Wednesday, October 5, 2011

INSIDIOUS (2010): or, Should Have Gone Further

October Horror Movie Challenge, Day 4!

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?

Spoiler: yup.

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."


Anonymous said...

I have to respectfully disagree good sir and argue that the performances were solid all the way around. The aloofness of the father played so well going into the reveal of him having experienced the same thing when he was younger. And the aloofness played with me as I wondered to myself 'Does daddy really know more than what he is letting on?' This was especially so during the scenes where flashbacks occurred. OK, maybe Rose Byrne's character did seem a bit detached at times. And her face was perpetually stuck in an annoying look of wonderment.

I also loved Lin Shaye and her rag tag group of paranormal investigators. It harkened back a bit to Poltergeist. And when Tucker uses the ViewFinder tool in the hallway and you just know he's going to see something, that scene flipped my shit.

And I can't remember the last time a film's soundtrack played to such great effect. It was so incredibly jarring.

As you say, it wasn't a bad film by any means. But I was personally fulfilled because it was a refreshing, honest to goodness, scary haunted house film. And to that I say bravo Mr. Wan!

The Duke of DVD said...

I found it pretty fucking scary, especially the Darth Maul demon's big reveal. I even ordered one of my manservants to sleep with the light on, just in case he was scared, naturally.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@Planet of Terror--I certainly don't begrudge anyone their enjoyment of the film. As I said, there were a few parts that actually gave me the creeps, which happens rarely with modern movies. But it just didn't click for me, for whatever reason. It clearly did for you, and for others, so I'm quite willing to chalk it up to "just not my cup of tea" and leave it at that.

However, as you note, the ViewFinder Ghost Detector was pretty awesome. ;)

@The Duke--As if your manservants don't sleep with the lights on anyway! They all remember the Great Sleepwalking Ruse of '89! ;)

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