It’s difficult for ghost stories to maintain the careful balance of tension and release across the length of a feature length film. Most feature some good scares, but thin characterisation necessitated by poor decisions leads to boring, uneventful stretches.
James Wan overcomes this problem with Insidious by breaking the film up into three sections: a well-crafted haunted house movie that lasts until the leads actually move out of the house; a paranormal investigation, with requisite psychic-delivering-all-the-exposition and some welcome comic relief from Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannel; and a transformation into a supernatural action film: Matrix-lite powered by astral projection.
The first two thirds are remarkably successful, striking up a good balance of creepy scares (first time I can remember being authentically scared in a film since last year’s similarly-titled Sinister), plot development and occasional silliness. Insidious earns its scares, which are mercifully light on clichés, thanks to a robust cast (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) and its high stakes: the film is ultimately a battle for the soul of an infant boy, allowing the film to evoke the “grown-up” themes discussed here. The finale is a disappointment, but for the most part Insidious is an engaging, frightening ghost story.