Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell (Saw) introduced the midnight screening of Insidious at the Toronto International Film Festival by saying that they wanted the film to be “this generation’s Poltergeist”.  Those are some large shoes to fill.  Prior to knowing their intentions, I did recognize some similarities while screening Wan’s film, in Philadelphia.   I saw a little bit of Poltergeist and a bit of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne star in the film as a husband and wife with three kids.  The film also co stars Barbara Hershey.  Creepy things start to happen the second the family move into their new house.  It starts off with that old school scare where wifey unpacks some books and puts them on the shelf.   Later on, the books are on the floor.  Who did that? There is not a lot of down time in the pacing of this film. Things take off right away.  One of their sons goes into the attic and slips on a ladder, bangs his head, then wakes up in a coma.  The haunting gets worse and it’s time to move.  So they pack up and move into a new home.  It’s no secret if you’ve seen the commercials or the trailer.  The house isn’t haunted but the boy is.

It is at this pivotal point we begin to see more of Barbara Hershey who plays the husbands mother.  I felt a childish excitement at seeing her in a genre film such as this again.  I secretly wished the reveal would be that this was going to be sequel to the disturbing rape ghost movie The Entity starring Hershey.  Not the case, but you’ll figure out why she’s there and why she has immediate contact with a paranormal specialist.  We don’t get that magical little lady from Tobe Hooper’s classic film.  However we do get Lin Shaye (the sun-dried landlady in There’s Something About Mary).  It is here that the film turns from a more serious-minded ghost story to a fete of freak show scares.  To give away more of the plot would just ruin this amusing ride.

I could sit around for hours and discuss what is wrong with horror movies today, but it simply comes down to the fact that I am forever waiting for a movie to scare the pants off me.  Although I do not think Insidious is a great horror movie, it does deliver the basics with an above average sensibility.  There are a few narrative inconsistencies and a couple of scenes with some really lazy dialogue, but it is imaginative and delivers the scares.   There is a scene early on in the film that I did not see coming.  I got to practice my Jamie Lee Curtis impression from Halloween, not Activia®; I screamed.   Actually the entire audience screamed.  Then most of us laughed because we realized the filmmakers’ totally got us; even us proud and seasoned horror aficionados.

Insidious will see its theatrical release on April 1, 2011, opening on 2500 screens.