Insidious

I'll say "Hi" to Bela Lugosi for you!

 

Oh, Hollywood, the way you advertise horror films, one would imagine that your promotional departments are staffed by 15 year-old kids who are only interested in luring other 15 year-old kids to the theater.  If the trailers and ads are to be believed, every horror film coming out is either just like Saw, or something like Legion.  It’s not true, and I, for one am glad of it.  In spite of these ads, I went to see Insidious.

No, there isn’t anyhing especially novel here.  A couple with three small children move into a large, older house.  No sooner than they finish unpacking than odd things begin to occur: unexplained noises, boxes that vanish and reappear where they were not supposed to be and the like.  This is the part of the movie where we get to know the principal characters. It goes quickly.  We’re given a few facts about Mom (Rose Byrne) and Dad (Patrick Wilson) that will come into play to one degree of another as the film progresses.

The kids are another matter.  I, as a rule, detest children, and these children do nothing to change my feelings on the matter.  We have Adventure Boy (Ty Simpkins), Taking Up Space Boy (Andrew Astor) and Screaming Baby.  Don’t worry though, Adventure Boy falls from a footstool, conking his noggin and slips into a coma . . . or is it a coma?.  The doctors are baffled. And with that the other children fade to the background.  Taking Up Space Boy becomes pretty much a part of the furniture and Screaming Baby only comes back into focus as extra flour to thicken the horror batter as needed.

Midway through the movie, the kids are packed off to Grandma Cougar’s (Barbara Hershey) house, where she does yoga, and gardens and has the skin on her face pulled back tighter than big bass drum.  Seriously, I found Barbara Hershey’s obvious plastic surgery distracting. Watching Hershey deliver her lines was like watching a waxwork doll come to life.

I digress.  Once Adventure Boy is in the coma that isn’t a coma, the spook show churns into high gear.  Mom is plagued by spectral visions, whose appearances increase in both frequency and intensity.  Dad begins working late in a not so subtle attempt to avoid the whole issue.  When the spectral appearances move from creepy to outright threatening, Mom brings in Elise (Lin Shaye), a medium, and her assistants to help.

Elise informs Mom and Dad that it isn’t the house, but the boy, that is haunted.  Worse than ghosts, there is a malevolent presence that is trying to slip into the boy’s dormant body.  Spooky, ghosty, demon stuff follows. I’ll mind the spoilers.

What sort of movie is Insidious? The ads would have you believe that is a fast paced haunted house fear ride to Hell, which would be great if that formula didn’t have the inherent flaw of being totally non-workable (See Thir13en Ghosts).  What writer Leigh Whannell seemed to do was pick out bits and pieces of other movies and stitch them into a new story.  Unsure of whether to make an atmospheric haunted house story like The Haunting (1963) or a funhouse ride like The Haunting (1999), Whannell splits the difference and sprinkles it with some Poltergeist (1982) for flavor.

Insidious, lacking originality or compelling characters, makes up for it by being well crafted and well executed. Director James Wan lays down a good base coat of creepy atmosphere but rather than building on it on the classic tradition of Robert Wise, Wan uses it to set up some rather effective jump scares.  Yeah, I know, jump scares are the lowest form of horror but they are effective when done right, and Wan gets it right.  Several times I felt my skin involuntarily try to leap from my bones and judging from the gasps I heard from other movie goers I wasn’t the only one.

Most of Insidious is light on the special effects;  the ghosts and spooky things are suggested and half seen.  This is really effective.  There were several moments when the audience I sat with screamed.  As the film neared the end, the scares turned from subtle to bludgeoning, in the figurative sense.  Instead of glimpses and shadows, we’re shown the big baddies full on,one of which looks a bit like Darth Maul.  That  took all the fear out of it for me.

The finale was too drawn out and did nothing for the film.  They could have shortened the final two segments of the movie and had a stronger film.

For those who have seen the movie: Remember the scene between two characters very near the end?  That didn’t need to take place.  They could have skipped that part and gone straight to the final shot of the film and the ending would have been much creepier.  Am I right or what?  Feel free to comment below.

An interesting thing about Insidious, studios may want to take note, is that with a reported budget of a 1.5 million dollars this film has pulled in forty million dollars.  It has made back better than 20 times its budget.   Beyond that, Insidious has been well received by audiences and critics alike.  So why doesn’t Hollywood make more horror films?   Insidious proves, yet again, that a good horror movie doesn’t take one hundred million dollars to make.   It makes sense to hedge your bets by financing several small projects with big potential relative to risk.  That was the formula used by Hammer in their heyday and Universal even earlier.

WTF moment: Any scene with Barbara Hershey.  I don’t want to sound mean, but good lord!  I couldn’t stop staring at her face!

Starring:
Patrick Wilson
Rose Byrne
Ty Simpkins
Andrew Astor
Lin Shaye
Leigh Whannell
Angus Sampson
Barbara Hershey

Director:
James Wan

Screenplay:
Leigh Whannell

 

Three of five Vincents

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