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Blu-ray Review: Insidious (2011)

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Insidious is a love it or hate it sort of movie. It is a PG-13 horror movie from the creators of Saw and does not really feature all that much in the way of gore. Instead of blood, Insidious goes in the other direction and attempts to make you jump every few minutes. You see, rather than delivering “torture porn,” the team of James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell (writer and supporting cast member) have taken a journey into the world of the haunted house movie and the end result is rather good. Frankly, this is a quite a strong film that is unlike the majority of modern horror and while it is a modern film, it pays homage to the films of the past with touches of old school appeal.

If you have concerns over the PG-13 rating, don’t. I mean, while it is not exactly a welcome rating among the horror community, it is still possible to make a solid horror movie without the need for an R rating. This is not a case of filmmakers compromising to get their movie made, sure there could have been more extreme content, but it really isn’t needed, what is here is pretty scary enough and buckets of gore would likely have just distracted from the more jumpy moments and psychological content. Insidious is the movie the filmmakers wanted and it just happened to be a PG-13. No compromise here, at least not that I can detect.

As for the movie, Insidious is indeed insidious. The movie is appears initially harmless but grows increasingly treacherous. It is haunted house horror movie constructed from the familiar and crafted into something fresh and new. James Wan’s film relies on the repeated build of tension resulting in something of a jump scare release, not unlike a theme park attraction, be it a haunted house or roller coaster. It is frightening by implication as opposed to putting it all right out in the open.

The movie introduces us to the Lambert family as they move into a new house. Before they can even get settled in, strange things begin to happen, primarily experienced by Renais (Rose Byrne). Items are found in different places, strange noises are heard, all types of things we as horror fans know to stay away from, too bad Renais is in a different reality and doesn’t know she is in a horror movie. Soon enough one of their boys, Dalton, has fallen into a bizarre coma-like state that doctors are a a loss to explain.

Now this is where the movie begins to gather up some steam. Renais starts experiencing more phenomena as the paranormal activity starts to become more pronounced. Her husband, Josh (Patrick Wilson), is having a hard time coming to grips with it and it takes a toll on their relationship. Why shouldn’t it? As if having a child in an unexplainable coma-like state isn’t enough, your wife seems to be slowly coming apart at the seems. This would surely tale a toll on anyone’s relationship. A psychic and her assistants are brought in and things take an even more bizarre turn that is better experienced than read in a review.

Insidious is all about tone and feel, whatever story there is is incidental, a by product of creating that haunted mansion atmosphere. While there is a story, it really comes in second place to the creepy atmosphere. It is a movie that is unsettling, unnerving, and really rather strange. This movie is all about the ride, the curiosity of what lay just around the corner.

Insidious feels like Poltergeist if it were made in Japan. It is not quite as gonzo as Hausu, but it is certainly headed in that direction, and let’s toss in some Suspira-like style of Dario Argento, just for good measure. Perhaps even add a dash of Paranormal Activity and there you have it. Insidious really has some of those Japanese touches, where once trapped in the haunting, there is little hope of escape.

James Wan is a skilled director and this proves that he is more than a gore-hound (although the lesser seen Death Sentence and Dead Silence also help). This is movie not without is dose of cheese but it is all on purpose, calculated and well executed. Insidious delivers its scares, but it is the up and down ride that makes it satisfying. It builds, builds, builds, gives a jump and then resets the counter. Wan paces it well and I was there for every minute of it. Leigh Whannell has written screenplay that is funny, fun, and effective in it’s scare tactics.

The performances are decent and work well within the confines of the haunted house movie. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are a believable couple struggling to cope with their son’s coma as well as the apparent haunting. Lin Shaye is great as the psychic, she is a lot of fun in this role (especially when she dons the WWII era gas mask for a seance!). Also, don’t forget about the Geek Squad ghost busting duo of Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson serving as comedic relief and as Lin Shaye’s assistants.

Audio/Video. The movie is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and the 1080p transfer looks really quite good. The movie was shot digitally and it has that look to it, perhaps a touch flat, but demonstrating great detail and really solid blacks. This is a movie that has washed out colors and largely naturalistic looking lighting. There is no wavering in the detail, it looks particularly good in closeups where you can see all the details of the actors’ faces. In particular, Lin Shaye looks comes across great in HD with her aging face conveying a lot of emotion. Also, the shots of Dalton’s drawings are represented very well. This is not a bight and colorful movie, it is one that exists with a great deal of shadow and the Blu-ray presentation does it justice.

The audio track is DTS-HD MA 5.1 and it is an involving work that goes right along with the high quality of the image. There are a host of nicely executed sound effects that use the entire sound field to put you right in the middle of it all when everything begins to go sideways. Creeks and pops surround you as the score builds to high pitched crescendos. Yes, there are a lot of musical stings that intend to make you jump, but unlike so many other movies in recent years, the work perfectly here. Just be prepared for wildly shifting sound levels, it is by design.

Extras. This release is a little light in bonus features department.

  • Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar. This brief piece features James Wan and Leigh Whannell talking about their approach to the haunted house movie and the important piece that the house is.
  • On Set with Insidious. Behind the scenes footage and interviews with cast and crew about the making of the movie. This includes Patrick Wilson’s chemistry with the kids and using his experience as a father (experience that James Wan does not have). Also, there is some look at the stunts and a couple of sequences that didn’t make the movie.
  • Insidious Entities. This takes a peek at the ghosts and people from the other side that populate the Further of the movie.

Bottomline. The deeper into the movie you get the crazier it gets, sometimes scary, sometimes funny, always a little off kilter. Effective, fun, and certainly a ride I would like to take again. It may not be very deep in the extras, but the movie proper is really quite good and I have found it plays well repeatedly (especially at night with the lights out).

Highly Recommended.

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