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'Insidious' stands out from modern horrors

“Insidious” is one of those horror movies in which you can often predict when the scares are coming. Although you might anticipate the creepy little boy lurking in the background or the dark figure leaping out of the shadows, you can’t help but jump out of your seat when these moments occur. “Insidious” isn’t really an original supernatural thriller, borrowing numerous elements from movies like “Paranormal Activity” and “Poltergeist.” Yet in its pursuit to consistently frighten the audience, “Insidious” succeeds, offering some effective performances along the way.

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play Josh and Renai, a married couple who moves into a house with their three young children. Their eldest son is Dalton, played by Ty Simpkins, who shares a bit of a resemblance to Danny from “The Shining.” When Dalton randomly falls into a coma one morning, the doctors are completely baffled. Matters become even more peculiar when the rest of the family begins to see strange figures go bump in the night.

What I appreciate about “Insidious” is that it never plays its characters for idiots, unlike so many other movies of its kind. As much as I enjoyed the first “Paranormal Activity,” I was always annoyed with how the protagonists never think of simply leaving their possessed house until it’s too late. Here, however, the characters make the decision to leave their new home fairly early on. Even after moving into another house though, they continue to be pestered by the unknown. Josh and Renai finally resort to calling a spiritually expert played by Lin Shaye to help get to the bottom of their unusual circumstances.

The film was directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, who have previously collaborated on several other projects. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Wan and Whannell’s work, which has ranged from unintentionally silly (“Dead Silence”) to flat-out malevolent (the first “Saw” movie). But with “Insidious,” Wan and Whannell finally deliver a film that’s more reliant on ideas and tension than gore and cheap shocks. Whannell, who also co-stars in the film as a nerdy ghost buster, has developed a well-crafted screenplay full of clever twists. With a better story to work with, Wan is able to put his keen visual eye to great use. The end result is a hauntingly shot, carefully plotted thriller that’s a lot of fun.

The one thing that holds “Insidious” back from being a near-classic contemporary horror film is it’s ending, which isn’t necessarily bad, but feels a little abrupt and uneven with the rest of the picture. That aside, “Insidious” is a highly entertaining romp that overcomes its familiarity with style and plenty of genuinely scary moments. Plus, it’s nice to see something that’s at least remotely original in a generation where every horror movie seems to be a retread, a sequel, or a sequel of a retread.

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