From the overly drawn-out opening credits, with the Vincent-Price-styled blood-red font of the title, to the over-the-top horror movie “duh-DUH!” music, Insidious seems to be simultaneously trying too hard and not hard enough. When the audience is already getting impatient during the opening shots of black-and-white scary hallways and spooky faces in mirrors in the opening credits, the filmmakers should know that at that point they have to bring it. But Insidious, unfortunately, never does.
Now it is no fault of the actors involved that this movie sucks. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are fine actors in their own right. They play Josh and Renai, a married couple with a trio of cute kids. The young family moves into a house with a bad vibe (Look! Those books that Renai just unpacked onto a shelf are now on the floor! Ooooo!). One day, their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) goes into the attic (always a bad sign), falls off a ladder bumping his head, then the next day he has slipped into a mysterious coma that the doctors cannot explain. Flash forward three months later (well, now there’s an abrupt transition!), and Dalton is home in a hospital bed, hooked up to equipment, in his eternal snooze at the creepy house.
Of course dad Josh plays the absent father to his sad home life and stays late at the college, sleeping at his desk, telling his wife that he had to stay late to correct papers. In the meantime, Renai is losing her mind as she keeps seeing and hearing things in the house that are freaking her out. One thing leads to another (Gosh! I don’t really want to give away plot twists!), and eventually a spiritual medium (Lin Shaye, who does her best to liven things up) is pulled into the situation via a recommendation from Josh’s mom (Barbara Hershey!). Hell literally breaks loose with lots of violin screeches and soundtrack booms to supposedly scare the pants off the audience.
But Insidious is sloppy. For instance, it wasn’t just me (because I asked my companion later), but it was unclear for 15 minutes whether Barbara Hershey was Josh’s mom or Renai’s mom. Also, except for a couple creepy-crawly demon CGI moments, the special effects were crap. Throw some dry-ice smoke into a big dark room lit only by a lantern, and you have… the other side! Plus, the demons either look like singers from goth bands, or else the default scary-old-lady-from-Victorian-times. And, as the guy sitting behind me in the theater exclaimed with incredulity, “If you hear a rifle being cocked, you don’t walk toward the sound!”
Insidious rips off much better films, and poorly at that. This is Poltergeist-lite for anyone who doesn’t remember Poltergeist. Skip this one, and ask horror buffs for recommendations for scary movies that are actually scary.