Although I missed seeing INSIDIOUS at SXSW, I was able to catch a screening this week. I admire what James Wan and Leign Whannell were trying to do. INSIDIOUS wants to have fun scaring you, and if you throw your popcorn into the air, maybe get a squeeze in with your significant other, it's all good. I do think that it suffers from a syndrome Stephen King described in DANSE MACABRE - once Wan and Whannell have to deliver on what's causing all the problems in the film, what they come up with can't possibly compete with what we've already invented in our heads.
That said, I still think the film is worth your time, and I had my friend Jen Dracowyrm (yeah, it's an alias), who saw the film with me, send in a review. He's actually been on some ghost investigations. And although I'm a skeptic about the paranormal, I believe that he believes it. He's told me he's seen and heard some pretty strange things while out on his investigations, and on April 9th, I'm finally going to go on one of them after he's been bugging me to go for years now. Will I come back a believer? Unlikely. But it'll be fun hanging out regardless. But here's Jen:
Can Insidious Entrap Its Audience?
The PG – 13 rating has evolved into more of a financial tool and less of a guideline for age appropriate movies. This is only too painfully obvious when applied to horror movies that are edited down graphically for theatrical release to grab as much of the kiddie dollars as possible, then have the unrated label slapped on for home video to catch those last points. It’s always fun for me to see a horror movie that was written within the parameters of the PG – 13 rating rules, yet still delivers on the script. Insidious falls into this latter category.
The film utilizes tried and true formulae: Young family, Josh and Renai Lambert (portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) move into an older, spacious home with their three children, then spooky things begin to happen centered around their young son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and it quickly escalates from there. Where the film seems to excel is the feel of the movie. It was reminiscent of horror flicks of the early 80’s and having veteran actors that have worked in the genre at the time, only adds to the time capsule.
As the movie progresses, Dalton is playing alone upstairs, gets lured into the attic, has an experience, seems okay and by the next morning just doesn’t wake up. He’s not in a coma, Doc’s never seen anything like it, wait and see and this is how the boy remains for the majority of the movie. Mom (Byrne) remains at home while Dad’s off at work, so she starts to notice objects out of place, picks up voices on the monitor when the baby is not crying and things escalate from there until they move out of the house in fear and desperation.
Unpacking in a new, brighter home, Mrs. Lambert listens to a record that scratches and skips to Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, which has its own creepiness factor, and starts to see the otherworldly visitors again. Enter Lorraine Lambert, Barbara Hershey, and the horror cred comes into play. Hershey, is not new to the genre, having played the tortured Carla Moran in The Entity and most recently the standoffish, domineering Erica Sayers in Black Swan. Here she plays her part to introduce another horror vet, Lin Shaye. Shaye appeared in a few 80’s horror films, including, but not limited to, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hidden and a couple of the Critters movies and here she plays psychic Elise Rainier and with her in the picture, the story is allowed to run wild.
With her and her two comic relief investigators, gadget man Tucker (Angus Sampson) and sketch artist ‘Specs’ (the movies writer, Leigh Whannell), the story ramps up when Elise does a walk through and points out the main antagonist hovering somewhere above inanimate Dalton’s bed and has it sketched out as she whispers details to Specs. ‘I’m sorry to inform you, it’s not a haunted house, but a haunted kid’, to paraphrase Elise. Dalton can astrally project, a gift he apparently received from his dad, and went into the film’s original title, The Further, and can’t find his way back. Go get him.
Problems I had with the film? Yes, there are quite a few formulaic scenes, the psychic and helpers ripped directly from Poltergeist, the old house that kept reminding me of Witchboard and a very effective placement of a demonic face (the part that made me jump, though I wish wasn’t in the trailer) a la The Exorcist, but they are used well. The films only allowed F-bomb is squandered by Wilson, when it could have been used to add levity after a shock, say by the other son, Foster (Andrew Astor) and the portrayal of astral projection looks like a locally produced stage play, but, again, played effectively to convey the limbo of astral space. And a difficult balance; how much of the monster do you show? A little too much monster here.
These complaints aside, I had fun. Considering the budget was one mil and reportedly came around 20% under that budget, the films use of practical prosthetics and a smidgen of CGI to advance the story are well placed within the script. The story rules here and without the advantage of say Sam Raimi’s recent Drag Me to Hell, which utilized his patented mix of horror and humor throughout, the mood is well kept. Well, the séance part kinda borrows from Raimi too.
I will also say, the portrayal of the two paranormal investigators was personally fun for me, as I’m with a paranormal research group myself, South Texas Apparition Research Society (yes, S.T.A.R.S. for you Raccoon City dwellers). The unprofessional demeanor that is rampant with most of these groups, mine included, is well portrayed as well as some of the over the top, home built investigation equipment.
You can guess how the movie turns out, or can you? Not the best haunting/paranormal flick I’ve seen, but fun, none the less. There’s plenty of canned, aerosol-propelled, processed cheeze product throughout, but it’s supposed to go there. You wouldn’t substitute Moet in a 7Up cake, now would you? Enjoy.
Hope you enjoyed that. Nordling, out.