Josh and Renai Lambert have just moved into their new house. When I say "new," however, I really mean "old." But this creaking, thumping-piped old place is new to them, and it's got lots of room for their three kiddos to toddle and romp.
Of course, when that door to the attic keeps swinging open on its own, you can be sure there's trouble brewing. And all those scratchy, creaky sounds echoing down the weathered staircase don't bode well either.
But those are exactly the kinds of spooky noises that prompt a young boy to investigate. And while climbing a half-broken ladder to reach the light switch, the eldest Lambert sibling, Dalton, tumbles, bonks his head and sees … something scary.
It's all downhill for the Lamberts after that.
Dalton goes to bed and doesn't wake up the next morning. Instead, he lapses into a comatose state that doctors say isn't really a coma—he's just not there. Then Renai starts hearing harsh whispers eminating from the baby monitor and seeing dark faces hovering over the crib. And about the time any normal observer would be screaming "Get outta there!" the Lamberts do something totally unexpected: They get outta there and move to another house.
Unfortunately similar hauntings pop up in this house, too. What are the odds? It takes a ghost-hunter crew to break the bad news to them: "It's not the house that is haunted. It's your son."
Josh and Renai are concerned and loving parents. When Dalton sinks into his three-month coma, they go to great lengths to care for him. And where many a horror movie character might try to stick it out in a new home, the Lamberts wisely pack up and leave when it appears that spooky things might be threatening their kids. Later, when it's determined that Dalton's spirit cannot leave the dream/netherworld that he's trapped in, Josh puts his life on the line and goes in after his son.
The ghost hunters are also a brave trio. They keep trying to help, despite significant spiritual risks to themselves.
Insidious' entire plot revolves around spiritual happenings. They begin with those unseen hands closing doors and spooky apparitions appearing in windows and mirrors. The Lamberts' first response is to ask a priest to investigate. Later, a ghost-hunting crew holds a séance-like summoning in which Elise tries to connect with Dalton.
Eventually, the Lamberts learn that a phenomena called astral projection is at the heart of Dalton's spiritual travails. The film presents astral projection as the ability for a person's spirit to leave the physical body and travel to other places. Dalton is said to have genetically gained this ability from his father. By film's end, both father and son travel to a spiritual netherworld called The Further, defined as "a dark realm filled with the tortured souls of the dead." On the other hand, the realm is also described as "deathless," because all the spirits there continue to exist even after their physical bodies are gone.
Speaking of those specters, the inhabitants of The Further are said to be vying for the right to possess Dalton's now soulless body. In fact, we're told that the longer he is absent from his corporeal self, the weaker his tie to it—and thus the likelihood of his return—becomes.
When the Lamberts get attacked by a pack of ghosts, one of them pins Renai up against a wall and licks her face. We see Josh and Renai in bed. Renai wears formfitting tops.
The only blood we witness shows up in the form of a red, clawed handprint on Dalton's sheets (though the boy himself isn't wounded). A woman gets strangled, and we see her corpse. Ghostly creatures attack those gathered for the séance-like event. People are battered and thrown about by shadowy ghosts and a demon-possessed Dalton.
Perhaps the most violent-looking individual in the cast is a demonic entity who appears to have his face painted with lipstick. We see this creature several times as he threateningly points sharp, claw-like fingers at the Lambert children. In The Further, we see this demon sharpening those nails on a grinding stone.
Also in The Further, Josh sees a ghost girl with a rifle. We hear offscreen shots from the weapon, and Josh runs in to see that she's shot her twin sister and their parents. Since they were all dead anyway (the shooting was a kind of looping, hellish reenactment) the corpses sport bullet holes but no blood. Josh also gets buffeted about in this dark place by scores of clinging ghosts. One melee with a particularly large specter involves choking and punching.
As mentioned, Dalton falls off the broken ladder and hits his head on the attic floor. He winds up with a bruise on his forehead.
Crude or Profane Language
One f-word. A dozen misuses of God's and Jesus' names (including two pairings of God's name with "d‑‑n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Gratuitous jump scenes abound. Some of these scarier moments involve a threatened child.
As the film posters point out in bold letters, Insidious was created by the director of Saw and the producers of Paranormal Activity. That may conjure up any number of wince-inducing images in your mind's eye, but let me begin by saying that the pedigree of the latter film is much more prominent than the former. And according to director James Wan, that was intentional.
In an interview with examiner.com, Wan said that although the studio loved Saw for its gore, he was determined to steer clear of the "torture porn" label this time around. "I would've been very upset if I got an R-rating, because I was very conscious not to have a drop of blood in the movie. … I think there's one [f-word] in the entire movie, nothing sexual … but I really just wanted to make a PG-13 film that was frightening."
And so he has.
Reportedly shot and edited for less than 1 million dollars, Insidious dispenses with CGI pyrotechnics and blood-bag splatter. Instead, it builds suspense in its reliance upon dissonant piano notes, screeching violins, shadowy figures and slamming doors—all of which combine to keep viewers jumping. The end result is an eerie, old-school, whispers-in-the-night kind of tale centered around a seemingly comatose boy, his frightened-to-death parents, and the creepy specter that's bent on possessing him.
Wan has compared this movie to other PG-13 scarefests, such as The Ring, The Others and The Grudge. And those comparisons are apt. For although each of those films offers its own frightening take on corner-of-your-eye horror, they all have a similarly twisted spirituality to promote.
And, of course, that's the big problem here.
Insidious spends a lot of time discussing astral projection and dream traveling. It paints a vivid picture of a spiritual netherworld where young and old can journey if they have the right constitution and skill. It's just the kind of spooky mind-over-matter stuff that might prove intriguing to the Ouija board-carrying teen who's interested in taking his "spiritual" experiences to the "next level."
Even more than screeching violins and goose bump inducing demonic entities, that suggestion may be this flick's biggest and most repulsive scare.