'Insidious': Strange doings in a lovely house

'You think our house is haunted?" Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) wonders. His wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), has been thinking the same thing.

What? Didn't they see the opening credits to their movie?

Insidious begins with wild camera swoops down long dark corridors, culminating in a big jolt of clanging music. If there aren't ghosts or evil spirits or a creepy homunculus lurking in the stairwells and cupboards, well, then what gives?

Insidious hails from James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the director and writer, respectively, of that famously nasty exercise, Saw. (Whannell was actually one of those guys chained to the rusty pipe, too.) But the film geeks from Down Under wanted to prove something different this time around: That they could scare our socks off without resorting to graphic scenes of actors hacking their socks off - while still wearing them.

In Insidious, it's about atmosphere.

And sure enough, it's hard not to get caught up in the nightmare of a handsome, hardworking couple who move into a lovely Arts and Crafts-style house with their two kids, only to discover that the baby monitor is picking up sinister static and something that looks like a bloody handprint has found its way onto the bed linens.

And then their son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), slips into a coma, except that the doctor says it's not a coma.

Actually, he says: "To be honest, I've never seen anything like it."


If your idea of a fun night out is to be manipulated by freaky sound effects, jumpy edits, and point-of-view shots of ceiling fans whooshing menacingly, Insidious is the film for you. Wilson plays his usual empty-shell-of-a-guy spouse. Byrne acts understandably upset; all she wants to do is sit at the piano and work on her songs, and then spend quality time with her newborn. Walk away, Renai.

Barbara Hershey, following up her far more frightening turn as Natalie Portman's mom in Black Swan, is Wilson's understandably worried parental unit. Lin Shaye, looking half-kooky and half like a friendly neighbor, is a kind of psychic ghost buster, invited to check out the Lamberts' house with her team of nerd boys. They come bearing gizmos, notepads, and cameras, and leave quaking in their shirts and skinny ties.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/




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).