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SXSW: Quint didn't care too much for James Wan's INSIDIOUS!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my thoughts on James Wan’s Insidious.

I’d like to blame hype for the sour taste Insidious left in my mouth, but the more I think about it the more certain I am that I wouldn’t have loved the movie even if people haven’t been comparing it to Poltergeist since Toronto. The Poltergeist comparisons really make the movie fall short of the bar, but at the end of the day the movie is still the movie hype or no hype.

The movie I got was 90% jump scares (always aided by the incredibly on-the-nose and loud score), which annoyed me more than impressed me. I love it when a horror movie gets me, either by making me jump or creeping me out, but when scare after scare depends solely on the composer bringing his fists down on the keyboard it begins to be cheap. Stingers are great weapons in a horror filmmaker’s arsenal, but when they’re overused like in this film it just begins to feel like it’s ONLY thing they know how to do.

Comparing the movie to Poltergeist is an easy draw because it does deal with ghosts taking a child from a suburban home. Instead of Carol Ann being pulled into a giant closet vagina our happy home is rocked when a young boy is in what appears to be a coma. He won’t wake up, baffling the doctors. He’s just gone. As this child remains in this mysterious coma more and more supernatural shit starts happening in the family home, seen mostly by the mother character (Rose Byrne).

The central conceit of the movie is actually very strong, a great idea as to why ghosts are showing up in our realm of existence. If I have any problem with the big idea of the movie it’s that Wan and writer Leigh Whannell don’t do it justice.

Of the two, Whannell is least culpable as the core family drama is fine, if slightly too melodramatic. Wan made some directorial decisions that make me scratch my head, such as the main bad guy… a red-faced demon that is much cooler in concept than execution. Seriously, this guy looks like a rejected Cirque du Soleil performer. Painted black from head to cloven-footed toe, with a bright red splash on his face he is probably the least scary thing I’ve ever seen when fully lit.

There’s a dream sequence we see narrated by Barbara Hershey where he is kept in shadow and it’s the most effective thing in the movie. When he’s silhouetted this thing is really creepy, but either Wan didn’t realize this or just didn’t care and almost every time this dude shows up we see too much to make it scary.

”We See Too Much To Make It Scary” is a good quote for this movie. The last act is a rescue scene that is again good in concept, but poor in execution. Think of it like this… what if we saw JoBeth Williams actually rescue Carol Ann instead of staying with Zelda Rubinstein and Craig T. Nelson. What happens off camera is so much richer and awe-inspiring than actually going in and examining it.

But I see my double standard here. If they hadn’t gone into this in-between realm then it would have been an even more blatant Poltergeist lift… So, I’m glad they tried, but I just wish that when they did it didn’t look like they just put a color filter on a DV camera and ran around Universal’s House of Horror.

The flick isn’t horrible or unwatchable by any means, but it’s almost worse in that we see glimpses of a great movie and through either budget or creative limitations we end up with something that is less than it could have been.

Many of the problems that plagued Wan’s Dead Silence show up here, so I have to walk away thinking that he was a big part of why this movie didn’t work for me. Because I love his inspirations, I love his cast and generally dig this type of film, but nothing in this movie fully landed for me.

Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson are both very good actors and come out unscathed, but again are better than the movie they’re in.

Lin Shaye is the Zelda Rubinstein of the movie and they decide to take her 180 degrees away from the usual spiritualist in these kinds of movies. Instead of being weird or decked out in a black veil she’s the sweet older lady down the street always there with a big smile and a twinkle in her eye.

She’s joined by Whannell and Angus Sampson who are bumbling assistants. Both didn’t really add anything to the movie, but didn’t take anything out either. I have a feeling if the tone of the movie was a little more comical they would have had better stuff to do and stood out more, or if it had been a little scarier they would have been a welcome relief from the suspense.

Shaye acquits herself well and sells some of the better moments of the movie… better because what she sees is inferred, spoken about or drawn… instead of shown fully lit.

