Insidious (2010) / Horror-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for thematic material, violence, frightening images, and brief strong language
Running time: 103 min.
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Andrew Astor, Leigh Whannell, Angus Thompson,
Director: James Wan
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Review published August 27, 2013
The creators of the Saw series, director James Wan (The Conjuring, Dead Silence) and screenwriter Leigh Whannell (Saw II, Saw III), team up with Paranormal Activity's creator, Oren Peli, for a good-looking but pedestrian attempt at yet another haunted house/demon possession flick.
Except this one isn't about a house that's haunted, per se, but a person, here in the form of one of the young children of a family of five. After married couple Josh (Wilson, Watchmen) and Renai Lambert (Byrne, Knowing) and their three young tykes move into a new house, strange things begin occurring after one of the lads, Dalton (Simpkins, Little Children), takes a spill off of a ladder in the attic, effectively putting him into a coma, though there is no medical reason for him to be in one. As the family waits for Dalton to snap out of it, all manner of weird events begin happening -- footsteps around the house, doors opening and closing, and strange dreams. Thinking they're in a haunted environment, the family moves away, only to find they are still haunted in their new location. The stress and strain takes its toll on them all, and with nowhere else to go, they decide to call in for help through experts who are used to dealing with such events. Unfortunately for the boy, it appears that the demonic forces don't want the house -- they want the boy, as he is a vessel for them to enter the world of the living.
It's a PG-13 release, so don't expect much in terms of gore or violence. Wan imbues Insidious with a clean look, washed out of many warm colors and employing stylishly stark contrasts, though that doesn't necessarily add up to many scares. In order to drum up a few jump-shocks, it's the usual flash to an unsettling image of a 'ghost' popping out of the darkness, usually making an eerie face (do evil spirits get style points for making people pee themselves?) I'm uncertain just what the purpose of these spirits in antagonizing the family and anyone else who might come over, as it only calls into their mind of their existence, which makes them seek paranormal specialists in order to defeat them. If I were their manager, I'd advise any malevolent forces to just lay low -- problem solved!
Insidious is just one of many examples of 'sensory-stimuli' horror that have been popular in the last decade or so, which replaces a good story with a plethora of sights and sounds meant to elicit the biggest reaction in its skittish audiences. We're afraid, not because we're wrapped up in the story or the danger that the characters are in, but because Wan and company keep turning the crank on the metaphorical jack-in-the-box, as we hear the eerie music amid the dark environments and we brace ourselves for the sudden appearance of a horrific looking apparition that appears out of nowhere, accompanied by the sound of someone pounding on a piano that sounds to be about 10 times louder than the rest of the audio. Basically, there's no story worth following; it's about as interesting as your annoying sibling who seemed to love hiding in closets or behind furniture just to scare the bejeezus out of you at random times.
But I don't really understand just what's so scary about the images we see. Most of the shots meant to scare are merely actors with pasty skin smiling without their eyes or some maladjusted, wet-haired spirit in a dark trench coat just giving a creepy look. Then there are the ear-drum shattering sounds of squelching from the baby monitor, or the high-pitched rhythmic screams of the house's security system whenever the front door busts wide open for reasons unknown. The entire climax of the film involves one of the characters having to enter the world of the damned, dubbed 'The Further', which consists of holding up a lamp to one's face that really doesn't illuminate much except the character's expression, and is likely only of use for the baddies to consistently spring out into the light to terrorize the character (and the audience). If you haven't been scared by the paltry shocks coming our way by this point, it will be the most monotonous stretch of the film.
The family is bland and outside of a few quirks that end up, predictably, essential for the story's use later in the film, they lack any form of personality or distinction. Poltergeist did pretty much everything Insidious does, except far better in every regard. Paltry comic relief, little genuine suspense, and unconvincing drama -- it's a one-trick pony of unsavory imagery and cacophonic assault. Insidious is recommended only for the most easily-frightened of viewers who go to horror movies solely so they can have their significant others jump in their seats and grab them out of the sudden surprises, or if they are alone, to crap their own pants. That will probably be the only crap you give, as there's not much here other than a decent cast gone to waste. Insipid would be a better title.
-- Followed by Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
©2013 Vince Leo