Director James Wan made his name in horror with Saw, which launched a thousand torture themed horror films, though often made by less skilled people. But in 2009, Wan found himself creating a more unique form of horror. He accomplished this be exploring an older school of fright, the supernatural thriller.
Insidious tells the story of a young family, headed by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. Rose’s Renai is staying home with their young baby and she is the first to notice strange occurrences. But they start to get more frightening, to the point of seeing things and hearing aggressive and angry voices. Josh (Wilson) is struggling at work, and coming home late, all the while thinking his wife is just unnerved by the new house. But when their son Dalton falls into a coma, things get more desperate. Josh’s mother steps in to help the couple, but she quickly comes to believe Renai. They call in help from an old friend of the mothers, Elise. Elise is a known psychic and has a paranormal support team.
It is revealed that the house is not haunted, rather Dalton is. Dalton is able to astrally project himself. Elise explains he has been likely able to do this so long, that it never scared him. However, it leaves his physical body available and other spirits are trying to get back to his body by keeping Dalton from returning.
The film is visually striking, with a beautiful combination of old school gothic horror and modern scary monsters. The primary two spirits attacking Dalton are an old woman with a long black dress and veil and an old school gargoyle type of demon who looks truly ghoulish.
Along with the visual designs of the ghosts and demons, the real star of the film is the sound design. Much like Hitchcock, Wan gets how important timing of stings and the volume of your surroundings can play in frights. The use of sound is near perfect in this film, with noises that can be emotionally unnerving.
The film has a good cast. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson provide some good humor to lighten the intense atmosphere, but not at the expense of seeming competent. Wilson and Byrne are very sympathetic as the couple. The standout is Lin Shaye. She has a warmth and kindness, but also a strength. This is one of her best roles (and no surprise they keep bringing her back to the films).
Insidious is a solidly made modern horror film that pays homage to classic horror and ghost stories.