Director: James Wan
When is the last time a movie really scared the hell out of you? Horror films have been in a bit of a rut lately with Hollywood green lighting an endless parade of sequels, remakes and reboots that recycle the same bogeymen over and over. It's challenging to make something that familiar frightening, which is why the surprise hit Insidious gets under the skin like it does.
With a screenplay by Leigh Whannell and helmed by Saw director James Wan, Insidious is kind of a nastier, scarier version of Poltergeist for the modern era. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star as Josh and Renai Lambert, a married couple who suspects that their new house is haunted when their eldest son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into a mysterious coma after a series of strange occurrences. Scared out of her wits, Renai convinces Josh to pick up and move them and their three sons to a new house, but the supernatural activity only escalates.
Enter Barbara Hershey, who knows a thing or two about ghouls after battling one in The Entity back in 1981. Hershey plays Josh's mom, Lorraine, who reveals Josh's own encounters with a ghostly hag when he was a child and who brings help in the form of medium and friend Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye). It is when Elise invites her team of ghost hunters to the house that the terror really escalates and Josh is encouraged to go under hypnosis to transport himself into "The Further"—a kind of limbo netherworld where souls drift—to find his son and help his spirit reunite with his body before some insidious entity claims it.
The screeching violins during the opening credits create an immediately uneasy atmosphere that never lets up during the entire runtime of this soon-to-be horror classic. Don't let Insidious's PG-13 rating fool you—what it lacks in gore and guts it compensates for with edge-of-your-seat suspense. There is a beautifully filmed, widescreen shot of an otherwise ordinary room where an almost undetectable boy ghost stands quietly in a corner with his face to the wall. Other malevolent spirits pop up in frames unexpectedly to make you jump out of your seat, and the bizarre séance sequence with Shaye wearing a giant gas mask while she communes with the dead is so genuinely creepy that you'll feel your flesh crawl. Forget about all the rehashes of Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Ghostface that slice and dice their way on-screen—Insidious, despite its polite MPAA rating, makes most of them seem like kid stuff.
Best extras: Both the DVD and Blu-ray "Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar," "On Set with Insidious" and "Insidious Entities."