Insidious (Rated PG-13) • 5 STARS
Insidious (103 minutes) slid in completely under my radar. I keep alphabetized lists of upcoming horror movies, and somehow this marvelous little gem completely escaped my notice. Director James Wan (Saw) does an absolutely fantastic job of terrifying the audience, somehow managing to reinvent overused clichés that shouldn’t still be scary, but are. Of course, Wan is directing from a script by long-time collaborator Leigh Whannell (Saw), so that might have something to do with how awesome everything turned out.
The film begins with some pretty nifty opening credits. If you have an eye for detail you can play spot the spooky shadowy person shape in almost every shot. The music sets just the right tone, with jangling discordant notes introducing the larger than life title cards in way that is usually only accomplished with classic Spaghetti Westerns. The soundtrack is nicely atmospheric throughout the film, especially the use of “Tiptoe through the Tulips.”
Renai (Rose Byrne), who pretty much deserves what happens to her because of the way she spells her name, and her husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) move into a new home. How they can afford the rent on the near mansion that they are renting is a bit of a mystery, even if these troubled economic times are causing below market prices. Perhaps public school teachers and out of work composers make more money than I think they do?
Well, in this case suspension of disbelief might be worth a little extra effort, because the extra-large house offers extra-long curvy stairs and lots of secret nooks to conceal creepy-crawlies. And too bad for the kids, the creepy-crawlies are everywhere.
One of the kids, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) heads up into the attic. He falls off a ladder and ends up in a mysterious coma, not that there was any cause and effect to that sequence of events. Once Dalton is brought home, weird dudes with claws begin appearing all over the house. After some terrifying scenes in which Renai and her stupidly spelled name hear strange stuff over the baby monitor, Josh begins to stay late at work. Why she does not immediately divorce him for leaving her alone with three kids in the haunted house is unclear. Instead of counseling, they decide that a new ghost-free house will solve their non-coma related issues.
Once in the new house we meet Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey, fresh off her success in Black Swan). Like, Renai, she “feels” that there is evil following the family around, and since women are so intuitive and feel things so much more than men do, she manages to convince her more skeptical son to call in the Ghostbusters. The Ghostbusters (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) arrive with homemade toys, but it turns out they are just the opening act. Once they have verified the spooky goings on are not the product of anyone’s imagination, they call in the real psychic.
Tangina, I mean, Elise (played here by Lin Shaye instead of Zelda Rubinstein) is apparently an old friend of Loretta’s. How did Loretta find her? Well, I am sure it is an interesting story, but we don’t get to hear it. Elise wanders around muttering to herself in an intensely spiritual way, and finally tells them why their son is in that mysterious coma.
Although Josh tries to give her the boot at first, he finally allows Elise to work her mojo in the house, which leads to some very Baroque set pieces. I am from the section of the audience that Loved, Loved, Loved, every second of the final scenes in all their ostentatious glory. There is, however, a whole other section of the audience that will do nothing but complain about the seeming hard left taken by the filmmakers. You know what? They should stop whining, because the movie, and its ending, is awesome.