Wednesday, February 1, 2012


Um...why is the "si" in "Insidious" highlighted in this poster?  Anyone...?  I'd really like to know, so leave a comment if you have an idea.  Insidious comes to us from the director of Saw and Death Sentence, the writer of the first Saw trilogy, and is produced by the guy who created Paranormal Activity.  While I hate the Saw series (seriously, don't get me started...), even I have to admit that this is a pretty high-profile pedigree for a new intellectual property.  In this world of sequels and rehashed movie ideas, though, that isn't always the best move.

Insidious starts with the Lambert family in a new home.  Apparently this is a family where mothers wear the same pajamas as their children, but that's not where this movie even begins to get creepy.
Am I the only one who was bothered by this?
Little Dalton (Ty Simpkins) claims to not like his new bedroom and, on a possibly unrelated note, wanders into the attic where he takes a spill and knocks his noggin.  The next morning, when his father, Josh (Patrick Wilson), goes to wake Dalton up, he gets no response.  Dalton is comatose.  Josh and his wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), take him to the hospital, but nobody knows why he won't wake up.  Three months later, Dalton is moved from the hospital to his home, still comatose and still an enigma.
If he was in college, his friends would probably have written "penis" on his forehead
That's when things start to get weird.  At night, the house's security alarm starts blaring because the front door has apparently opened of its own volition; even with Josh closing and locking the door and resetting the alarm, the door opens again almost immediately.  Renai starts seeing ghosts in Dalton's room, but pretty soon she is seeing and hearing things throughout the entire house; the creepiest is probably the one that sounds like a child at play, but the funniest is one who dances to Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."  Obviously, their new house is haunted.  In an unexpected horror movie move, the realistic father that doesn't believe in ghosts agrees to sell the house and move to a new home.  It doesn't work --- the ghosts follow them to their new home.  So what do you do if your wife insists that your family is being haunted?  You call in the experts.  Or, at the very least, some friends of your mom.
Divorce is also an option

The acting in Insidious is better than a movie from the makers of Saw deserves.  While I have never been a Patrick Wilson fan, he is completely adequate in this role.  He has the fairly thankless task of being the rational person in an irrational world, and he's not half bad.  Rose Byrne gets to freak out a bit more, and she still managed to not be annoying.  That makes two main characters in a horror movie that I didn't actively want to see die.  Not too shabby.  The kids were fine, neither too annoying nor too whiny. 
Lin Shaye had the difficult exorcist role, and she was pretty good, although not the scene-stealer that I think the part could have been.  Barbara Hershey was decent in a small supporting role, even if she primarily just provided exposition.

I was surprised to find that director James Wan was capable of using smaller scares effectively.  While that didn't translate into a film that was completely even, it was a pleasant surprise.  Wan is not the most delicate of directors, but he managed a solid cast and made a movie that was pretty close to being good.  Where Insidious really stands out is in the type of scares it provides.  You might think that this team of filmmakers would make a gory ghost story, or at least one filled with "gotcha" scares, but they actually do a pretty good job building and utilizing suspense.  For most of the film, the ghosts are rarely seen, but effectively used.
They're being haunted by a Sith Apprentice!
Half-glimpses can be very effective when used well, and Insidious does a pretty good job.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn't expecting much from this movie, but the first two-thirds of the movie genuinely impressed me.

The final act is a pretty huge problem, though.  After spending a lot of deliberate time and effort building an effective horror story built on suspense and mystery, the filmmakers take a left turn and spend the final act as a supernatural action movie.  Remember all those ghosts that were really creepy when you only saw them for a split-second?
Is this the Black Hole Sun music video?
They're not very scary when they actually get some screen time.  Especially when you can fight them off by yelling "Leave me alone."  And especially when Darth Maul is listening to "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."  It's not just the loss of impact that the ghosts have that brings the final third of the movie down, though.  The very premise of the movie seems to change.  I understand the concept of plot twists, but they should be...well, interesting.  The shift in tone away from subtle horror and toward silly science fiction really hurt Insidious.  I was prepared to see this as the prequel the world has always demanded to Road House, explaining exactly how Dalton got so awesome.
Answer: childhood coma caused by ghosts and demons
But no.  Sadly, the tension that was built so effectively gets wasted by adding a left-field plot element and having Josh's shouts of "Leave me alone" be effective weapons against the ghosts was very disappointing.  As for the twist after the twist...well, I think the less said about that, the better. 
"Leave me alone"?  Why didn't the kid think of that?

The twists in Insidious feel like the filmmakers were suddenly unsure of the direction they had taken the story in up to that point.  I would have loved to see the story follow that original tack and have a satisfying ending, but it was not to be.  For every dumb idea that should not have worked (the exorcist's gas mask) but was effective, there was a stupid plot point* that undermined the film's credibility.  Insidious isn't bad by any means --- my wife certainly won't be watching it anytime soon --- but I was  ultimately disappointed.

* Okay, so Patrick Wilson's character doesn't believe in the crap being peddled by the exorcist, right?  Of course not.  Then he goes into his son's room and notices Dalton's drawings plastered all over the wall.  Many of them support exorcist lady's claims!  Here's why that is stupid: this is a new house.  Dalton hasn't been putting up his own pictures on the wall.  "Maybe someone else put them up for him."  Fair enough, D. Advocate.  But these pictures are arranged in a haphazard fashion, all over the wall, spilling out from the bulletin board that was clearly designed to be the place for artwork.  I refuse to believe that any parent that has the option of arranging their child's room would choose to make it look sloppy.  And it's a little suspicious that every drawing Dalton drew apparently had a deeper meaning to it.  

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