Insidious (2010) – James Wan

Director James Wan, and writer Leigh Whannell’s Insidious is a fairly solid ghost story, though it took me forever to come around to it. My first experience seeing it was in the theatre, where I couldn’t get over how a couple in front of me was scared by everything that was happening on the screen. I had a much better time laughing at their reactions than I did watching the movie.

Wan knows his tropes, and how to work the story, and for this film, he loves his jump scares and musical stings.

Over the years, I’ve grown to enjoy it, and how it feels akin to the original Poltergeist; a suburban family that is plunged into something extraordinary, though there are some interesting reveals before the film’s end.

The Lamberts have just moved into a new home. There’s Josh (Patrick Wilson), Renai (Rose Byrne), and their sons, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor). Trouble starts from the moment they move in, visions of figures, doors opening, and closing, lights burning out, and things being moved without being seen.

Dalton falls into a strange coma at one point, and that is when things really begin to take off as strange events begin to multiply immediately. Plagued by these things the family turns to the help of one of Josh’s mother’s (Barbara Hershey) friends, Elise (Lin Shaye), and her team Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson).

The investigative team discovers that Dalton’s soul is stuck in something called The Further, and his empty body is drawing countless souls (and other things) that would use his body as an entry point into the world.

The family will have to come together to save themselves, with the help of Elise’s guiding hand, but will it be enough, and will they be ready for everything that is going to happen?

Wan knows the tropes, knows how to use the space in the film’s frame to leave the viewer unsettled and on edge, and uses haunted house and ghost story trappings to generate some cool (if familiar) scares.

I like the main cast, Wilson and Bryne are good together, and Shaye as the lead investigator is wonderful. The exploration of The Further is interestingly done, and certainly better than the dip into the other side we get in Poltergeist II.

There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of the story, a history that is hinted at, that surfaces finally as the film reaches its climax, and sets up a number of further interesting options. Options that will be explored because the film delivered its first sequel three years later.

It’s fun, spooky, gives a new twist on the ghost story while remembering the things about them that scared us. In this case, it’s all framing, angles, stings, and sound design, in effect turning Insidious into a solid haunted house experience for the viewer.

I’ve really grown to enjoy this first film over the years, so I think I’ll see how the follow-ups play out.


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