It's nice to see a horror movie where the family actually decides to get the hell out of the haunted house, rather than just disbelieving and making excuses until the end. That's really the only new element in Insidious.

Moving is never easy, as the Lambert family soon discovers. Renai Lambert (Rose Wilson) takes care of unpacking, works on her music, and takes care of her young boys Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor), plus her baby girl. John Lambert (Patrick Wilson) works as a teacher, often staying late to avoid problems at home. They're an average middle-class family with their two story-plus-attic home.

And there are certainly problems at home. At first Renai experiences small things -- books that were packed are suddenly scattered, someone spotted through the blinds who isn't there -- but it escalates rapidly. Worse, after exploring the attic Dalton is in a coma -- though there's medically nothing wrong with him. And Renai keeps experiencing worse and worse things, so the family -- so atypical for this sort of movie -- packs up and moves.

Unfortunately, moving doesn't end the problems. Enter Elise (Lin Shaye), a psychic who's a friend of Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey). Elise has her two paranormal geeks (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) inspect the house, then she pokes around, then proclaims, "It's not the house that's haunted. It's your son." And that's when things really get going...

Insidious was produced by the same folks behind Saw and Paranormal Activity, and the influence is easy to spot, between the muted, depressing color scheme and camera shots that look like handheld amateur work. Unfortunately, it's largely a mash-up of horror movie cliches: family secrets, figures that are spotted moving quickly and then disappear, windows and doors slamming shut, a semi-zombie attack, a seance (with a variant of automatic writing), and a demon (who bears an unfortunate resemblance to Darth Maul). It doesn't help that most of the characters have descriptions (the nervous mother, the skeptical husband) rather than personalities. And when you toss in astral projection and "The Further" it becomes as cloudy as, well, the dark smoke-filled climax of the movie.

During the opening of Insidious I was struck by how loud and obnoxious the music was, blasting away as the camera zoomed through the house until we saw a face at a window and the opening credits. Neither subtlety nor originality are hallmarks of this entry in the horror genre.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

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