Insidious is terrifying in a completely different way than most horror movies. While the genre continues to creep toward exorcisms, thrill killers and the mentally deranged, Insidious finds its inspiration in long-forgotten side shows and unnerving pseudoscience fiction stories that blend homemade gadgets and the supernatural. It’s not out to scare viewers as much as it is to creep them out. With a throwback title card, off-putting score and a team of good-natured demon hunters you might run into at a church flea market, the film is like watching a bearded lady rotate sentences between a Philip K Dick short story and an H.P. Lovecraft weird tale. I’m still not sure exactly what I watched, but something tells me it’s worth recommending.
The Lambert’s have just moved into a new house. Renai (Rose Byrne) quit her job to focus on music and raise the kids, but the latter is proving to be more time-consuming than expected. There’s boxes to unpack, a baby who won’t stop crying and a husband (Patrick Wilson) who’s becoming increasingly distant. Josh assures her nothing’s wrong, but something feels off. She knows it. She just can’t put her finger on what. Unfortunately, that proof comes by way of a terrible accident. Oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) goes exploring in the attic and lands on his head. Apart from a few bumps and bruises, he initially seems fine but fails to wake up the following morning. He’s rushed to the hospital where the puzzled doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong. He’s not in a coma. He just won’t wake up.
Renai wakes up all the time. Anonymous eyes seem to be upon her. Something is inside the house. It’s sporadic at first, but after Dalton, still in his non-coma, is moved back home, the strange incidents start becoming more noticeable. Doors open in the middle of the night, alarms go off and there’s weird whisperings on the baby monitor. Tired, scared and fed up, the Lambert’s once again move to a new house, but their exodus only makes things worse. Bloody handprints are found on Dalton’s bed and faces appear in the windows almost nightly. After Josh’s mother witnesses a horrifying red-faced figure herself, she recommends the couple phone her old friend Elise (Lin Shaye).
In preparation for her visit, Elise sends a two-man team of demon hunters to inspect the authenticity of the haunting claim. Scanning the ceilings for poisonous fumes to weed out the hallucinators and yelling at Josh for taking action figures out of their boxes, the Mutt and Jeff pair serve as a strange and wonderful precursor to their boss, who over-emphatically concludes there’s an epic problem at hand. Dalton is an astraltraveler. He leaves his body at night to voyage into the further, a sketchy realm where dead souls congregate, reliving horrors and coaxing the living into abandoning their Earthly bodies. There, he’s been taken prisoner by a devil-looking psychopath who climbs walls, listens to old wind-up music and wants to inhabit his body to embark on a murderous rampage.
As I told you in the opening paragraph, Insidious is undeniably weird. In fact, the three-pronged solution to this kidnapping problem involves 1) a vacuum hose, 2) a gas mask and 3) flash bulbs and somehow still seems rational. It’s all outlandish theater of the highest order, and in an age where most horror movies feel the need to account for all their eccentricities, it’s very refreshing to see a picture allow itself irregularities. Who’s to say demon hunters wouldn’t constantly squabble amongst themselves over who’s job is more pertinent? Who’s to say a demon wouldn’t have a second floor office outfitted with antiques? Or a little kid wouldn’t stare at himself sleep for hours if he had the ability? When you’ve gone so far as to accept an alternate reality where people can travel outside their bodies, you might as well let the filmmaker have enough leeway to complete his vision.
Insidious is not for everyone. Hell, it might not even be for most, but if you’re read all this and still seem interested, I highly recommend you check it out. In five years, if I’m flipping channels and see any twenty second excerpt from this film, I guarantee I won’t need the guide to tell me I’m watching Insidious. Not many movies can say that. There will be a hundred films like Saw before there’s another one like this. It’s a good thing too. I’m not sure my nerves could handle it.