PG-13 horror gets a bad rap. Sure, there have been some films that were so clearly supposed to be full-fledged R-rated scare-fests toned down to a more commercially viable PG-13 rating in their early years (for me, I think of the Prom Night remake (2008), Ouija (2014), and that horrid One Missed Call remake (2008) that desperately wanted to be PG-13 Final Destination (2000)), but there is a real art in making a horror film that successfully exercises restraint, and enough films have come out since to really ease the initial irritation that came with them. Films like The Others (2001), The Woman in Black (2012), Happy Death Day (2017), Cloverfield (2008), Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) (rather ironically, the prequel to one of the worst PG-13 horror films is one of the best ones), and Drag Me to Hell (2009). However, following a string of two critical and financial failures after his rapturous debut with Saw (2004), Malaysian filmmaker James Wan took a chance, went back to basics, and ended up creating perhaps the most iconic PG-13 horror film of its era: Insidious.
I have a history with Insidious, particularly with seeing it directly after school on a Tuesday with a friend who, quite frankly, really couldn’t take it. I had seen the moderately positive reviews and, being 14, looked kindly on its PG-13 rating that meant I didn’t have to buy a ticket for Source Code (2011) and hope the afternoon staff of the Northgate Stadium 10 didn’t care. I think that, because of the reputation PG-13 horror had at the time, we weren’t necessarily expecting any part of Insidious to be genuinely frightening, but leaving, we were left with a much different effect. Even I, who was already relatively desensitized to horror at that age, was left shaken by James Wan approaching supernatural scares in the same way he approached harrowing, gory violence in Saw. Now, in preparation for Insidious: The Red Door (2023), the return of the Lambert family after nearly 10 years, Sony Pictures has finally released the original Insidious on 4K Blu-ray with a special edition steelbook release.
Insidious follows the Lambert family as they move into their new California home. With father, Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson), a high school teacher; mother, Renai (Rose Byrne); and two sons Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor). Dalton, while unpacking, falls off a ladder in the attic, sustains a head injury, and falls into a coma, for which doctors cannot ascertain why, as his brain function is perfectly normal. Following this, the Lambert family begins to experience vivid, frightening hauntings within their new home. Afraid for their own safety, the Lamberts move to a new home to escape their specter, to no avail. Soon, Josh discovers from his mother (Barbara Hershey) that Dalton’s affliction, and subsequent paranormal hauntings, plagued Josh as a child as well, and with their blessing, enlist the help of paranormal psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to help dispatch the malevolent forces looking to take Dalton.
Okay, so perhaps Insidious isn’t as scary as it once was to me 12 years ago, but I never really expected it to be. What’s most important is that Insidious, as a whole, holds up pretty much wonderfully. The film is aggressively unsubtle in its scares, resembling more of an amusement park haunted house ride than anything else, but like…a high-quality haunted house from an amusement park that puts effort and care into making something that isn’t just the bare minimum. It also succeeds heavily in not just having some truly jarring moments of scares, whether through intense sequences or massive jumpscares (the dinner table scene still to this day shakes me to my absolute core), but also maintains a very creepy, and very palpable atmosphere throughout. It’s a balancing act of fun “gotcha” moments with a really unsettling ambience, and that’s what I find to be Insidious’s greatest strength.
Another fabulous strength worth mentioning, and why it makes so much sense for the upcoming installment to return to them, is that the cast really does so much in creating even more tension than what’s solely on the page as the Lambert family makes a big impression on the audience to have you root so heavily for them, and to feel deeply for the inevitable suffering that comes their way. Wan and Patrick Wilson have worked wonders together in their various projects from the Insidious films to The Conjuring (2013), and it makes me happy to know Wilson, who really seems to love this series, is taking the helm for his directorial debut for Insidious: The Red Door. Byrne, an actress we have grown to love over the years for her comedic stylings, really is quite a powerhouse here as a horror actress, and it shocks me she has never returned to the genre outside of the Insidious franchise, as she absolutely has the chops for it. Though, unsurprisingly, it’s Lin Shaye’s Elise that takes the cake here, so much so that she is the only person to have appeared in every single Insidious film, and it’s easy to see why. While later films might have given us a little too much of a good thing making the franchise solely about her, you remember the gentle touch she brought to the role in her first outing, and it’s as refreshing as it ever was.
Sony’s new 4K Blu-ray is a bit of a mixed bag, with an impressive A/V showing, and a beautiful steelbook, but taking a slight downgrade in the already paltry special features department (with a catch). The 4K transfer of the film is pretty solid as a whole, with not much to really complain about from a technical standpoint, though I struggled heavily with the way that Insidious is shot, so much more than I used to. The soft, washed-out, overexposed image of Insidious, popular in the early 2010s, simply does not transfer well to modern displays, and is perhaps one of the more unflattering film aesthetics we ever had (it also is a major problem in Scream 4, which also came out in April 2011). Nothing about the 4K Blu-ray is at fault for how Insidious looks, it’s simply a product of its time, trying its best to cover up an impressively small $1.5 million budget. I never noticed how proudly that is worn on its sleeve, as I now associate Insidious with the massive franchise as a whole.
Meanwhile, the film’s newly mixed Dolby Atmos audio track knocks it out of the park, complimenting Joseph Bishara’s absolutely genius, ear-piercing score that still stands as one of the best horror scores of that decade. For every bump in the night, and every horrifying violin screech as shit hits the fan, the Dolby Atmos track justifies the entirety of the Atmos format with wonderful subwoofer usage, and even more wonderful atmospherics that are expertly tuned with this release. This seems to be where the most attention has been paid, and it’s a beautiful final product.
The 4K disc for Insidious does not include any special features aside from a theatrical trailer for the film. However, the steelbook release does include a standard Blu-ray, the same one released by Sony in 2011 for its initial release, that contains some remaining special features. I would’ve liked for these to be ported over to the 4K disc, and I would’ve even more liked for some sort of retrospective from the cast and crew leading into Insidious: The Red Door, but a lack of special features seems to be par for the course from studios these days. I still hate it, but I’ve learned not to feel over it anymore. The special features on the standard Blu-ray are:
- Horror 101: The Exclusive Seminar
- On Set With Insidious
- Insidious Entities
- Theatrical Trailer
I think it’s easy to write-off the Insidious franchise nowadays as their sequels never quite lived up to the same standard as the first outing, and James Wan has moved onto bigger and better things both in and out of the world of horror. But there really is no denying how impactful this first film is on its own, from coming out of nowhere, to its wondrous atmosphere, and that beautiful “fuck you” ending that still makes me giggle like a schoolboy to this day, even if the effect of it was unfortunately dampened immediately in Insidious: Chapter 2. The steelbook release with the 4K Blu-ray is gorgeous, its new 4K image gets the job done, and the new Dolby Atmos track is absolutely worth the price of admission alone. Despite being insanely ugly to look at, Insidious still remains one of the most effective horror films of the 2010s, and its impact can still be felt to this day.
Available on 4K UHD Blu-ray steelbook June 13th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official Sony Pictures Insidious webpage.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.