Insidious: Further down the Poltergeist Road

Insidious – 2010

Directed by James Wan

Starring Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Angus Simpson, Andrew Astor

Written by Leigh Whannell

Even before the credits start to roll, subtle signs creep their way through not so subtle music.  Hints are given, locations revealed that are nowhere in the first half of the movie.  Thing is, some of the locations are there.  Stuff like this keeps you guessing what is happening in the story of Insidious.  It starts out as your typical haunted house fare.  Mom and the kids are at home, witnessing weird stuff.  Dad stays, conveniently, later and later at work.  Before you can say you’ve seen this before, the film takes a turn, and switches locations.  This move is one of the keys to taking the viewer along.

Haunted house movies are keyed on place.  You get a good house, like George C. Scott’s The Changeling, or, perhaps, Poltergeist, and you are half way there.  Problem is, most movies stay at the half-way point.  Wan and Whannell, the creators of the  Saw series, have become decent groomers of tension.  Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, as Renai and Josh Lambert,  have a chemistry that seems distant at first.  As the story proceeds, we see that this choice is intentional.   As their eldest has a mysterious fall and slips into a coma, subsequently, the tension rises, and then, in an unusual move, Josh agrees to move the family.

One truly shocking moment...wait, didn't he kill Qui Gon?

Helping the family to unpack, we are finally introduced to Josh’s mother Lorraine, played with an unusual straightforwardness by Barbara Hershey.  It does not take long for things to get even weirder, however.  This time, though, with Lorraine’s help, we find out that there is more to this than just a house.  Bringing in as team of specialists, lead by Farrelly Brothers favorite, Lin Shaye, they look at the current circumstance and make a discovery that sends Josh into an abyss to find his son.

This is played out with a mixture of goofiness and sincerity that helps the movie to prevail above its predictability and the fact that a bad guy looks a lot like Darth Maul.  The camera work, ranging from quick flashes, shadow work to images melting into and out of the background offer a decent homage to classic films.  The collection of ghosts and ghouls is memorable in their variety and in the fact that they are not the main thrust here.  Extra credit goes to the use of the song “Tiptoe Through The Tulips,” which is about the most evil song I have ever heard recorded.  It is used quite appropriately here, helping to set the frantic tone for the rest of the film.  The best thing about the film is not the questions answered, rather those unanswered.  That is really the only place a ghost story can go.

(***1/2 out of *****)

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