Before I’m accused of being a horror snob here, I’m not in the camp that thinks the only good horror is what happens off camera. Fuck that. If your movie is all build up with no pay off that isn’t a successful movie, whatever the genre. Horror needs those money shots that really stick with you, but there’s also an artistry to those reveals that Wan either chose to ignore or wasn’t aware of.

I have to believe he knows those tricks because there are moments of suspense that really work, even if they are few and far between. For instance, there’s a nice long shot that follows Byrne through the house that has a really subtle creepy moment, one of the few that isn’t accompanied by a spastic burst of jumbled notes from the soundtrack, mind you.

Moments like that are what upset me about this film. They clearly knew a better way to make the movie, but chose a direction that didn’t pass muster… for me, anyway. There are a lot of people that love this movie, but I honestly can’t imagine feeling strongly one way or the other.

I get people worshipping something like Enter the Void, which grates on me like nobody’s business. But I get having strong feelings for that film. I don’t get having strong feelings about Insidious. I found it to be solidly middle of the road… frustratingly so.

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Readers Talkback
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  • March 12, 2011, 2:54 a.m. CST

    Good review

    by Shubniggorath

    As always Quint. Good on ya man.

  • March 12, 2011, 3:14 a.m. CST

    I loved the first 30 minutes

    by Muldoon

    Scene with the front door and the alarm going off scared the shit out of me, but yeah I kind of fell out of love by the end...

  • March 12, 2011, 3:35 a.m. CST


    by Motoko Kusanagi

    Trailer looked okay.

  • March 12, 2011, 4:24 a.m. CST


    by Inadequate Sandwich

    A bit upsetting to hear, especially because I tend to agree wholeheartedly with Quint on most occasions. I was hoping I'd enjoy this thing, but I can't say I'm that surprised to hear this. While the trailer looked interesting even IT seemed to relying on the jump scares incessantly not to mention the red and black faced person/thing that shows up for a split second looked to me like Darth Maul with hair.

  • March 12, 2011, 6:46 a.m. CST

    Fucking Spoilers!!!!

    by ThisBethesdaSea

    Warn us for fucks sake....Jesus!!!

  • March 12, 2011, 7:25 a.m. CST

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  • March 12, 2011, 8:04 a.m. CST


    by Amfpsych

    I am tired of people clicking on a review and complaining about spoilers. Did you think Quint could review a movie WITHOUT SAYING ANYTHING ABOUT THE FUCKING MOVIE? Also Quint actually didn't reveal anything that I hadn't heard about insidious. But if you don't want to be spoiled then don't read a review.

  • March 12, 2011, 8:33 a.m. CST

    Expected this...

    by Jarek

    Aside from Death Sentence (which in itself is a Taxi Driver ripoff, and was merely entertaining) Wan has yet to make a movie that's actually legitimately good. Actually, I loathe both Saw and Dead Silence. I'll still see Insidious with an open mind, but I'm not expecting much.

  • March 12, 2011, 8:34 a.m. CST

    Well, 'Saw' sucked, so...

    by gigantis2000

    I was really disappointed when I saw that Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson, two of my favorite current actors, were going to be in a movie by the same director. They deserve better. Also, I know some people will disagree about 'Saw,' so I will say that I thought there were some good ideas behind it, but the direction/execution was ridiculously mishandled (i.e., laughably terrible), which sounds like what Quint is saying about this one. Does that sound about right Quint?

  • March 12, 2011, 9:31 a.m. CST

    Wait a minute...

    by SebastianHaff

    Quint, can you elaborate on your distaste for Enter the Void? Can't seem to find your review, and I thought most people generally dug it. I suppose it dragged a bit in the middle, but the good far outweighed the bad for me, mainly because I'm fascinated by the connection between DMT trips and collective near death experiences. Elaborate!

  • March 12, 2011, 9:36 a.m. CST

    This is what happens when...

    by buggerbugger don't live in a house that's a church!

