DVD Review: Insidious (15)

(Momentum Pictures, �15.99)

DON’T believe the hype. If you went along with the publicity surrounding Insidious, you’d be expecting probably the most terrifying film of the last 30 years, a movie one journalist said was “so scary I was whimpering in sheer terror”. I’m sorry, how old is he, nine?

But at the same time, don’t write this off as a waste of time just because it’s not going to leave you in need of a fresh change of underwear. Make no mistakes, the first half of Insidious is very, very creepy, but it achieves this by representing many of the staple scares found in horror movies ever since the 1960s.

Happily married couple Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) have recently moved into a new home with their three young children when their eldest son Dalton falls into an inexplicable coma. As the Lamberts despair of finding a cure for his condition, Renai suddenly becomes aware of sinister supernatural activities within the house, including spectral apparitions and disembodied voices.

This is where the film succeeds in building up a real sense of menace using simple techniques like a few plinky-plonky piano chords, creaking floorboards, locked doors being found flung open, and some sudden shock images coming out of the blue.

But then everything starts to go horribly Hollywood…

Fearing their home is haunted, the Lamberts flee to a new property, only to find to their horror that the spooks have come along for the ride. So far, so Poltergeist, especially when they resolve to call in the assistance of a team of paranormal investigators in the form of wise old psychic Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye) and her two college student assistants (definitely there for unnecessary comic relief), who determine that it’s not the house which is haunted, but Dalton.

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What follows is some very cheesy mumbo-jumbo about demonic possession, astral projection and all the usual technobabble we’ve come to expect since being warned not to cross the streams by Egon Spengler in Ghostbusters.

They embark on a desperate course of action in a bid to rescue Dalton’s soul, lost somewhere on another plane of existence called The Further, before his physical body is taken over by a demon who has taken fashion advice from Darth Maul.

Josh’s mother (Barbara Hershey) reveals that he too was haunted by a mysterious presence during his childhood, probably because like Dalton he too is able to travel on the astral plane, and he is put into a hypnotic trance and set off in search of his son.

Cue parallel version of the Lamberts’ home where dry ice is very much de rigeur, and the only inhabitants are demons and ghosts intent on breaking through into our reality…

Such. A. Disappointment.

Why the film-makers decided to forgo the mounting sense of menace they had established in the first half in favour of sub-par antics on the astral plane is anybody’s guess. Whatever feelings of dread you might have built up at the beginning will be swiftly dissipated by the almost laughable sight of a man punching a ghost.

And the reviewer I mentioned at the beginning of this article? Well as an employee of the News of the World I’m sure the goings-on in his own newspaper were actually much scarier than this haunted house hokum, but there’s no accounting for taste.