Sunday, October 16, 2011

Horror Film Review

Insidious (2010):  Haunted house flick!  If I'm honest, though, I would have skipped this movie if I'd known it came from the same folks who brought us Paranormal Activity (the most overrated horror film of all time).  No, I hadn't bothered to look at the movie poster which subtly stated "from the makers of Paranormal Activity."  Speaking of said poster, the quote about it being the most terrifying film since The Exorcist?  Yeah,  It's really not.  That being said, however, I must admit that it is scary.  And if not for a bit silliness beginning at the end of the second act, it really could have been in the all-time top ten.  How is it that horror filmmakers inevitably manage to screw up a good thing?  I swear, sometimes being a fan of horror is like being a Chicago Cubs fan.  Always almost, but just not quite. 

The Lambert family moves into an old house.  We have the parents, Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne), their oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), and two other younger kids who aren't sufficiently important to mention.  The morning after he has a scare in the attic, Dalton won't wake up.  Medical tests reveal he is not afflicted by any ailment, has not suffered a head injury.  They bring him home, set his room up with hospital equipment, and then wait.  Then the crazy-ass, haunted house crap starts happening.  Renai sees shadowy figures, hears creepy voices on the baby monitor, and finds a bloody handprint on Dalton's bedsheets.  She begs Josh to move, so they do...into his mother's (Barbara Hershey) house.  All is well.  For like five minutes.  Mother Lorraine calls on an old friend, psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) who brings along two geeky ghost hunters.  Turns out, when he sleeps at night, Dalton doesn't dream but uses astral projection.  He has projected too far and has gotten lost.  So now, ghosts and some other seriously evil entities are licking their chops, desperately wanting to possess the boy's body.  Josh, who we discover did the same projecting when he was a boy, is tasked with seeking out and saving his son.  He finds the lad chained up in the lair of the red-faced demon in the astral realm known as the Further.  Then the race is on to make it back to their physical bodies before something else beats them to it. 

Things were going very well in this movie until Elise sat down with the parents and spent ten minutes explaining astral projection and the Further.  It was the oddest sensation.  Up until that point, I was on edge, ready and willing to be scared even more than I already had been.  Then, after the psychic's metaphysical exposition, all my expectant apprehensions and, yes, fear, just...drained away.  The bubble burst, my disbelief no longer suspended.  That's not to say Josh's rescue of Dalton and their subsequent flight back home isn't exciting.  It's just that at that point, I no longer felt the horror.  Well, not until that last few minutes, but by then, it was too little, too late. 

In many ways, Insidious is an homage to classic horror films.  The opening title sequence and music are pure Hitchcock.  The story is mostly Poltergeist.  Think about it...a child's spirit is lost, scary activity in the house, a psychic and scientists come over to help.  At least there was no fucking clown doll in this one, pardon my French.  And there is a bit of The Exorcist thrown in as well, sans the pea soup vomiting.  I say "homage" because director James Wan, best known for the groundbreaking Saw, knows how to create original horror.  This latest effort of his, however, could have done with more inspiration and less impersonation.

The Breakdown

Acting:  Wilson is almost too subdued while Byrne's performance conveys an infectious sensation of terror.  The boy, Simpkims, gets the job done but doesn't stand out.  Barbara Hershey, though, owns all of her too few scenes.
Story:  There really isn't anything new under the sun.  A lot of effort was put into hyping this movie on the basis of "it's not the house that's haunted."  My first reaction when I read that was, "Yeah?  And...?"
Direction:  I liked Saw.  I liked the way Wan keep the pace fast and the focus laser-beam tight.  He didn't pull that off with Insidious.  The astral projection business was awkward and clunky. 
Production Values:  This is a low-budget affair, but not so's you'd notice.  Everything about it screams average-budget Hollywood.  In this regard, the movie is very impressive.
Gore/FX:  Ah, the slings and arrows we must suffer under the PG-13 rating.  The dearth of gore is balanced by the excellent FX work. 
Scares:  Jesus, yes.  Some "gotcha" shots, of course, but then the ones where the fear creeps up on you and builds and builds until...  There's this scene where Josh, Ranai, and Lorraine are talking around the dining room table.  Innocent enough, right?  Then Lorraine sees something.  We see it at the same time.  She jumps back, screaming her head off.  Seriously, you made need to pause the film at this point so you can go change your shorts. 
The Ending:  I didn't see it coming, yet after further thought, I should have.  Not exactly happily ever after, mind you.  No final shot of the dad rolling the TV set out of the hotel room like in Poltergeist.  Will it piss you off?  It did me at first, then I realized what Wan was going for...horror, which, after all, is the name of the game.

The Verdict:  Should you see Insidious?  You should, yes.  Perfect flick for Halloween.  It will scare you.  You will jump.  And even money says you'll need a fresh pair of britches when it's over.

My Rating:  3 out of 5 stars.


  1. Dude, this was the scariest for me since The Exorcist!I had the lights on at night, all alone and I was still scared, I give this movie 4 stars...see the demon with black hair and hooves? I might buy this DVD. I'm not a person to be frightened, but this movie can play with the mind,LOL.

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