CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS AND HOLY **** WHAT THE ****** HELL WAS THAT? ****!!!!!
Horror movies come in many forms. Creepy ones, gory ones, BOO! make-you-jump ones, senselessly violent ones, subversive ones, social commentary ones, sick ones. But the ones we hardly ever get are the ones that are simply bloody scary: they're very few and far between. Even the greats of the overarching horror genre aren't necessarily the ones that make you feel uncomfortable in the cinema, that have you looking away from the screen in fear of seeing something terrifying. On that shortlist you can count The Exorcist and Exorcist III, the original version of The Eye, Jack Clayton's The Innocents..... anything else? It's a very short list of actually, genuinely scary horror films.
Well, add Insidious to that list because it's quite simply the scariest thing to hit cinema screens in years and I really don't want to give very much of a plot description because the less you know, the deeper the effect is going to be and you really do want to see this fresh. It starts off as a haunted house movie - it's actually quite similar to Poltergeist in its basic setup. In typical Amityville style, a family move into their new home but it's not long before things start happening: doors start opening and closing, books apparently take themselves off the shelves. And then things get worse: the eldest child falls into an inexplicable coma, the horrors continue until they move house. But the incidents follow them....
That's really all I'm going to say. Insidious is the movie that the Paranormal Activity films should have been: a not dissimilar subject, but far more effective in its unexpected shock moments, its manifestations of its evil forces and its visual look. It's got a fantastic retro look to it of old school horror movies of the 70s and 80s (it even stars Barbara Hershey from The Entity) and a refreshing absence of frenzied CGI excess. There's little blood and no gore. What it has is a wonderfully clammy atmosphere of absolute, utter dread - dread of the next appearance of the malevolent entities, of the next loud noise, of the next mysterious shape in the darkness - to an extent that you alternate between hiding your eyes from the screen and searching the image for the horror you know you don't want to actually see.
It has a terrific role for Lin Shaye, a good comedy support from Leigh Whannell (who wrote the script and starred in Saw) and a shrieking atonal score by Joseph Bishara, who also appears in the movie as one of the evil creatures. Maybe it loses some impact in the final stretch in the realm known as The Further: the horrors are that much more pervasive in the real world. But there's another sting in the tale after that. Insidious is a terrific, terrifying horror movie that's absolutely, effortlessly effective from start to finish. Loved it, loved it, loved it.
Further thoughts on INSIDIOUS here: