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It’s a Haunted Child, not a House

Movie Review: Insidious (2010/Release 2011)
Summary: A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.
Spoilers: none

There is a dichotomy to be found in horror movies involving evil demonic entities and their virtual opposites in the land of the living, small and innocent children.

Before Insidious, there were movies like Poltergeist (1982) and Village of the Damned (1960), which were, are, and will continue to be examples of great horror moviemaking. These films, where children are at the heart of a supernatural struggle or conflict, are all the more memorable because of their presence in the integral setup.

This fascinating dichotomy has long been doing its work on audiences, and in a different setup in movies like Bad Seed (1956), where the child was pure evil him/herself with help from no outside entities. And nothing has changed in 2011, nor can we imagine there will come a change at any future point. Children in horror movies become objects of great fascination.

Directed by James Wan (one of the lead writers who brought us the Saw series and Paranormal Activity), Insidious is about a family that moves into a new house. “Josh” and “Renai” Lambert (Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne) and their two sons, “Dalton” (Ty Simpkins) and “Foster” (Andrew Astor) are getting settled into their new home when Dalton suffers a fall in the attic.

By the next day, the boy is in a coma and doctors can’t find out why. His brain appears to be normal with no signs of trauma from the injury. Making matters worse at home, strange and terrifying things are starting to happen and the Lamberts' comatose son appears to be at the heart of them, even when in an explanation-defying sleep.

Exceptionally slow-moving from the outset, Insidious has an established and well-timed rhythm that works at building up and luring in its audience. And while their are a number of familiar elements here that won’t go unnoticed by audiences (doors closing, a family moving into a new house to face a haunting, a wise female spirit guide, “Elise Rainier” (Lin Shaye), and a father who is no doubt intended to look a lot like “Steve Freeling” played by Craig T. Nelson in Poltergeist), Insidious is a venomously scary film that has earned what it can display of its stripes.

Its strong story goes out of its way to bring in a few new elements that don’t fall back on its classic formatting. These involve elements like astral-projecting and being lost outside of one’s body to go with the more traditional haunting elements as found in Exorcist and Poltergeist, from which this one does its share of borrowing.

We are only let down in a final segment that displays both problems with lighting and imagery, served up in some dense writing that becomes grossly ineffective at making an impression on audiences. It is the ending that is the film’s undoing, a hasty and poorly written final segment that is underwhelming and certainly doesn’t match the film’s slow and stern take-off that managed to catapult the project into a memorable status.

The stout performances, however, are another high note, which include a performance by Barbara Hershey as “Lorraine Lambert,” that will be taken into account by audiences and go a long way with some in getting forgiveness for its final fumbles.

(JH)

Grade: C+ (2 ½ stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language)
Director: James Wan
Starring: “Josh Lambert” (Patrick Wilson), “Renai Lambert” (Rose Byrne), “Dalton Lambert” (Ty Simpkins), “Foster Lambert” (Andrew Astor), “Elise Rainier” (Lin Shaye), “Specs” (Leigh Whannell), “Tucker” (Angus Sampson), “Lorraine Lambert” (Barbara Hershey)
Genre: Fantasy / Horror / Thriller
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