But once outside of those bounds the horror movie needs to give something back. They have to creep you out, make you jump or make you think about it later when you are in bed in the dark. Insidious delivers on the first two at least. There are creepy moments and there are several “jumps.” I am also fairly sure this movie has convinced me that baby monitors are the primary mode of communication for evil entities with the living.
The music and title that bracket the film hearken back to horror films of the 50s and early 60s; think Vincent Price, think Peter Cushing, think grand ideas, hammy acting (juxtaposed against FINE acting) , grandiose ideas and low budgets. In this case you can (mostly) leave out "hammy acting." Insidious’ acting is understated and professional. They seem like real people which contrasts nicely with the more otherworldly characters.
The “other world” is where the movie sort of moves a bit into the silly. It is hard to imagine this wasn’t intentional. The “other world” itself looks a lot like the dream sequence from a Mexican soap opera. The film also has the least scary demon ever to be put on screen. He looks like someone who couldn’t remember if the casting call was for Darth Maul or an extra in Cats.
BUT, again, no way is this not consciously done. This is camp by design so accept that before you see the movie and you will be fine! I’d say demons and ghosts and the like are always scarier when you catch just glimpses of them rather than a clear look (especially when you want to keep the budget down). That is also when Insidious makes you jump. You do not jump when you see a puppet-loving demon sharpening his (or her) claws while listening to Tip Toe through the Tulips (although that song creeps me out on its own). You jump when you hear loud bangs, when forms slip by in the background or when ghosts (or whatever) appear for a split second. It is those sorts of things that, in real life, make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. It is the same in the movies.
The early part of the movie recalls (for obvious reasons) the Paranormal Activity films. There is creaking. There are shadows. But UNLIKE the two "Paranormal" movies, Insidious moves on from this rather quickly and into ghouls of a more corporeal sort. You see them in the background and then BAM; they are in your face. Some of the creepiest parts of the film are, literally, snapshots the characters look at. I wouldn't frame any of those family pics in my house if I wanted to be able to sleep again.
Insidious delivers on the basics of horror and gives a little more with the use of ACTORS. I tremble to think of this movie with a cast incapable of understated performances. I also tremble to think of it with writers who felt the need to explain everything or directors/producers who felt that they needed to have a JUMP every ten seconds instead of allowing tension to build. In this movie sometimes you get wound up and nothing happens, which makes the next time, when something DOES go bump in the night, seem much more alarming.
And the bumps are not all in the night. I liked the fact that the ghosts were daytime active too. Why wouldn’t supernatural beings that can astral project come out during the day? That always sounded like bullshit to me in ghost stories, reflecting our fear of darkness. Why would our disembodied souls be the opposite of US? I make too much of this but I am pedantic. What can I say?
In most ways Insidious gives all you can ask in a horror movie (but not in ALL ways). The self-conscious kitsch may not appeal to all. But you probably will jump here and there, catch references to other recent horror films here and there and learn a tad more about how not to dress as a demon next Halloween.