The Lambert family have just moved into a new house since the arrival of their new baby, and while wife Renai (Rose Byrne) stays at home to look after her, and with any luck find the time to pursue her song writing career, husband Josh (Patrick Byrne) teaches at the local school, working long hours which Renai secretly sees as him shirking his responsibilities with their three kids. Still, the house is nice enough, except the oldest boy Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is not so sure - and he really shouldn't have gone up to the attic.
Insidious was another of director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell's attempts to inject fresh blood into some hackneyed genres; ever since the first Saw movie they had been gathering a cult following among moviegoers who found their endeavours refreshing and pleasingly sincere in their faith in the power of genre movies. So far they had only diverted once from their love of horror, in the vigilante flick Death Sentence, and this was a try at the old haunted house clichés made popular - or at least well known - by the likes of Poltergeist and The Amityville Horror.
Of course, that fertile strain of chills had then recently made successes of the Paranormal Activity movies, so it was no surprise to learn the makers of that franchise were involved in a production role here, except this was no faux documentary, and more of a traditional terrify the family yarn. For all their claims to be doing something new here, they were much indebted to what had gone before, not only Paranomal Activity, but even nods to the likes of The Brood and The Legend of Hell House were there should you care to look, all these references making up a tapestry of good old fashioned jumps and creeps.
What happens to the hapless Dalton is he falls off a ladder in the attic, and bumps his head, nothing major or so his parents believe, yet the next morning he refuses to wake up. One trip to the hospital later and the doctors can find nothing wrong, but somehow that accident landed the boy in a coma, and he is brought home to be looked after by his family, with no end in sight to his affliction. If this sounds like an afternoon TV movie, then rest assured we are well aware there is something strange afoot, and the film manipulates this through a gradual build up of oddities, from a figure spotted looming over the baby to a mystery child Renai chases through the house.
One night when the front door keeps opening and Renai is confronted by a glowering apparition which appears to mean her harm, she insists that she has had enough and wants out. Therefore they move into another house, a bungalow this time, a nice change from the usual seeing out the disruption that you often got in these movies, except what do you know? The ghosts follow them and soon they have to call in the priests and psychics, the latter who they decide to go with when Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey) reveals a connection between them. Lin Shaye took the Zelda Rubinstein role, backed up by a couple of lightly comic relief researchers, one played by Whannell, but this is where the film begins to misstep after a creditable first couple of acts as the explanation as to what is going on isn't quite as intriguing as when you did not know. Nevertheless, Insidious was satisfying on an unpretentious level, with a commendable assurance to its gimmicks. Music by Joseph Bishara.