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Insidious Blu-ray Review

Insidious (2011) movie poster Insidious

Theatrical Release: April 1, 2011 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: PG-13 / Songs List

Director: James Wan / Writer: Leigh Whannell

Cast: Patrick Wilson (Josh Lambert), Rose Byrne (Renai Lambert), Lin Shaye (Elise Rainier), Ty Simpkins (Dalton Lambert), Barbara Hershey (Lorraine Lambert), Leigh Whannell (Specs), Angus Sampson (Tucker), Andrew Astor (Forest Lambert), Joseph Bishara (Lipstick-Face Demon), Corbett Tuck (Nurse Adele), Heather Tocquiny (Nurse Kelly), Ruben Pla (Dr. Sercarz), John Henry Binder (Father Martin), Philip Friedman (Old Woman), J. LaRose (Long Haired Fiend)

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The horror film Insidious is marketed like a member of the creepy kid subgenre and it opens like a haunted house movie. It's not exactly either of those things and yet it plays off both traditions.

Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) have just moved into a new house with their two young sons and newborn daughter. There are no immediate disturbances, but their elder son Dalton (Ty Simpkins)
ventures into the attic one night and falls reaching for the light bulb pull chain. Shortly thereafter, the boy is unresponsive and the doctor is perplexed. Dalton exhibits the symptoms of a coma, but with no brain damage or medical explanation. He is discharged from the hospital, to remain unconscious in his bed and hooked up to monitors.

One day while trying to ease back into songwriting, Renai hears some disconcerting voices on the baby monitor. Checking on it, she doesn't find anything unusual. Similar incidents occur, this time with Renai convinced she saw something amiss. We saw it too and yes, it made us jump. Still, we're not entirely convinced that the stress of her son's situation isn't causing Renai to hallucinate. Josh remains skeptical, although there are hints that the workaholic schoolteacher and his aversion to being photographed might be connected.

A mysterious bloody handprint later, the Lamberts have moved to a new house. The unsettling oddities continue and thus, at the recommendation of Josh's mother (Barbara Hershey), the couple consults her old family friend, psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), in the hopes of getting answers and redemption from Dalton's plight and the persistent, subtle domestic woes. The theatrical and home video tagline confirmed that the Lamberts don't just have terrible luck when it comes to real estate. To elaborate on that probably crosses into spoiler territory, though I can say that it is supernatural and involves out-of-body experiences.

Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) is troubled by one of the most unsettling sights known to man: a turn-of-the-century boy dancing to a Tiny Tim record. When even moving into a new house won't stop the hauntings, the Lamberts bring in psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and her two goofy, suited ghostbusters.

Though you can't tell it, Insidious belongs to the small crop of low-budget horror films. We can't yet call it a movement. It's been more like this: The Blair Witch Project struck gold in 1999, its sequel struck out the following year, and then ten years later, Paranormal Activity made a go at it with similar success, which its sequel managed almost to replicate. Oren Peli, the writer/director/producer/editor/cinematographer of Paranormal Activity and producer of its sequel, made this his producing debut outside that spooky series (whose third installment is scheduled for October release). Writer Leigh Whannell and director James Wan, meanwhile, hail from another inexpensive annual horror franchise: Saw. Posters promoted both connections, but the Saw reference has been dropped for the Sony-distributed DVD and Blu-ray.

I've seen neither Saw nor its six hasty sequels, but I did enjoy both Paranormal Activity movies. Thematically, I know Insidious compares more to the latter. Stylistically, it may be somewhere in between. Insidious is PG-13, a rating the MPAA justifies with a litany of reasons: "thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language." The Paranormal movies are as tame as R-rated fare gets, with only language (and "brief violent material" on the sequel) cited. On the other hand, the Saw franchise is built on gruesome imagery; the original 2004 movie received an NC-17 and had to edit content to earn an R. All of its successors got the R without an appeals process, but each decision included the phrase "grisly bloody violence and torture."

Clearly, Wan and Whannell (who also plays one of two amusing comic relief ghostbusters) aren't returning to what has been dubbed "torture porn" here. At the same time, Insidious is fairly traditional in its style and narrative. The $1.5 million production budget is surprising, considering it includes salaries for three household faces (whose names are also well-known by anyone versed in modern film). There is no gimmicky design to account for that, as there was on Blair Witch and Paranormal; Peli and his partners Jason Blum and Steven Schneider are either exceptional at keeping costs down or determined to keep their legend growing.

Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) leaves his body here, while his soul journeys to a dark dimension in the final act of "Insidious." Renai (Rose Byrne) gets sympathy and a recommendation from her mother-in-law (Barbara Hershey).

In any event, the meager stated cost mixed with highly respectable grosses ($53.6 million stateside and another $34 M overseas) made Insidious one of the few certain hits in a year that has seen budgets soar while surcharges and returns fizzle. It makes for an impressive debut for new independent distributor Film District, which will release another four notable movies by Christmas.
The considerable return on investment is also a victory for originality in an industry and genre that are extremely reliant on recognizable brand names and recycled concepts.