  • March 12, 2011, 10:26 a.m. CST

    Quint....Dead Silence....

    by vicmackey1268

    was/is a great Halloween movie. Sure it's not the greatest, I think Trick r Treat is the perfect Halloween movie, but in terms of scares people my age (24) still look uneasy for most of the film and everyone I talk to loves the "Saw" twist at the end. For me it was like an adult version of Goosebumps "Night of the Living Dummy", a book that gave me nightmares as a kid. The music in that was genius, as there's "dead silence" right before every kill, almost the complete opposite of what you describe here with overuse of music. Even the way the car travels down the road going from old picture to computer to real driving was unique. Like I said, and probably what you meant, the movie could have been a lot better. Donny Walhberg randomly shaving at crime scenes was really stupid, but as a decent ghost movie I have fun watching it every Halloween. Halloween for me though has and will always be time for SAW...even though they aren't making any more I always have my marathons. SAW-SAW 7, Trick r Treat, Dead Silence, Halloween original, Sleepy Hollow (another crappy but fun movie), and the under appreciated American Haunting.

  • March 12, 2011, 10:29 a.m. CST

    The Collector

    by vicmackey1268

    .....was one of the worst movies I've seen in a long time...I really don't even remember if I finished it all....soooooo glad they didn't use that idea for the original Jigsaw/Saw prequels.

  • March 12, 2011, 10:39 a.m. CST

    In response to SAW sucking...

    by vicmackey1268

    I think the Twilight films are this generations worst invention...just completely miserable wastes of time......which is why I'm not surprised people feel that way about the Saw films....if they didn't make as much money I'm sure most would be direct to dvd nonsense. However, I loved that they were more than the Scream 2/3, I Still Know... hack and slash movies. Following each one has rewards for the loyal viewers who like getting snippets of info. Saw 4, for example had huuuuge backstory into Jigsaw that I found to be really fun as I actually cared about the character. No one gives a crap when the Scream killer takes off the mask and goes into exposition, but this was just unique. Yes the acting sucks...yes the gore is wayyyy too gruesome, yes the series went on for too long.....but for the fans who watched each one there were really cool plot twists and interesting info to get me past all the negatives. Go to imdb and see for each movie all the commentary and debate over the twists and what might happen in the next movies, then see the next one and you'll understand how fun the films really are. Of course I don't like watching people scream and beg for life as they get ripped apart, but I do enjoy the info on how Jigsaw's mind operated. For example, the more you get into the films the more elaborate and downright evil the traps are....well Jigsaw suffers from a frontal lobe inoperable brain tumor, the part of the brain that controls rational thought and of course the guy is a nutjob but as the cancer progresses he keeps thinking he's always right, even though he's clearly not.... its little things like that that make the Saw movies "smarter" than the typical Halloween trash that comes out and then gets forgotten by the next year.....while I'm sure NO ONE will invite people over and be like "Hey lets watch Saw 6!!!", for the people that watched each one as Halloween tradition it was fun for us while it lasted.

  • March 12, 2011, 11:20 a.m. CST

    the demon not being scary...

    by vicmackey1268

    i hate it when the ultimate evil bad thing in a movie is fully shown....especially something like a one realllly knows what satan looks like but from everything that's read or told to us he's the definition of ugly/evil/sin....something like that I doubt could ever be fully shown on screen. I loved the teaser with the drawing and the creepy music and the shadowy red faced thing....if they'd left it at that, shadows, I think people would like the movie more...but seeing it fully lit is like finally seeing the alien in Signs, its like rrreeaaaly, they're scared of THAT on that note, I plan on seeing the movie when I can redbox it but its just too early in the year for a scary movie to me...its like fun, pre-summer action comedy time to me...idk...I'm really pumped but Capt. America and Cowboys and Aliens...

  • March 12, 2011, 11:22 a.m. CST

    I meant to say "for" not "but"...oops.

    by vicmackey1268

    ...and im done commenting for a while cuz I gotsta get to work.....

