Musician and exhausted mother of three Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) and her well-meaning but more than a little thick schoolteacher husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) have just moved into a palatial, deeply shadowed old house, when their energetic oldest child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) suffers a knock on the head while exploring the requisite creepy attic. The next morning the boy has fallen into a coma, and the family begins to suffer under a plague of what paranormal experts like to call "freaky shit." Creepy voices from the nursery are overheard on the baby monitor, strange faces appear in second-floor windows, and middle son Foster (Andrew Astor) reports seeing his brother walking around at night, even when Dalton is clearly still strapped in his sick bed. Fleeing the haunting, they move into suburban crackerbox that is much more believably affordable on a high school teacher's salary, only to find that the malevolent entities have followed them. Turns out it's not their house that is haunted, but their son--his soul has come detached from his body via innocent astral projection gone too far, and the demons of the netherworld called "The Further" want to commandeer his body to wreak havoc on the living. Can Josh use his own astral projecting skills to retrieve his son and keep the demons at bay?
Directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell (the horror loving duo who struck gold in 2004 with the first installment of the loved-by-some and reviled-by-others Saw series), Insidious has a few good ideas and manages a couple of extremely effective scare scenes. The movie's at its best early on, establishing Renai's exhaustion and Josh's obliviousness, then turning up the tension with the tried-and-true "child in danger" shtick. Once Josh follows his son into the Further, the ghosts and demons that inhabit the place are wonderfully creepy in a "porcelain dolls gone wrong" way; the Sith Lord-styled, Tiny Tim-loving Lipstick Face Demon is also a disturbing creation. The astral projection angle is an interesting one too, and I got a kick out of psychic Elise Ranier (Lin Shaye) and her team of nerdy paranormal techs. (The medium's method of channeling the dead while wearing a fetish-style gas mask was also a pleasingly WTF touch.)
However, much of the movie seemed to me a slightly higher-rent version of Wan's summarily awful 2007 flick Dead Silence. As in that earlier flick, Wan doesn't seem to trust his nightmare imagery to be quite scary enough, and so relies heavily on screeching strings and other loud noises to put the exclamation point on every jump scare. The director even seems to transplant the "creepy old ventriloquist lady" character from that movie into this one, here making her a netherworld demon.
The problems continue with Whannell's script, which includes such absurdities as Renai listening to a grunting, growling male voice on her baby monitor for a full three minutes (BEFORE rushing upstairs to, you know, CHECK ON THE BABY), and Josh dashing downstairs to find the front door wide open and the burglar alarm going off, then nonchalantly shutting the door, turning on the alarm, and, you know, NOT CALLING THE POLICE.
Byrne and Wilson are both usually fairly decent actors, but here they both seem to be phoning it in from a great distance. And scream flick legend Barbara Hershey is similarly detached in her small role as Josh's mother. When the most engaging actors in the flick are our comic relief ghostbusters (writer Leigh Whannell as "Specs" and Angus Sampson as "Tucker"), somebody at the top of the marquee isn't pulling his or her weight.
I didn't think Insidious was really a bad movie--I can see where many viewers (especially those whippersnapping young'uns) might be thrilled and disturbed by the spookhouse scares and loud noises--but I guess it just left me a little tired and unfulfilled. It looks good though, and did manage to raise the goosebumps a couple of times, so I give it a 1.5 thumb rating.
|"See you later, babe. Darth Maul and I are going to try to get in a quick 9."|