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.