  • March 12, 2011, 11:30 a.m. CST

    solidly middle of the road

    by torontoxic

    sounds like a hit to me then. thats called accessible no?

  • March 12, 2011, 12:13 p.m. CST

    The difference between AICN reviews and mainstream media reviews.

    by The Reluctant Austinite

    If you don't like spoilers, don't read reviews on a site like AICN before you see the film. The reviewers here are well versed in the fine details that make films work or don't work, and to discuss these details you absolutely must reveal intimate plot details. Sometimes major spoilers must be revealed in order to properly tell hardcore film fans what does and doesn't work. These reviews are for hardcore fans who know a lot about movies, not for casual film goers who might see four or five films a year in the theater. Mainstream movie reviews are generally just made up of sound bites and an overall brief opinion of the film and generally include a second paragraph plot synopsis that is absolutely irrevelant to anyone who has seen the movie trailer. Those reviews are meant to see print in mainstream newspapers and magazines or on local TV broadcasts. This site is a whole different animal. It was born on leaks and spoilers.

  • March 12, 2011, 3:04 p.m. CST

    You don't need to sit through this film, to know...

    by MajorFrontbum's a steaming pile of dog shit. It was evident from the preview trailer, that this was a horrible mess. Any film that involves that little man Leigh Whannell, is destined to be a laughable, abyssal wreck. The only thing missing from those SAW movies, was a laugh track.

  • March 13, 2011, 7:52 a.m. CST


    by BringingSexyBack

    And I always thought that not showing how JoBeth Williams was able to grab Carol Ann was a cop out.

  • March 13, 2011, 2:37 p.m. CST

    I agree about the SAW series

    by D.Vader

    Despite what you think about torture porn, I have to commend the series for keepIng up a solid character arc and storyline throughout the movies. That's what makes the films really entertaining for me and what sets it apart from your typical horror series.

  • March 14, 2011, 8:09 a.m. CST

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  • March 14, 2011, 1:08 p.m. CST

    I stopped reading when I say the rant on the score

    by Wookie_1995

    that is the one of many things that has made horror not scary anymore, you know a scare is coming up just because of the score.

  • March 14, 2011, 1:08 p.m. CST

    saw* the rant

    by Wookie_1995

  • March 14, 2011, 5:27 p.m. CST


    by WaveBoy

    Well said! I've followed the franchise since the original and they're all a hellova good time in their own ways. Personally I found 6 to be the greatest in the franchise, along with 1 and 3. The latest was a bit dissapointing and ultimately just wasn't that satisfying considering it was supposed to be the last, it felt practically inferior in every way when stacked up to 6 which was far more interesting, but 3D had some pretty gruesome traps and the fued between 'terminator' Hoffman and Jill was fun...But the complete lack oh Jigsaw himself regarding the flash backs , the shotty acting at times, that sucky random young cop as the lead, the somewhat predictable ending, it felt rushed, and the unsatisfying ending made it a dissapointment, yet it 'was' still decent overall. I enjoyed it more than 4(Although 4 had some brilliant flash backs, but I hated Rigs, the traps were awful and the twist ending came off a bit corny the way it was excecuted), and maybe even the uncut version of 5. Yet Hopefully there will be a Saw 8 because there are too many loose ends still present and because of the way it ended, the scenario wasn't set in stone...But instead was left to the imagination. And everybody knows Hoffman will some how escape! ;)

  • March 14, 2011, 5:31 p.m. CST

    Dead Silence....

    by WaveBoy

    James Wans 'Dead Silence' Was incredibly lame, but I will say it had one hell of a twist ending!

  • March 15, 2011, 7:59 a.m. CST

    Jump scares?

    by Bob

    I may be wrong, but I could swear I read an interview with Wan where he claimed that "Insidious" had NO jump scares. If his guilty of a blatant lie then someone should sneak up behind him and drop an ice cube down his back.