I'll also classify the box office performance as a win for quality, because Insidious is an effective movie that does right for much of its runtime. For one thing, it's a scary film. I realize the second that is stated, it equips future viewers with the desire to contest it. But I found Insidious nearly as engrossing and agreeably upsetting as the Paranormal movies. There are moments in the film where you're sure to jump (a couple actually brought strange pain to my skull briefly), but most are handled with more class than the old sharp chord and knife reflection shock from silence. They're unexpected without being obvious and stir you all the more because of that. I'm impressed that they stir at all, as so few horror movies seem able to both frighten and show something. Blair Witch and Paranormal thrill because they harness the power of suggestion and channel your deepest fears. Though it is decidedly not vague, Insidious still manages to sweep you up in its plot without cheats or over or under-selling its turns.

The movie falls just short of greatness in its final act, which is comparable to a carnival haunted house, only one you're watching as an outside participant. It feels appropriate for the story and sufficiently daring and original, but it gets us away from the palpable humanity with which the film is established. It doesn't help that the endearing mother capably played by Byrne (with her usual no trace of English accent) fades into the background, shifting our attention over to Wilson's slightly less interesting (if more complex) father. Even if the movie's best material resides in its first half, the end doesn't drag it down much. It still seems certain to be one of the genre's most praiseworthy and frightening works of 2011, and with hopefully little chance of being stretched into a franchise.

Insidious Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on DVD ($30.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video


Insidious looks good on Blu-ray, its clean 2.40:1 transfer doing nothing to shed light on that paper-thin budget. The dark, muted, and classical visuals serve the film well, even if they lack the wow factor of more vibrant and distinctive fare. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio mix is more remarkable, a delicious piece of sound design that uses all the channels to striking effect. While a small film like this doesn't ever have a shot in the Oscars' sound categories, it provides something more meaningful and unexpected than the typical blockbuster nominee, boosted by a huge crew eligible to cast and receive supportive votes. And if the use of Tiny Tim doesn't make the hairs on your neck stand up, be sure to check your pulse.

Director James Wan clearly and engagingly reveals his intentions for the film in "Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar." Actors playing strange characters keep themselves entertained on the set of "Insidious."


As with the CBS Films they distribute, Sony doesn't seem to have a hand in the bonus features of Film District's debut. (Likewise, instead of Sony's usually global-friendly specs,
this contains no dubs and only one foreign language subtitle stream.) As such, rather than a lot of narrow topical featurettes, the Blu-ray contains just three items, all of which also make the DVD.

In "Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar" (10:27), director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell separately discuss their philosophies for the film, putting new spins on the haunted house and possession genres and doing certain things differently from other modern movies. They have interesting ideas, which they articulate well here.

"On Set with Insidious" (8:15) is a fairly standard making-of featurette. Fun candid set footage complements the reasoned remarks led by Wan and Whannell, which touch upon stunts, reshoots, making child actors comfortable, and the like.

News shows ought to consider using captions like "Long Haired Fiend." It succinctly identifies actor J. LaRose in "Insidious Entities." Dalton (Ty Simpkins) has movies in his eyes for some reason on the menu's use of the deceptive poster/cover pose.

"Insidious Entities" (6:32) has Wan, Whannell, and supporting cast members discussing the film's haunting peripheral personalities, with hair, costume, and make-up artists weighing in on their looks. The amount of attention to the subject is appreciated and more enjoyably absorbed this way than in a commentary.

A BD-Live section proved inaccessible, but the menu still supplied access to bonus feature samples from Beastly, Battle: Los Angeles, Jumanji, and Zathura.

The disc opens with an updated Blu-ray promo and trailers for Priest, Quarantine 2: Terminal, Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Battle: Los Angeles, and "Breaking Bad": The Complete Third Season. The menu's "Previews" listing plays the exact same sequence of ads. Insidious' own trailer is frustratingly omitted.

The Blu-ray's menu shows clips inside the eyes of Dalton, whose misleading cover/poster pose is slowly zoomed in on. Excellently, the disc supports bookmarks and also resuming playback of the film, menu, and bonus features.

Insidious is packaged in a standard, slim Blu-ray case, with reverse side artwork showing through when the double-sided Sony ad is removed.

Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh (Patrick Wilson) are surprised by what their psychic family friend has to tell them.


Insidious is a good entry to the class of horror that values suspenseful thrills over gore. It comes apart a bit at the end, but everything that leads up to it is unusually sound by the genre's standards and as terrifying as any modern movie. The Blu-ray offers good picture quality, a great soundtrack, and three valuable featurettes. On either format, the movie definitely merits a look.

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Related Reviews:
Insidious: Chapter 2
Directed by James Wan: Death Sentence | Produced by Oren Peli: Paranormal Activity 2
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Rose Byrne: 28 Weeks Later Knowing Sunshine | Patrick Wilson: Morning Glory The A-Team
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The Last Exorcism The Rite Orphan Joshua Case 39 | Barbara Hershey: Black Swan Beaches

Insidious Songs: "Nuvole Bianche" (Download it), Tiny Tim - "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" (Download it)

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Reviewed July 11, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Film District, Alliance, Stage 6 Films, IM Global, Haunted Movies Productions,
and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.