Insidious (***)

One of the scariest films I’ve seen in quite some time, Insidious is the perfect horror movie for just over an hour.  The last 30-40 minutes are still good, but not on the same level.  I say this up front because I want everyone to know that the first hour alone is worth the price of admission.

Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell have put a new spin on an old genre (the haunted house/possessed child brand of fright flicks).  It’s not that they’re doing anything too different, but they just do it in such a fantastically effective way.  Their execution is impeccable.  Up until the hour mark (where some things need to be explained to move the plot forward), I was sure I was seeing a classic horror movie.  While I didn’t end up getting that, this is still a really good scary movie that deserves to be seen by any fan of the genre.

The Lambert family is the picture of normalcy.  Father Josh (Patrick Wilson) is a teacher, mother Renai (Rose Byrne) is a songwriter and a housewife, and they have 3 children in Dalton (Ty Simpkins), Foster (Andrew Astor), and a little baby.  They’ve moved into a spooky old house, and as expected, it begins to act freaky.  Renai is scared, but Josh promises her everything will be okay.  Soon after, Dalton sees something in the attic, and a day later is in an unexplained coma.  The frightening images and sounds continue to plague Renai, and when it becomes unbearable for the Lamberts, the do something unheard of in horror movies like this…they move!

To their horror, the darkness has followed them, and it’s revealed that it wasn’t the house that was out to get them after all.  Something older and eviler is at foot, and it will take a lot to save their son, who’s trapped in another world.

The actors bring their A game and really sell the material.  Byrne especially gives it her all and really lets loose.  You feel her terror.

It’s one of the better horror movie heroine roles I’ve seen in a while.  Wilson is the doubter for the first half of the movie, but when the plot moves forward, he really takes center stage in the final act.  Neither of the child actors leaves an impression, but I doubt they were meant to.  In supporting roles, we have Barbara Hershey doing a nice job as Josh’s mother who’s the bearer of some bad news, Lin Shaye chewing the scenery as someone who can hopefully help the Lambert family, and Angus Sampson and Whannell as her ghost busting assistants.  They all appear to be having a great time, and so are we.

James Wan and Leigh Whannell are essentially a filmmaking team now, and they made their first impressions on us when they teamed up to make Saw.  I consider that film a classic, and while this is a different animal, it also shares the same incredible sense of atmosphere.  Wan shoots the film inventively, and Whannell writes the movie in a certain way in order to maximize the terror as well as the fun.  They can’t sustain the amazingly effective scares the whole way through, but the third act does have a very old school feel (complete with fog).  I’m very interested to see what Wan and Whannell plan to do next, as they’re a welcome voice in the genre.  Also, I quickly have to praise them for not making a PG-13 horror movie that feels chopped up to get teenage ticket sales.  This is a super intense movie that doesn’t need an R rating to scare the crap out of you.

Insidious is a roller coaster ride of a movie.  If you have any enjoyment of horror, you owe it to yourself to see this.  I’m a horror fan but a pretty jaded one, and I ate this flick up.  I left with a big grin on my face, and if you think like I do, you will as well.  It’s a really fun time

at the movies.  Strap in and be prepared to scream!