Really well crafted jump scenes!

  12. Saw the movie. Enjoyed it very much. However, I tire of the same silly, predictable twist at the end. Whatever happened to a good movie just ending good in horror films?

  13. This review is clearly written with mainstream flavor for the genre. What you need 6 different perspectives on “lnsidious” before you shell out the $20? Come on man.

    Its a horror film your either using it as a date or your a fan, stop whinning about the review.

    And nobody here gives a damn about rottn tomatoes. So don’t bother me with that bs.

  14. Good review – I had no interest in this movie but I do now.

    Paranormal Activity was boring and short on any paranormal happenings that were even scary. Hated it.

  15. Went to see it last night with my wife. Compared to all the lame, boring, same old, “scary” movies coming out this was origional and actually scary. My wife made us sleep with the light on last night. She and I love scary movies, watch them all the time – and that has never happened in the 9 years we’ve been married!
    5 stars – Go see it – Best movie I’ve seen in a long time!

    • will be going to see because of your posting. Good luck on movies sir deuces

  16. Insidious is one movie I havent seen in a long time, which it keeps you entertained and on your toes to see what happends, the ending was different, and I think it could of been different to make it better, but overall its worth going to see. I would give it a 4/5 stars

  17. Sounds like a good movie, been looking for a good scare. Thanks for the tips

  18. Was a great movie! GO SEE IT!

  19. This movie was one of the scariest movie Ive seen and I love horror movies. Please do not take your kids there as it will leave nightmares. Overall, it was very good and a great twist.

  20. So people have been comparing it to drag me to hell, is that a good comparison? the previews for this movie do not look scary nor do any pictures or storylines i’ve seen. And I’ve seen drag me to hell and when I was doubled over laughing I was painting my nails out of sheer boredom. I’m looking for a movie to scare me, is this the one? paranormal activity was dumb in my opinion (people have compared it to that) and dead silence was boring, and saw was good but it isnt really a horror movie.

    • The only reason it is compared to Paranormal Activity is because its made by the same people. And has the same director of Saw. Haven’t seen Drag Me to Hell so I can’t say. However what I CAN say that this is truly the first movie that has given me sleepless nights since I saw The Exorcist for the first time 9 years ago. Truly terrifying and had me watching some scenes through my fingers. While in the third act there is some comic relief, the scares take advantage of that to knock you offguard. I had to hold my girl down in her seat to keep her running out of the theatre

    • This is not even remotely close to Drag Me to Hell. Who’s been making that comparison?


  21. This movie was not scary at all, it was actually very lame. The visual effects were bad and the story was worse.

    • Yeah. I have to agree. I’m ashamed to say that I actually suffered a few “less than manly” moments walking around my house late at night after seeing the FIRST paranormal activity, but this movie was a major letdown. I thought the “evil spirits” (especially the main protagonist)looked more cheesy than frightening and the “string heavy score” still came off as cheap. Really hasn’t worked on me since I entered adulthood I guess. Haha. Oh, and the ending (last scene with the couple), just annoyed the hell out of me.


      My one positive note is that I thought the whole “astral projection explanation” was as clever as it was unique (if it’s been used before I certainly haven’t seen it). This is mainly why I was so letdown by the simple, plain, predictable, and boring finale we were left with. they could have done SO much more with the ending playing with that whole idea. But oh well.

  22. Sorry, but it wasn’t all that scary to me. True, it is the best ‘scary movie’ I’ve seen in a long time, but it just wasn’t all THAT scary. The last half seemed to drag on way too long and the ending (the final ‘twist’) wasn’t a twist at all: I saw it coming for the last 30 minutes.

    I think the problem lies with Hollywood putting out such mediocre crap for the last two decades that we’ve been lulled into a state of expecting bad movies, so that when a half-decent movie like “Insidious” comes along, everybody sings its praises.

    We should demand better entertainment for our hard-earned money instead of all these remakes (or “re-interpretations”) that have been foisted on us for too long. Doesn’t anyone in Hollywood have a new idea?

    Overall, I’d give “Insidious” 3/5 stars.

  23. I thought the movie was scary but I got over it but it wAs good

  24. This movie was terribly cheesy and laughable in many parts. Sure, it was startling at times, but the plot was horrendous. The demons looked like toys and none of it made sense. It looked like the writers had specific spooky scenes they wanted to film and they just wrote some loose plot around it to be able to include them all. I guess if you were into PA, you might enjoy the extremely far out explanations, but I need something realistic to genuinely frighten me. And its hard to take Jackie Q seriously after Get Him To the Greek.

    • This movie would have been a bigger waste of my time if it wasn’t so incredibly stupid because i was able to spend half of the time laughing at it. Seriously, it seemed like a long snl skit.

  25. I actually liked this movie. It’s the best scary film I have seen in a while. Sure it was fun and delirious, but i liked it overall. Let’s just say I didn’t waste my time.

  26. I mediocre horror film at best. Much like a good roller coaster ride, it’s it’s jump-out-at-you imagery is good for a few thrills and for getting that chick your dating to hold you tight in the theater, but that’s about it. Criticism: the main baddie basically is the ghost of Darth Maul from the first Star Wars; the ending basically screams “WE’RE MAKING A SEQUEL!” in a pretty obvious way; and the film shows the ghosts so often that they lose their scariness. I mean, I’d be frightened the first dozen times I saw them, but then I’d be like, “Okay dude, you’re a ghost. I get it. Wanna beer and watch the Mets game?”

    • That was pretty much how I felt about it, too, Preston.

      I did enjoy the originality of AP explanation, but it only explained some of what was going on. There seemed to be a lot of scenes thrown in there with no purpose other than to up the creep-factor. And I admit, a lot of those scenes are pretty creepy. But they’re also so overdone that by the time I was halfway through the movie, I was pretty much numb to them and they became comical, making their superfluous nature more noticeable.

      Being 30 and having watched scary movies since I was a kid, I can only say that coming up with truly original plots and effects for scary movies is pretty rare, and must be a difficult task. I appreciate the psychological aspect of the movie. Blood and guts aren’t really my thing, so it’s nice to see these guys know how to write a thriller that doesn’t rely on manipulative gimmicks to make the audience feel horrified. Even with all its downfalls, Insidious has enough well-played scenes to save it from falling flat on its face. I think it’s good for what it is, although nowhere near as creepy as the trailer. Sometimes less is more.

  27. Scariest movie in the last 10 years easily. Plot was actually sound, and on a low budget the directors did exceptionally. Definitely a must see

  28. i personally liked the movie.
    The way it ended though was left off with the feel the there should be a sequel.
    Knowing that the woman who has followed him for so long is him now, what happens with his wife? And it never showed in the end who got to Daltin first! The demon or Daltin. So yeah it left me hanging, and if there isn’t a sequel, yes i would say the movie was bad.
    but if it does have a sequel and shows what happens, I’ll be more than glad to go watch it. It did scare me, but it left alot of unanswered questions to viewers. so yeah hope this helps :)

  29. This film was more funny than scary, where are all the decent real scary movies gone?! they dont even make any realistic horrors any more. And they could have made the the main scary character alot more scary its like something out of a kids horror book.