Friday, February 15, 2013


The fact that this movie didn’t completely suck, when it damn well should have, makes me like it more than I think I'm supposed to. I'm well aware there's nothing original about Insidious. It’s just a another haunted house story that’s FILLED with clichés from beginning to end: people investigating strange noises in the attic, the frantic housewife who sees ghosts and other creepy shit when no one else is around, the practical thinking distant husband who doesn’t believe in ghosts and thinks his wife is seeing things and the random spiritual/all-knowing old lady (straight out of a Stephen King novel) that knows how to communicate with supernatural beings. Oh and lets also not forgot the non-stop unexpected startles & jolts (especially in the last 30 minutes) heightened by the stringy violin score. This sounds like something I'd typically avoid. Its just that in the last 5 years or so It’s become almost impossible for filmmakers to tell a horror story without doing it in that Blair Witch Project/P.O.V. style (The Paranormal Activity saga, The Last Exorcism, Lovely Molly, Quarantine, Chernobyl Diaries, Cloverfield etc). Actually the only film in recent years to utilize that style of filmmaking for good wasn’t even a horror movie (Chronicle). I know James Wan is responsible for the never-ending SAW saga, which is enough to make anyone avoid anything else he does in the future, but he could have EASILY made Insidious one of those horror movies where the video camera is left on all the time for some strange reason, and he didn’t. Thats worth something...
Insidious is kind of a throwback to classics like Poltergeist, Amityville Horror, The Exorcist (elements of Insidious involve the soul of a possessed child being transferred somewhere else similar to the ending of The Exorcist) as well as The Shining (relax, I’m not putting Insidious & The Shining on the same pedestal, but there is a young boy in the film who has the power to communicate with other worlds which kinda reminded me of Danny’s ability in The Shining). There's also a thin layer of cheesiness on top of a serious tone which does make the vibe of the film a little difficult to pin down. Sometimes I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be taking this serious or not. The acting is a bit over the top, formulaic and sometimes melodramatic to the point where everyone involved HAD to know certain scenes wouldn’t be taken seriously. Within the first half of this movie I lost count of how many times the wife sees something creepy, screams, then the husbands runs in to see what’s wrong only to find nothing, then the wife goes; "I swear I saw something! It was RIGHT there. You HAVE to believe me!" But at the end of the day this was entertaining which is something most American horror films can’t say these days.
Insidious tells the story of a seemingly happy husband ("Josh") & wife ("Renai") and their three children who have all just moved in to a new house. Instead of a bunch of minor creepy occurrences that slowly lead up to one big thing, immediately after moving in to their new house their oldest son ("Dalton") unexpectedly falls in to a coma after he investigates a strange noise in the attic the night before. After a series of more strange events happen inside the house, Renai believes its haunted and Josh's mother (played by Barbara Hershey) enlists the help of a medium ("Elise") and her team of scientists to help. As it turns out, Dalton has the ability to astral project but has gone too deep and his soul is now in a "spiritual limbo" in a world full of ghosts who won’t let Dalton go because he's their vessel back in to the world of the living. Now, In order to get his son (and his soul) back, Josh (who as it turns out has a repressed past that coincides with Dalton's current comatose state) has to somehow enter in to the same spiritual limbo universe that Dalton is currently trapped in through a séance conducted by Elise. I like that the simplest character (Josh) turns out to be the most interesting. The husband characters in most horror films are fairly one dimensional. They either slowly go crazy and turn in to some crazed killer by the end of the film (Amityville Horror, The Shining, etc) or they're super practical and incapable of any kind of abstract thought and they're solution to everything is to always call the police (like Josh in the first half of Insidious). By the end of Insidious, which is a bit of a cliffhanger (its part of an ongoing saga), Josh is a completely different character.

I dug the atmosphere & style of Insidious. When you make one of those Blair Witch style horror movies you leave yourself almost no chance for any kind of unique style of your own. With Insidious, everything is darkly lit, the colors in the film are drab & grey-ish and the music (which gets a little distracting at times) really does a great job of conveying an uneasy tone where you feel like something is gonna jump out at you at every turn. Right out the gate Wan makes his intentions clear with an intro scene that pretty much says we're here to startle you, make you jump outta your seat and nothing more. There's no deep or hidden message in Insidious and its not trying to be anything outside of just a simple horror movie. Wan's attempts to scare & startle us may fall in to the realm of overkill but I'd rather that than all these recent horror films that take forever to build up to something which usually isn't even scary. Have you ever watched those Paranormal Activity movies? Nothing ever happens. What exactly are all those people jumping at in those commercials that show the audience reactions?
Sometimes all it takes is one simple recommendation from a highly credible source for me to check something out. When I first saw the advertising for Insidious, which was a poster of a creepy looking kid standing in front of a darkly lit house, I thought; I'll pass. But at the end of 2011 I found this film on quite a few top 10 lists or as an honorable mention. Although I was skeptical, I hadn’t seen it yet so I couldn’t judge. But now that I have seen Insidious (twice) I can honestly say I have no idea what this would be doing on a top 10 list in a year that brought us Drive, Shame, Tabloid, A Separation, 13 Assassins, etc. BUT...its still pretty good and worthy of some positive feedback. Much like The Descent, Drag Me To Hell (which also had its share intentional cheesiness) and the American remake of Let The Right One In, this was a pleasant surprise in a pretty stale genre.


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