Insidious

 

Creepy and engaging.

What a fun movie this is. It’s got multiple twists and turns (most of them easily predictable) but it’s such a ride that its flaws are not only forgivable, you can argue that they actually add to the film’s enjoyment.

Insidious is touted as a haunted house movie. The poster portrays it as a possessed child flick. And the trailer gives it an ominous supernatural ghost story feel.  And the wonderful thing about it is that it is all of these things, and none of them. It’s refreshing to finally see a trailer that doesn’t spoil the entire storyline and a poster that isn’t a photoshopped screen shot from the climax.

The plot is relatively simple (as most solid horror flicks are). Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) Lambert have moved into a new home with their three children: Dalton, Foster, and their baby Elise. Almost immediately, strange things begin happening. Books are misplaced, doors and windows open and close by themselves, and Renai hears a weird voice coming through the baby monitor. It’s all typical haunted house horror fare, until Dalton explores the attic and is spooked by an unseen force. He has a bit of a tumble and bruises his forehead, and from there, the film subverts our expectations and plays fast and loose with the unwritten conventions of the genre.

The film gets off to a shaky start because it relies on scenes of wildly varying tones. There will be an effective shock sequence which then gets followed by a groan-inducing scene of horrible overacting that causes guffaws in the audience rather than gasps (it also doesn’t help that Rose Byrne spends about 95% of the movie crying – eliciting more snickers than sympathy as the film carries on). However, its about the mid-point of the movie, when two bumbling paranormal investigators (writer Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) are introduced that I realized that the scenes I thought were unintentionally comedic were actually, well, intentional.

Insidious is the first horror film I’ve seen in a long time that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It has its somber moments but their leavened by sequences of utter ridiculousness and characters that banter as if from a sitcom. Rather than being serious, its focus is on the fun. It’s the equivalent of visiting an amusement park and going into the haunted house. There are chills but it doesn’t leave you drained and exhausted, rather, it leaves you with an enthusiastic grin and the temptation to do it all over again.

There are a couple of moments that keep Insidious from being a perfect horror film however. There are a couple dialogue sequences that seem like they were written to flesh out the backstory of the characters (Renai has taken time off to work on her music, and she hopes things will be different in the new house for unspecified reasons), but then entirely discarded through rewrites or the cutting room floor (Renai’s domestic problems are never brought up again). And then there is the heavy-handed foreshadowing of a “big secret” about Josh. It’s a little too obvious when the ominous musical overtone creeps in during an otherwise banal exchange:

Dalton: Mommy, where are photos of Daddy as a kid?

Ominous musical overtone starts playing.

Renai: Oh, there aren’t any photos of your Dad as a kid, he’s really bad at keeping track of things.

Or:

Josh’s Mother: What’s this?

She looks at a picture frame of family photo of Josh, Renai, and the kids. Ominous musical overtone starts playing.

Josh’s Mother: You actually got him to stand still for a picture?

We get it. Something important is going to be revealed about the pictures. We probably would’ve known something was off about it without the ominous music. I mean, the characters take a long pause after saying these lines. That’s usually a cue for the audience to listen to an important plot point being made. Thanks for the ominous musical overtone though – just in case we weren’t sure at first, we’ve been cued to the fact that this will come into play later – with about the subtlety of a hammer raining blows upon our head.

The big reveal about the secret of the photos is a little underwhelming as well. It’s supposed to be a pivotal (and frightening) plot point but it comes across as if it was a leftover gag from Scary Movie 4. That’s what we were waiting for? Ugh.

Insidious is a carnival ride of chills and chuckles that confirms James Wan and Leigh Whannell aren’t just one-off horror wonders (the original Saw, not the awful sequels). They’re the real deal. Aside from a few missteps, the film is just plain fun – and probably the most enjoyable horror film I’ve seen in awhile. But please, don’t make this one into a franchise.

B

Note: Insidious comes out this Friday, April 1st. I predict that it will be the top of the box office – though Source Code could be a solid contender (and Hop is a dark horse).

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3 Responses to Insidious

  1. Julia Turnbull says:

    You are writing up a storm – I hope it’s not another Drag me to Hell!!

  2. 5plitreel says:

    Cool that you liked it; I often relax by watching ok-enough mainstream horror since it’s really easy to watch without analyzing or getting really excited, kind of ment for when you just want to blow off steam and such. Plus it has Patrick Wilson in it which is always a bonus! I don’t really get why more people aren’t really excited about him. TBH he deserves to doing better (or more ‘classy’ if you want to put it that way) films than this.

  3. Modest Movie says:

    Hey – I highly recommend checking this movie out, especially if you relax by watching mainstream horror. Insidious is a twisted carnival ride that is just so much fun – and “fun” is really the only word to describe it. It’s a perfect Saturday night movie. And Patrick Wilson is a great actor (have you seen Little Children?) but hasn’t become a big marquee name yet – which is good for a role like this because then you can believe him as a overwhelmed family man, unlike a bigger name star like say…Tom Cruise.

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