Insidious is one of the few indie horror movies bold enough to develop a brand new mythology centered around hellish dimension, where the film’s final act takes place. While the set-up might be too silly for some, Insidious is a deeply terrifying film for those who are able to get lost in its sometimes surreal twists.
Insidious follows two parents whose son, Dalton, unexpectedly fall into a mysterious coma, after they move into an old house where they experience paranormal activity. As the parents struggle to understand and remedy their son’s condition, they soon realize that ghostly forces may be pulling Dalton into an astral dimension where he might be lost forever.
With a $1.5 million budget, Insidious had its world premiere in the Midnight Madness program at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 14, 2010. Less than 12 hours after its screening, the film was picked up for theatrical distribution. Insidious was distributed by FilmDistrict, an American independent motion picture company based in Los Angeles. Insidious marked the film company’s first theatrical release. Insidious was also screened at South by Southwest in mid-March 2011.
The film begins with an atmospheric haunted house set-up that establishes an underlying sense of dread, which remains present throughout the film. This is important, because much of Insidious’ old-fashioned, gore-free scares rely on building suspense.
The music and sound effects, like many plot devices in Insidious, are similar to Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell (2009). The sounds of demonic figures also add to the suspense. The scene featuring Tiny Tim’s 1968 rendition of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” was particularly nightmare-inducing and is perhaps one of the most frightening and memorable uses of music in a horror film, even if the song was originally a traditional pop tune.
Sourcing two dramatic actors to lead this film, the performances in Insidious are generally laudable. Much of Rose Byrne’s presentation of the film’s wife/mother is developed through Byrne reacting to the grim situations that put her loved ones in danger. And she effectively creates a gentle but enduring characters who is easy to sympathize with. Similarly, Patrick Wilson does an exceptional job of maintaining a sense of ambiguity with his portrayal of the standoffish father, making him a curious character to figure out.
Lin Shaye took on the role of a family friend who specializes in the investigation of paranormal activity. Her character reveals a much deeper connection to the Insidious mythos, and thus her character provides the narrative framework for the series. If Insidious is a haunted house attraction, Shaye’s character is the guide– with two goofy assistance for comic relief.
The shift from the somewhat grounded first half to the perilous parallel dimension, called The Further, is jarring but satisfying. More of the Insidious entities are introduced here; there are seven total. And their presentation is in keeping with The Further’s hellish ambiance. The spookiness is further elevated by the idea that the Further is separated to our sense of reality by a thin (and tearing) veil– a concept that is more deeply explored in Insidious: Chapter 2.
Insidious provides enough resonating frights that should entice fantasy horror enthusiasts enough to stay tuned for its sequels. Director James Wan has a profound respect and knowledge of the horror genre. And that’s never more apparent than in Insidious.
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