For me, the best kinds of horror movies are the ones that burn disturbing images in my brain so that I'm still seeing them and reliving the scenes back throughout the day...and especially night. The image of Reagan sitting on the bed smiling after her face has been distorted and damaged in The Exorcist. The closet door swinging open for a split second to show what happens when you watch "the tape" in The Ring. The little girl waking up in the middle of the night to see some kind of lightly panting thing crouched on the edge of her bed looking at her in Martyrs. These were all lasting scenes for me from some of the best horror movies ever made. Insidious came so close and then blew it though.
The film stars Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Lakeview Terrace) and Rose Byrne (Get Him to The Greek, 28 Weeks Later) as the loving parents of three kids who move into a new house. Neither are any strangers to horror and both have been in some very scary movies, but in this they both put in luke warm performances.
Although Insidious starts off as a cookie cutter haunted house story, it's still one of the best cookie cutters I've seen. The first half of the movie is scary as hell even if you're blind...I would know since I closed my eyes during some of the more suspenseful scenes. The use of slight creaks on wooden floors, slight whispers down hallways and even perfect silence puts you right on the very edge of your seat. The atmosphere is thick with spookiness.
However, the film takes a sad turn down "What The Hell Ln." once a psychic is called in, played by Lin Shaye (Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber). From that point on the scary moments come fewer and the overt, FX-laden action takes over. That's not to say there aren't some great moments in the second half though, including some much needed levity. I don't want to go into some of my heavy critiques due to giving too much away, but let's just say that Darth Maul should have stayed in Star Wars.
The movie is produced by Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), and written and directed by the two guys who gave us Saw. (Say what you will about how awful that series has gotten, the first two films are still really good.) Director James Wan has really proven himself to be a better caliber filmmaker than I gave him credit for. There are moments in Insidious where I felt like I was walking through a spook house at a carnival...and that's a good thing. He successfully creates a throwback to a certain stylized horror genre that was made famous in the '70s, almost like how Sam Raimi did with 2009's Drag Me to Hell.
Unfortunately the script isn't very original or conclusively satisfying, which is really too bad when you consider how powerfully spooky it begins. You'll definitely jump and be creeped out by Insidious, and if you leave with 25 minutes left to go you'll leave satisfied too.
Gavin Grade: B-