Insidious (2011)

Director: James Wan

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey

Despite the fact that I am not a believer in the paranormal, and don’t find ghost/possession stories particularly scary in any way, I still reserve the possibility of finding one entertaining. If the story is well-told and takes the tired formula into previously uncharted territory, it deserves all the praise it can get. If the approach is not a serious one, I can laugh along with the movie. If the approach is too serious, I can laugh at its expense. When a ghost story is so mind-numbingly unoriginal that it makes me wish I were watching the movie(s) it reminds me of instead, it has failed me completely. So it goes with “Insidious.”

Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) have moved into a new home with their three children. Almost immediately, Renai senses something isn’t right. Josh is supportive, but skeptical. It isn’t long before their son Dalton slips into a coma that they believe had something to do with a fall from a ladder in the attic, but the doctors at the hospital have no explanation for. Disturbances, strange sounds, and images of people moving through the house begin to freak out Renai, and eventually the family moves again. Unfortunately, the disturbances follow. Josh’s mother (Barbara Hershey) puts the couple in touch with a paranormal investigator named Elise (Lin Shaye). Together, they hope to restore Dalton to normal and rid themselves of all the trouble from the Other Side. Oh, I’m sorry, I meant “The Further.” Same thing.

Mixing “Poltergeist I & II” with “The Amityville Horror” and “The Exorcist” wasn’t a terrible idea. I’ve been spending a great deal of time lately watching movies which at their core are obvious clones of films from their genre’s previous generation, and having fun in the process. “Insidious” inspires neither fear nor admiration in me. Even when Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” appears as the demon’s theme/calling card (one of the few clever moments in “Insidious”), I laugh out loud when I’m probably supposed to be creeped out. That said, there are highlights provided by the casting of Patrick Wilson and Lin Shaye. To further the “Poltergeist” comparision, Wilson’s character starts off skeptical like Steven Freeling, as played by Craig T. Nelson in the 1982 classic. However, as the movie digs deep into Josh’s past, we find he actually has more in common with JoBeth Williams’ Diane Freeling. As for Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainier, she’s more like a combination of Zelda Rubenstein’s Tangina and Beatrice Straight’s Dr. Lesh. Elise has her own team with equipment that seems borrowed from the Ghostbusters to record the event, but she also knows how to contact those who’ve crossed into “The Further.” Lin Shaye is particularly fun to watch, especially if you’re a “Nightmare on Elm Street” fan who remembers her part in the 1984 original and can’t help but wait for Elise to tell Josh that, to find his son, he’ll need a hall pass. Sadly, that moment will only come if you’re watching the movie in a group, “Mystery Science Theater”-style.

Aside from not being scary, “Insidious” also takes a few steps too many. In what seems like a “gotta have a sequel” move (and indeed, one was released in September 2013), the ending leaves me cold. The movie would work better as a stand-alone, I think, and in blatantly leaving room for more story, I feel it cheapens what could have been a decent, if a bit too familiar entry into the paranormal genre. As it stands, it’s not much more than mediocre.

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