Release Date(s)2010 (June 13, 2023)
Studio(s)FilmDistrict (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: C-
Long before director James Wan entered the world of big-budget franchise filmmaking with Furious 7 and Aquaman, he got his start launching a low-budget franchise of his own with the original Saw in 2004. Yet he’s probably best recognized for the time that he spent between those two extremes as a member of the Blumhouse Productions horror family, helping to codify the house style that has marked so many Blumhouse releases. Accompanied by his Saw co-writer Leigh Whannell, he opened his tenure for the company by trying to reinvent the haunted house genre with Insidious, and it became a massive $99.5 million worldwide hit against a $1.5 million budget. That’s not quite as impressive as Blumhouse’s first film Paranormal Activity in 2007, which managed an astonishing $193.4 million against its pittance of a $15,000 budget, but it still proved that Wan had his finger on the pulse of the kind of horror that had wide appeal for modern audiences, and the success of his follow-up film The Conjuring only cemented that fact. Yet it was still Insidious that established Wan’s own personal horror formula, and while Whannell wasn’t involved with The Conjuring, the influence of his scripts for the Insidious franchise can be felt in that film.
Insidious blends a variety of horror subgenres, but it’s still essentially a tale of a haunting. It’s just that in this particular case, the haunting involves a person, rather than a location. Otherwise, the tropes are all there: Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have recently moved into a new house, where their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) has an otherworldly encounter that sends him into a coma. More supernatural events ensue, but when the Lamberts move to try to escape the horrors, whatever is haunting them follows into the new home. They enlist the help of the psychic Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye) and her team of paranormal investigators, who discover that Dalton isn’t the only one who has been touched by the uncanny, and that Josh may hold the key to rescuing Dalton from beyond. Insidious also stars Whannell and Barbara Hershey.
If that description doesn’t make it perfectly clear, Insidious borrows heavily from Poltergeist, with Elise serving as a stand-in for Tangina, and her team bears more than a passing resemblance to the team from that film as well. There’s even a pretty heavy nod to The Entity, a point that’s driven home by the presence of Hershey in the ensemble. Of course, horror doesn’t have to be original to be effective, and the cheap jump scares that haunt Insidious definitely worked well for mainstream audiences. Whether or not they’ll work as well for hardened horror fans is another question, but Insidious definitely touched a pop culture nerve.
There aren’t any real surprises to be had in the story, but Wilson and Byrne make for appealing leads, and Shaye is always a welcome addition to any cast. With hindsight, it’s easy to see how Whannell was beginning to explore elements in the relationship between Josh and Renai that he would later refine for his outstanding 2020 effort as writer and director, The Invisible Man. That film arguably broke the Blumhouse mold more than any other, but it’s hard to escape your roots, so the Insidious franchise has kept going strong with Whannell’s involvement. The latest installment Insidious: The Red Door just hit number one at the box office for its opening weekend, knocking out Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny in the process. Regardless of how formulaic or predictable that these films may be, they’ve definitely tapped into something that appeals to the popular zeitgeist, so there’s little doubt that Blumhouse will keep churning them out for as long as the market will bear.
Cinematographers David M. Brewer and John R. Leonetti captured Insidious digitally at 4.5K resolution in the Redcode RAW codec using Red One MX cameras. Post-production work was completed as a 2K Digital Intermediate, framed at 2.35:1 for its theatrical release. For this version, that 2K DI has been upscaled to 4K and graded in High Dynamic Range for both Dolby Vision and HDR10. As is typical when the capture resolutions were higher than 2K, this upscale offers incremental but noticeable improvements over 1080p. It’s not so much that there’s more actual detail on display as it is that the textures are better resolved, and everything looks slightly more refined. The greater breathing room available on a BD100 also doesn’t hurt, and there are no compression artifacts of note. Unsurprisingly, the biggest improvements come from the HDR grade, which greatly strengthens the contrast range and offers some genuinely deep black levels. A few of the shots that were captured at the lowest light levels do have slightly elevated blacks, but that’s just how they were originally exposed. Note that there are some heavy stroboscopic lighting effects during the séance sequence, and they’re really dramatic in HDR, so please take care if you’re sensitive to flashing lights.
Primary audio is offered in a new English Dolby Atmos track. It’s not necessarily the most consistently immersive mix, but key effects are now more precisely positioned all around the soundstage. Offscreen noises abound in Insidious, and every creak, knock, and bang is now placed more accurately in space around the viewer. That includes a judicious use of the overhead channels, such as when things are going bump in the night upstairs in the attic. The dynamic range is strong, which may be a mixed blessing since Wan relies heavily on loud stingers to help provide jump scares, and that can get a little tiresome at times. To be fair, John Carpenter has always been fond of doing the same thing, and he tends to get a free pass for it, so it’s hard to criticize Wan for following in the footsteps of one of the masters of horror. The score by Joseph Bishara also lacks subtlety, but it’s effective enough for this kind of film. By the way, that’s Bishara in the film playing the infamous lipstick-faced demon.
Sony’s 4K Ultra HD Steelbook release of Insidious is a two-disc set that includes a Blu-ray with a 1080p copy of the film. Note that the Blu-ray is a repressing of the 2011 release, not a remastered disc. Aside from a trailer for Insidious on the UHD, all of the extras are on the Blu-ray only, and they’re all in HD:
DISC ONE: UHD
- Trailer (1:47)
DISC TWO: BD
- Sony BD Trailer (1:20)
- Priest Trailer (2:27)
- Quarantine 2: Terminal Trailer (1:39)
- The Greatest Movie Ever Sold Trailer (2:26)
- Battle: Los Angeles Trailer (2:07)
- Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season Trailer (:32)
- Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar (10:27)
- On Set with Insidious (8:15)
- Insidious Entities (6:32)
Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar is a look at the conception of Insidious, featuring James Wan and Leigh Whannell examining the nature of the story, and how it incorporates the idea of astral projection and possession into the haunted house genre. Ironically enough, they both say that jump scares are overused in modern horror movies, and that their rule for Insidious was to make the scares real. Everyone’s mileage may vary regarding whether or not they achieved that goal. On Set with Insidious mixes additional interviews with Wan and Whannell with some behind-the-scenes footage. It does provide an interesting look at how they handled the scarier material with the children on the set. Insidious Entities features Wan, Whannell, and other members of the cast and crew discussing the design of the various supernatural creations in the film.
It’s a slim collection of extras, and it doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but the 4K presentation of Insidious itself is a significant upgrade over the Blu-ray version. The addition of a fine new Atmos track and some handsome Steelbook packaging should make this release a tempting one for fans of the franchise.
- Stephen Bjork