Plenty scary, ‘Insidious’ spins on teen with a demon in his head

In "Insidious," a demon invades the home of a terrified young couple, but it's not the house that's haunted - it's their child.

This will be a relief to "House Hunter" fans, because it's such a nice house, a lovely SoCal craftsman showcase with mahogany built-ins.

Many viewers, I suspect, will be watching "Insidious" while making guilty moral calculations - how many children would I be willing to part with in order to remain in this fantastic house?

For Josh and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson), the answer is none, and they fight tenaciously (especially mom) to save their eldest, whose coma turns out to be some kind of supernatural limbo.

They exhaust medical explanations, then turn in desperation to the paranormal investigators, a team of ghostbusters (straight out of "Poltergeist") that audits the home and delivers the bad news: A demon has taken hold of their child's subconscious and opened a spectral portal that's allowed ghosts to enter their home.

The movie borrows obviously and shrewdly from horror classics past, and pipes in a loud, stringy Bernard Herrmann-ish "Psycho" score to give the movie an old-fashioned feel.

The scares are plentiful and completely free of blood, mutilation, amputation. "Insidious" is a way for "Saw" guys James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell (writer) to prove they can make an old-school horror movie.

It gets a little baroque in the final reel, but "Insidious" stays disciplined - the horror derives from the way the demon tests the strength of maternal/paternal bonds.

This is familiar turf for Byrne (the devoted mother in "Adam"), but something new for Wilson, whose lassitude made him the ideal actor for "Little Children."

I have long viewed Wilson as one of the most inexplicably employed actors of his generation. When he docked with Malin Akerman in "The Watchman," it was the sort of union that might have produced the most blandly appealing Aryan actor of all time.

But here his blond emptiness is put to good use - it's a curtain that hides something. We know that he knows more than he admits. And so does his mother - Barbara "Black Swan" Hershey, having a late-career renaissance as the world's creepiest mother. Also an acknowledgment of the movie's debt to Hershey's 1982 horror standard "The Entity."


Directed by James Wan. With Andrew Astor, Angus Sampson, Josh Feldman, J. LaRose, Johnny Yong Bosch, Patrick Wilson, Derick Alexander, Barbara Hershey, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins. Distributed by FilmDistrict.

Running time: 1 hours, 42 minutes.

Parent's guide: PG-13 (for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language).