Moving to a new neighborhood is tough, especially when one receives misfortune and malevolence rather than the traditional welcome gift basket. "Insidious" preys on the fears of isolation and the lack of safety of being in something as familiar as one's own house.
"Insidious" begins in standard horror/thriller fashion, Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is a pianist trying to juggle moving into a new house, composing music, and taking care of her infant daughter. Renai's husband, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), is a teacher at a local school and her two sons attend middle school leaving Renai home alone for much of the day. At first small occurrences are the norm: musical books are dislodged from their shelves, Renai's box of sheet music has been somehow misplaced to the attic, as well as strange, intermittent interference over the baby monitor. These seemingly inexplicable events turn sinister when one of their sons, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into a mysterious coma following a spill off of a broken ladder. With Dalton now bedridden, the fleeting annoyances at the start of the film have turned into full-fledged manifestations. Elise Rainier (Lin Shayne), a supernatural investigator and spiritual medium, is hired as per the recommendation of Josh's mother, Lorraine Lambert (Barbara Hershey), to help discover what is actually wrong with Dalton.
This is where "Insidious" branches from being a run-of-the-mill horror film to something much greater. Rather than having Renai act as the protagonist throughout, the perspective shifts from Renai to Josh over the arch of the film. This gives life to each member of the family as the audience begins to have a personal investment in each character. The tension of what will happen next is no longer focused exclusively on a single protagonist, in which (normally) no real harm can be done, but instead becomes a Hitchcock-esque question, "Why should a main character be safe from death?"
When compared to a film such as "Paranormal Activity" (written and directed by Oren Peli, who also produced "Insidious") which tends to rely on loud noises and sudden scares to engage the audience, "Insidious" steadily gains momentum as the film progresses with a good balance of creepy scenes (such as the ghastly boy dancing to Tiny Tim) and legitimately scary sequences (the appearance of the Lipstick-Face Demon as one of Dalton's drawings). This is only amplified by the wonderful cinematography of "Insidious" which tends to contrast its long, surreal zooms at the beginning versus the more typical "horror" close ups used later in the film.
All in all "Insidious" is a great movie that proves that the horror/thriller genre isn't limited to slasher films and remakes. "Insidious" is by no stretch this year's "Paranormal Activity", instead I declare "Paranormal Activity" 2009's attempt at "Insidious".
(four out of five stars)