Blu-ray Review: ‘Insidious’

Insidious seems like the natural next step for James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Saw was an interesting concept horribly executed (it took them seven films to “explain” stuff and even then, many people were left unsatisfied), Dead Silence made great use of its Hammer-like atmosphere and creepy subject matter but was marred by bad acting and plot holes, and Death Sentence was a pretty standard revenge thriller that showed the duo could get good performances out of their actors. Insidious is the duo’s most accomplished work to date – showing improvement in several of the aforementioned areas – and a blast to watch with your speakers turned all the way up, even if it loses much of its steam in the third act.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play Josh and Renai Lambert, a young couple who just moved their family into a new house and, presumably, a new way of life. Some minor strange occurrences are barely given a second thought until their oldest, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls off a ladder in their appropriately dark, cobwebbed attic with nothing but a few bruises and bumps, but then doesn’t wake up the next morning. Medical science can’t explain the strange coma-like state he’s in and after a few weeks, he’s discharged from the hospital into his parents’ care. His return home, even in a vegetative state, is a sort of relief for his worried folks, but it marks the beginning of a serious paranormal problem for the family. After a few ghosts and odd occurrences rear their ugly heads, Josh and Renai move Dalton and the rest of their family into a new home, hoping to put all their bad mojo behind them. But the exact opposite happens and the hauntings become more violent and frequent. With the help of a medium (Lin Shaye) and her team of paranormal researchers (Leigh Whannell and Angus Simpson), they soon discover that it’s not the house that’s haunted: it’s their son.

Insidious isn’t anything new, but it’s well crafted from commonly used elements. Despite Wan’s insistence on the bonus features, astral projection isn’t unexplored territory in film – 976-Evil II comes to mind – but it definitely hasn’t been touched upon this effectively before. The familiarity is luckily supplemented by some great performances; the dynamic between Byrne’s concerned mother and Wilson’s skeptical father is believable and well performed and Shaye steals the show as Elise, the knowledgeable spirit guide.

Sony’s 1080p transfer gives viewers a sharp picture that packs as much of a punch as it can given the cold, blue look of the film. Since it was shot digitally, it lacks some texture but that serves the aesthetic of Insidious‘ dark, dank sets. When it’s brightly lit, fine detail is evident as is the strength of the colors, especially fleshy tones. The black levels are extremely rich and varied, ranking with some of the best Blu-ray has offered thus far. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is a powerful, aurally assaulting lossless track. While the score serves the film well, Insidious is a little too reliant on it at times and feels unbalanced with the dialogue – I haven’t had to constantly adjust the volume this much in a good while. Still, the sound effects are crisp and clear, as is the dialogue, but only when the soundtrack isn’t drowning it out.

The lesson Wan should walk away from Insidious with is that he needs more self-restraint or a producer that isn’t afraid to reel him in. The first two acts ooze atmosphere in every frame, with a lot owed to Joe Bishara’s screeching score and some great weird moments like Elise donning a World War II gas mask during the séance scene. But once the final stretch comes into view, Wan throws out the “less is more” mantra that made the rest of the film so creepy and decides to go nuts. The shadows and sepia tinting are peeled back and we’re left with a lipstick-faced demon stomping his hooves around while listening to Tiny Tim. With insidious offering up plenty of scares and interesting ideas, why did its most deviant entity have to remind me of The Phantom Menace?

Special Features

Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar (10:27) – I wish this was longer or was even a commentary instead. Wan and Whannell are really well-spoken about their flick, talking about their conceptualization process, research into astral projection and even smaller, lesser observed details like the film’s heartbeat (which are personified through the clocks seen in both homes).

On Set with Insidious (8:15) – A pretty typical behind-the-scenes featurette that shows on-set antics and stunt sequences (the séance scene parts are really interesting). It’s basically an extension of the previous supplemental, and gives those looking to make low-budget horror a pretty good idea as to how they can creatively construct scenes that would otherwise seem impossible.

Insidious Entities (6:32) – A look at the spirits and demons of Insidious, detailing their make-up and where the inspiration for their designs came from.

Film: 3.5/5
Blu-ray: 3/5