Todd reviews the first in what is sure to be a long line of popular horror flicks.

a.k.a. James Wan Gets a Wide Angle Lens For Christmas

Insidious begins with a long tracking shot through a creepy house to a child in bed. We then join the Lambert family as they unpack their new house. Ah yes, this is how so many of these stories must begin. You will see a lot more sleeping child in bed before the ordeal is over.

Let the usual haunted house fare commence. Apparitions in the windows, halls and doorways come and go, complete with the mysterious presence in the attic. Dalton, the son, gets a little too exploratory and ends up in a coma, combining ghostly terrors with the real parental nightmare of helplessness as your sick child sleeps, not knowing when he’s going to wake up.

I can’t say much more without exposing some interesting plot elements. What we end up with is part Poltergeist, part Dreamscape, part Hellraiser.

James Wan really exercises his scare chops in this ghost tale, and writing buddy Leigh Whannel brings some slightly new ideas to the table. I feel Wan is simply warming up for his far superior effort, The Conjuring, which I’ve already said is almost perfect in every way.

Insidious feels a little uneven, a little slow, and frankly a little hokey. Whannel’s dialogue, as usual, is a bit stilted at times, to the point where sometimes the actors appear to be having a hard time keeping a straight face. Ah well, I probably couldn’t do much better myself.

Wan uses a wide-angle lens for this already wide aspect-ratio format. It’s an interesting choice, as most directors aim for claustrophobia in haunted house movies.

He pushes the camera forward, sweeps it around a lot, preferring the steadicam glide (thankfully) to the shaky-cam aethetic that gets used far too often these days. This movement adds an etherial, dreamlike quality to the night scenes and opens up the frame for those moments when you expect a figure to appear in the background.

Leaving so much space in each shot creates a tension of expectation, which resolves sparingly. He will use this to greater effect - though ditching the wide angle, if I remember correctly - for more claustrophobic scares in The Conjuring. It’s a good mix, and it’s nice to watch an already fine director growing.

Did it work for me? Kind of, but not really. There were some decent scares. But although I appreciate the new ideas, eventually I just couldn’t shake that hokey feeling enough to engage with the characters and their predicament.

Now that you’ve seen the film…

*** SPOILERS ***

I don’t think this pushes the genre forward, but I think it's enough for a popular sequel. Apparently they've greenlit a second sequel as well.

Elise’s character reminded me of Zelda Rubinstein’s iconic role in Poltergeist. The “journey” sequence and even the notion of haunting a person bore more than a passing similarity to Spielberg’s movie - one of the first films that truly frightened me.

To Whannel’s credit, I don’t remember seeing the astral projection concept in any other horror film. Now I’m wondering if that’s a good thing.

I’m talking specifically about when Josh enters The Further to retrieve his son. The action wades out into mushiness and the whole film takes a believability hit when the pivotal scene in your movie requires a character to wander around in a vague “astral plane” that’s mostly darkness.

The Further is a rather boring place.I didn’t feel he was making progress so much as stumbling around until he happened to run into familiar territory. And whaddya know, eventually he does. AND finds his son. AND manages to stumble his way back out against all odds, beset on all sides by demons that don’t seem to have any way to truly threaten him.

At that point, I knew Darth Maul didn’t stand a chance.