Review: ‘Insidious’

April 8, 2011, 12:32 a.m.

Review: 'Insidious'
Courtesy of Alliance Films

Insidious” has a pretty dumb marketing scheme, between its idiotic “Insidious is…Insidious” tagline, probably made up by someone who clearly has no idea what the word means, and its poster, featuring what appears to be a zombiefied Biebs. And it’s all a damn shame, given that “Insidious” is hands down one of the scariest movies to come around in a long time.

The film is the lovechild of two of today’s biggest horror franchises — it’s written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan, the duo behind “Saw” and produced by “Paranormal Activity” auteur Oren Peli.

At first glance, “Insidious” comes off as typical haunted house fare — unsettling clanking, some misplaced books here and there and your standard demonic gurglings rumbling through the baby monitor. Patrick Wilson (“The Phantom of the Opera”) and Rose Byrne (“28 Weeks Later”) play troubled couple Josh and Renai whose happy suburban idyll is suddenly disrupted when their oldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into a mysterious coma. The scare tactics are amped up from there on out, from “Paranormal Activity”-style scary-because-we-can’t-see-them to oh-my-god-terrifying-because-we-totally-do-see-them. The menacing spirits show their faces just enough for maximum fright, made even scarier thanks to their almost cartoonish appearances (the main demonic baddie shares the same makeup artist as Darth Maul). The tension is amplified by Joseph Bishara’s shrieking, over-the-top score. Scares come suddenly and from unexpected places — the 20s folk tune “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” will never sound like the same cheery old-timey song ever again.

The film is buoyed by sympathetic performances from Byrne and Wilson. As the frazzled and freaked out Renai, Byrne earns our empathy without grating on our nerves. Wilson plays Josh, the exasperated but loving skeptic who, for once, takes action and gets his family out of the house when things get weird. Unfortunately for them, it’s not the house that’s haunted, but their comatose son, Dalton. Enter Josh’s mom, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey — most recently seen as Natalie Portman’s creeptastic mother in “Black Swan”) who calls in the help of a psychic exorcist (Lin Shaye) and her bumbling team to summon Dalton back from the malevolent spirit world.

“Insidious” doesn’t break any new ground in the horror film genre. Whannell and Wan have already experienced that as the granddaddies of psychological torture porn with the “Saw” franchise as has Peli with “Paranormal Activity’s” grainy, low-budget footage (although you could argue that got started with “The Blair Witch Project”). But with “Insidious,” what they do manage is to effectively scare the living daylights out of you. It’s a solid, if not terribly original, B-movie that’ll keep you up for many nights to follow.

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