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A movie directed by James Wan

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Old Haunting Grounds

  • Apr 2, 2011
Star Rating:

The interesting thing about Insidious is that it’s very good at being completely unoriginal. In their third collaboration, director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell indulge in just about every conceivable haunted house cliché, and they do it with such style and conviction that I just couldn’t bring myself to blame them for it. This doesn’t mean that I’m recommending the movie; it just means that I understand what they were trying to do, namely make a cardboard homage to such notable films as Poltergeist, The Others, The Haunting, and even recent achievements like Paranormal Activity (incidentally, the film is produced by Orin Peli). At least, I think that’s what they were trying to do. I can’t accept the possibility they went ahead with this project believing it to be groundbreaking.
What I’m certain about is that Insidious is a triumph of tone. Every scene is a powerhouse of suspense. Much of the film is engulfed in darkness, and even in the presence of light, the colors are so muted that they reek of gloominess. There are a lot of sudden noises. Richard Bishara’s score, probably the most forceful of any composed for a recent horror movie, is basically a two-hour symphony of dissonant string glissandos and piercing piano chords. As the film reaches its climax, we enter a spiritual void that would be the envy of any dedicated Halloween decorator; fog blankets the ground, red lights glow eerily, and rooms are lit with dozens of candles, which drip over candelabras in the tradition of the best gothic romances. Hell, they even found a way to make the opening credits scary. How often can you say that about a horror movie?

As for the plot ... well, let’s just say don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one. A married couple, Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne), move into a new house. They have three children – two young boys and an infant daughter. One day, the oldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), quite suddenly slips into a coma. The doctors are baffled; they have found no evidence of brain trauma or infection, so medically speaking, there no reason why he shouldn’t be awake. As the months pass, strange things begin happening in the house. Doors open on their own. Objects are tossed onto the floor. Lights go on and off on their own. Renai hears voices over the baby monitor. She occasionally sees figures lurking through the hallways. One of them, a dark figure in a black coat, even tries to attack her. Bloody handprints are found on Dalton’s bedsheets.
Believing the house to be haunted, they move – and, of course, the poltergeist activity follows them. Here enters Josh’s mother, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), who, for reasons I won’t reveal, understands what Renai is going through. She refers her to a woman named Elise (Lin Shaye), who is both a psychic and an exorcist. She arrives with two assistants (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell), who I guess were included because the filmmakers thought this movie needed comedy relief. Josh is initially skeptical, but decides to go along for the sake of appeasing his wife. In due time, he will prove to be the film’s most important character. I will not give away anything more at this point, with the exception of one of Elise’s lines, prominently featured in the ad campaign: “It’s not the house that’s haunted. It’s your son.”

I mentioned before a spiritual void. I won’t divulge the specifics of this place, but I will say that it features some amazingly creepy imagery. Consider the appearance of a family, who wear clothing consistent with the first half of the twentieth century, possibly the 1930s or ‘40s; their faces, pale and wooden, are frozen into horrific expressions of happiness. Looking at them, I was reminded of Wan and Whannell’s previous film, Dead Silence, which featured a multitude of ventriloquist dummies. We also notice an old crone holding a candle and, most importantly, a demonic being whose red face gives the appearance of fire. If I haven’t made it clear at this point, I relished the experience of looking at this film.
Alas, I didn’t get much out of the story, probably because it has been told a thousand times already. I’ve also grown weary of Wan and Whannell’s tendency to conclude their films with a negative plot twist; I hate to break it to you, guys, but even horror movies can have happy endings. Insidious is no more or less than what it wants to be, and while I can appreciate that in a film, I’m forced to wonder why, with such effort put into atmosphere, no one considered trying just a little harder. Should I have expected more, given Wan and Whannell’s track record? There is not a film they’ve worked on, together or apart, in which I could see flashes of greatness – no, not even Saw. Apparently, some filmmakers are content to stay within their comfort zones, to not flex their muscles and reach for something more. So be it.


