Why, oh why, do people move into those big Victorian-style homes; you know, the ones with too many rooms and too few lights to illuminate them? It can’t be for the coziness and charm! You’d think by now people would know that 90% of those houses, according to the Horror Convention Law, are conduits for evil (Poltergeist and Paranormal Activity take place in new houses that break that law). In Insidious, the first real scarefest of 2011, school teacher Josh (Patrick Wilson) and his aspiring musician wife Renai (Rose Byrne), thinking they will be a part of the 10% of old houses that are not creepy, move into such a home with their two young boys and newborn baby.
The cards for the Lambert family, sadly, don’t turn in their favor. The writing tandem best known for Saw, Leigh Whannell and James Wan, made sure of that.
We’re not long into the first half of Insidious when it is clear something is amiss. Youngster Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is the first to take notice, but as most kids would do with such subject matter, he keeps it to himself. Renai becomes acutely aware of other worldly presences after Dalton falls into a deep coma for which no doctor can explain the reason. While she becomes more agitated via the creepy noises and voices in unoccupied rooms, doors opening and closing on their own and the unexplained furniture movement, husband and protector of the family, Josh, brushes her off and buries himself further into his work. (If anyone can tell me why husbands react like this in every ghost movie, I’d be most obliged). Make no mistake about it though, while the methods employed in the portion of the movie are par for course, Wan does a damn good job keeping the audience on the edge of their seats.
Then in a 180-degree turn, the family moves and the movie switches gears from what appears to be a haunted house venture to an oddly comedic other-dimensiony flick. Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) calls for a psychic, once it is realized the unnatural continues to happen in the new location. Enter Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and her two assistants Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). She quips about astral planes and other nomenclature that only her ghost hunter helpers would (or should) care about; they joke and fumble around while trying to look like they’re serious professionals who know what they’re doing.
This half of the movie has plenty of fright worthy moments as well, but somewhere along its unfolding it loses some of the hard-earned steam it built up from the first half. It may have to do with the viewer having to buy into some new made-up mythology that gets explained and explained again or perhaps it is due to the comical anecdotes of the ghostbusters that at times felt out of place (I tend to lean more to the former). Throughout all of Insidious, however, Wan does an admirable job of creating an unhealthy environment through creative audio and visual effects (he should also earn an award for the imaginative use of the Tiny Tim track “Tip-toe Through the Tulips”).
Yet, even though the flow of Insidious is uneven, the whole is chuck full of genuine scares and creepiness — so much so that horror aficionados and those that just enjoy a good fright now and again, will both walk away feeling goosebumpy, anxious and, ultimately, satisfied.