Holy creepy ghost children is Insidious really freaking scary. Sure, the movie is a bit of a fragmented (and ofttimes foolish) mess but it still scared the crap out of us.
Insidious comes from James Wan, whom you may know from the very profitable Saw franchise. Thankfully, this film is devoid of overly complicated death traps that are a bit too cute for themselves, but it does have some pretty spectacular DIY ghost hunting contraptions. The film follows family man Josh (Patrick Wilson), his wife Renai (Rose Byrne), and their three kids: Dalton, Foster and some baby. Everything is dandy until Dalton goes to sleep one night and never wakes up.
After the parents rush him off to the hospital, the doctors then deliver this sad and bewildering news, Dalton isn't in a coma — he's just asleep. FOREVER. Yeah, it's silly (as are many of the film's explanations), but that's not important. What Insidious lacks in reasoning it makes up for in dirty scares.
As soon as Dalton goes to sleep FOREVER, the family is viciously and mercilessly attacked by ghosts. All ghosts, all the time! Ghosts on the baby monitor, ghosts above the crib, kid ghosts standing behind you while you do the laundry! Insidious topples you over with one big jump scare and then stands on your chest, assaulting you with scare after scare. There is no downtime. (For a good 30 minutes I was clawing at anything I could find — a seat cushion, the person next to me — just to brace myself for the next ghost attack.)
But Insidious isn't a mere roller coaster of hollow shock and jump scares. Wan turns on the slow burn scare and lets it boil all over your lap. There's one particular scene in which a small ghost child just runs around the house in the middle of the day. The ghost kid doesn't even jump out and grab you, but he's always just in the corner of the character (and the audience's) eyes. And it made us want to pull our hair out.
The paranormal research team was also a delight. The trio included a pair of nerdy ghost hunters who manage to jury rig a paranormal tracking device out of a View Finder and a little old lady (Lin Shaye). Casting yet another old mum séance leader isn't the most original idea, but they made up for it with fantastic steampunky ghost tech and this one particular slow burn scene. Watch as Shaye whispers what she sees to her team above Dalton's bed.
Once the movie started getting into the mechanics of this ghost story, the whole thing took a turn for the boring. Turns out Dalton was using astral projection while he was asleep, making his body vulnerable for ghosts. One astral night out, Dalton got lost. Hence the crazy build-up of ghosts in their home because all of the spiritual entities were trying to cross "The Further" and into Dalton. And as exciting as "The Further" sounds, it's a pretty dull place. Just a lot of black and green smoke. Some folks might argue that the cheap execution of the ghost world was an inspired shout out to schlocky horror movies past, fair enough, but that doesn't mean it worked. The film takes a complete 180 from a haunted house picture to some sort of pseudo-science ghost hunting excursion. The deviation didn't fit in with the earlier style and theme of Insidious. was such great deviation from the beginning of the picture that it truly felt like you were watching a different movie.
The ghost world takes over the third act of the film, and just immediately starts undoing all the hard scare work Insidious set up earlier. The ghost realm just wasn't frightening, or terribly captivating. Too many secrets were spilled and the otherworldly beasts went from monsters to caricatures.
Insidious' big climax was loosely tied together with hokey smoke and green lights, it was supremely disappointing. It was such a step back for Insidious, especially since this film managed to make half of a fun flick with a budget of $800,000. Unbelievable. We applaud how much they were able to accomplish with so little. But sadly, the spiritual world and its ghost folk just looked cheap.
Even though The Further was a disaster, the finale pulled us right back in. As much as we disliked "the further" and its awful inhabitants, we loved it when the ghost climbed into our world. It feels wrong to write off Insidious as a failure because it fumbled the fantasy world, but it's going to be hard for a lot of people to look past "the further" (it wasn't too difficult for us, mainly because 3/4ths of this film was just so damn scary). All in all, we loved it. Great scares, good monsters and fun hunters. If you're looking for a fright, check out Insidious.