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April 07, 2011
Man, good horror films are so hard to come by these days! Thanks for the great review!
April 07, 2011
I'm anxiously awaiting Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. That looks like a great horror movie.
April 03, 2011
Great review once again
April 03, 2011
Thanks. It isn't easy coming up with something to say when so many horror movies do the exact same thing.
April 02, 2011
I skimmed your review since I am watching this tomorrow and Jane Eyre possibly...yay!! I will be back to comment further.
April 02, 2011
The long and short of it: The tone is spot on, but the story is completely unoriginal. Maybe that was the point.
More Insidious reviews
review by . April 04, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
A Parody-Like Occult Horror Fantasy That Starts Well But Collapses At The End...
Going into a horror film with trailers such as those of “Insidious”; one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to believe that he would be privy to another one of those clichéd “fright shows” and yet it provides loads of fun entertainment. Well, the director of the “Saw” film and of movies such as “Dead Silence” and “Death Sentence” teams up with the producers of “Paranormal Activity”; Oren Peli and company. What results is …
review by . August 01, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
*** out of ****     "Insidious" is a horror film that attempts to combine the "Poltergeist Formula" with the "James Wan Formula". Wan, the man behind the well-known "Saw", directed the film, and I've never been as happy to say so. He hasn't made an actual good movie since "Saw", but he's tried. He made "Dead Silence", which I admired and for the most part enjoyed, but it lacked true scares, atmosphere, or anything beyond its extremely intriguing visual design. Then, Wan made …
review by . March 30, 2011
What happens when the creators of SAW and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY team up to make a horror movie called Insidious?   Maybe something that is not so great.                   Being a huge fan of horror films, especially the movie PARANORMAL and its sequels – it’s always exciting to see a scary movie when the team consists of a successful cast and crew.  With great actors that have done impressive …
review by . July 13, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Aptly named.
INSIDIOUS   Written by Leigh Wannell   Directed by James Wan   Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Barbra Hershey       I hate to be the guy who does this but as I had to look it up before watching the movie, I feel justified in saying that if you look up “insidious” in the dictionary, you will learn that it means proceeding in a gradual, subtle way but with harmful effects. And so INSIDIOUS, director James Wan’s first …
review by . November 28, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Just a waste of time.
After watching both Paranormal Activity 1 and 2 I began having a little more hope for the horror movie genre. Maybe now directors will take a page from Oren Peli's book and actually make good horror flicks. Maybe 2011 is the year horror movies stop sucking, but alas I was naive to think that.      Insidious tells the story of a little boy names Dalton and his family. After exploring there new house Dalton falls off a ladder and gets a nasty bruise, luckily its nothing …
review by . May 06, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
15 - 103mins - Fantasy/Horror/Thriller - 29th April 2011 Now if there is one thing that freaks me out most in movies it is horrors that involve children in any way. So when I sat down to watch a movie from the guys and gals that have given us Paranormal Activity revolving around the story of a possessed child, well lets just say I had my diaper at the ready! Insidious follows a textbook family, the parents- Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) that have it all as they move into their …
Quick Tip by . July 17, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
I love a good horror movie but alas they are so hard to find!  Some are just too disgusting and gross for me, zombie movies are all the same, some lack any kind of scare tactics and others are just plain dumb and make no sense whatsoever.  I always keep in mind too that movies not rated R usually don't interest me much.  After watching Insidious I was surprised that one rated at PG 13 actually made me jump several times and kept my interest.      There were …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #5
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie


  • Opened April 1, 2011 (Special screening on 3/29) | Runtime:1 hr. 42 min.
  • PG-13
    Violence, thematic material, terror, brief strong language and frightening images
  • A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.
  • Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Angus Sampson, Barbara Hershey
  • Director: James Wan
  • Genres: Haunted House FilmHorror
  • Poster art for "Insidious."
  • view wiki


    Director: James Wan
    Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Horror, Thriller
    Release Date: 1 April 2011 (USA)
    MPAA Rating: PG-13
    Screen Writer: Leigh Whannell
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