I tried not to read too many good things about Insidious because everything I was reading about it, was good. I've already talked about how much I like this film's team and I will talk about them again tonight, but not just yet.
Insidious starts out by introducing us to the Lamberts: Josh (Patrick Wilson), Renai (Rose Byrne) and their children; Dalton, Foster and a baby girl (with no IMDb credit). They've just moved into a lovely Arts and Crafts-style house, perfect for a growing family. Almost immediately, weird things start to happen and soon Dalton (Ty Simpkins) has a fall and a scare while exploring the attic, resulting in what appears to be a medically inexplicable coma of some kind.
When they finally bring the boy home from the hospital, the weirdness gets weirder and creepier and just too much for Renai and she begs Josh to move them away from what she is convinced is a haunted house. And they do. And they soon find out... well, let's just say it wasn't the house that was the problem.
Leigh Whannell's taut script heavily references Tobe Hooper's Poltergeist in both structure and themes, while injecting elements of both Saw's Steam Punk aesthetics and Dead Silence's creepy old lady imagery. There's nothing truly new about the plot itself, but director James Wan is at his best when working with a script by Whannell. Together, they manage to inject new life into some classic genre tropes, producing a tense and shock-filled thriller that delivers on all sorts of levels, without a drop of blood or a profanity worse than 'bitch.' Wilson and Byrne are both very good here, putting their own spins on characters we've seen before, even handling Whannell's deliberately cliched dialog (at least I hope it was deliberately) with the appropriate seriousness to make us want to believe in what's happening. Hershey is Josh's mother and does well with a role only slightly bigger than in Black Swan. Character actor Lin Shaye is the Dr. Lesh/Tangina combination character, assisted by her own nerdy psi-techs Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), neither of whom pull apart their own faces, but both of whom experience some pretty terrifying things. And Insidious does take us somewhere Poltergeist didn't, doing so quite admirably and very scarily...
It is great to see both Wan and Whannell grow as artists. Whannell's script is cleverly derivative, building on the best ghost/demon/possession movies that have come before and still providing a twist that I only half figured out. Wan's eye for detail has never been better and he lets the camera move about like a voyeur at times, peeking around corners and passing images that may or may not mean something. And when Wan finally does let us see, what we see doesn't disappoint in the least. While Saw may have been a genre ground breaker for the duo, Insidious is a return to honest horror. You know what I'm talking about. The kind of horror where your imagination starts kicking in and what you can't see or almost see is just as scary as what you do see. Unlike the abysmal Paranormal Activity (whose director, Oren Pelli serves as producer, here), Insidious doesn't waste time getting down to the good stuff and then it keeps the good stuff coming right up to the end. Joseph Bishara's score may be a bit overzealous (not to mention deliberately LOUD at times) but that's a quibble, more than anything.
Wan and Whannell have once again impressed this jaded old Horror junkie with a rare thing, a truly excellent Horror movie. **** (Four out of Four Stars). If you're genre fan, do yourself a favor and see Insidious.