Saturday, 16 July 2011

Review : Insidious (2011)



James Wan


1. Proceeding in a gradual, subtle way, but with harmful effects.
2. Treacherous; crafty.

I arrived at the party pretty late on this one. I'd noticed a lot of buzz in the horror community about this film before its release, and a great deal of hype from its many admirers afterwards. Somehow, through all this I managed to stay in the dark as to what the films plot was. I knew it was directed by James Wang, who's SAW and DEATH SENTENCE I had enjoyed, and who's film, DEAD SILENCE, I absolutely adore. I was very keen to lay my eyes on this puppy. I just never found the right opportunity.

See, supernatural horror is the one sub genre that can really put the fear into me. I try as often as possible to avoid seeing a ghost story in the cinema, or even in the company of another person. For me, haunted house movies and ghost stories can only be watched under controlled conditions for full effect, and that means total isolation, empty house, lights off and sound cranked up to 11. For a guy like me, its very easy to work myself into a state of genuine dread when I allow my imagination to get the better of me. If a film pushes the right buttons, I practically move into a state of semi-hallucination, where and sound has a sinister connotation, and half glimpses shadows rush through my hallway. Its a brilliant, terrifying feeling and one I very rarely have the chance to enjoy, especially in our current season. Its no easy trick to pull of during these endless summer days, even in Scotland where sunshine is a dirty word. In the case of INSIDIOUS, I chose to wait for the right time, and last night I found myself home alone, with the wind blowing outside and the rain lashing of the windows. So into Wan's new film I ventured, with a smile on my face and apprehension in my heart. Good times.

Now that I've finally seen the film, I'm in a very torn position on it. There are many things about this film that I love, and a few issues that really pull it down for me, at least at the moment. Theres a chance that my negative feelings on some of the films 'flaws' may change in time, and could be due to perhaps having too high an expectation for the film. When Raimi's DRAG ME TO HELL made its debut, I saw it first day with the same kind of anticipation I had for INSIDIOUS, and by the time that film had finished I was disgusted. I HATED the tone of the thing, I HATED how such a wonderful, terrifying concept could be so lightly addressed and as I left the theatre, I proclaimed it a 'bullshit kids version of NIGHT OF THE DEMON. Ive since grown to adore the film. The thing is, I was expecting MY version of how it should go down, and when I allowed myself to accept that Raimi had made a film that was less EXORCIST and more TALES FROM THE CRYPT, I grew to love it for its technicolor zaniness. I think in time with INSIDIOUS, I may come around to viewing it differently.

Rest assured, I'm not comparing the two films in any way. The only thing they both share is a love for deafening sound design, and old school title screens which look just amazing. No, INSIDIOUS stands on its own, and for the most part takes itself VERY seriously. There are just a few things that don't sit right with me, the frustration I feel regarding these things may very well be a symptom of my mindset, that's all.

Onto the film. The entire piece plays out much like a stylised remake of the Spielberg/Hooper classic, POLTERGEIST, albeit a version of that film that borrows from a very wide range of other horrors. HOUSE, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and NEW NIGHTMARE among others appear to have influenced Wan and writing partner Whanell. Yet no matter how obvious the influences seem to be, INSIDIOUS still feels very fresh.  A modern day take on the haunted house movie that plays with past ideas and reshapes them into something that feels original. It doesn't hurt the film that Wan's direction is excellent. The film is perfectly paced and Wan directs his many scares mercilessly. The soundtrack is also seriously unnerving, and when coupled with the horrors seen and implied onscreen its damn near unbearable at times. All the actors are on point and sell the wilder aspects of the story well. Patrick Wilson and the beautiful Rose Byrne are convincing as loving parents desperately trying to save their first born child, and when Lin Shaye enters the tale as a spiritual medium I had to let out a holler. Its always great seeing the horror icon do her thing, and shes wonderful here. Full of empathy, rage and terror as she unravels the mystery of what this poor family is actually dealing with. And some of the concepts terrified me on a spiritual as well as personal level. Ive been an advocate of Astral Projection since my early teens, and the ideas put forth in INSIDIOUS just about froze my heart. I wont spoil the fun for anyone yet to view the film, but there are metaphysical concepts in here that I'm unsure Ive seen in a film before. I'm still playing over them in my head a day later. This is a haunted house movie with no haunted house. Its a very paranoid, thought provoking film, and few of those thoughts will be pleasant.

INSIDIOUS, if you allow it to work into your psyche, is a VERY scary film. Watching this one alone in the night was tough damn work. The scares here are some of the best Ive seen in years, and there are no fake jump scares that I noticed. No, all the frights came from genuine situations and an overbearing atmosphere of danger, and evil. The ghosts here are kept for the greatest part in shadow, and are all the more terrifying for it, and without giving anything away, there are a LOT of them. Add into this mix the disturbing spiritual themes it explores and your one for one hell of a ride. One scene in which the leads mother recounts her dream from the night before had me groaning in horror as she explained what she witnessed. Another scene involving photographs from the past made me feel psychically ill, (told you, I don't handle ghosts well). INSIDIOUS does everything a great ghost story should do. It scares, it scars and it sticks with you.

As I stated way back at the start of this whole thing, though, it did disappoint me in some ways. For the first two acts I have no problem stating that, for me, the film achieved greatness, and was heading straight toward becoming a bona-fide classic. Perfection on the scale of HALLOWEEN, EXORCIST or SUSPIRIA, and then things took some very strange turns. As the terror builds and the story hurtles toward whatever doom laden end, Wan and Whanell make a few baffling choices that just don't sit right with me. The introduction of two comedy paranormal investigators seems totally unnecessary. When they arrive on the scene the grim, deadly serious tone shifts to lightweight comedy. I understand that injecting some humor is welcome by audiences, and I admit it did relieve the terror, intermittently, but I DIDN'T WANT IT TO. I was so caught up in the whole nightmare unfolding that I forget it was a movie, and that I was sat at home. Every other performance in played totally straight and it just didn't seem to fit. It doesn't really hurt the film, and I'm sure most will appreciate it, but I didn't. For me, it was akin to Peter Venkman showing up in Reagen's room during her exorcism. It took me out of the film. Only briefly, but noticeably.

The other issue that I see at present as a flaw was the final act's propensity to show too much. Cardinal rule in a ghost story, don't show the audience any more than you have to. Hearing about alternate dimensions and the horrors that lurked there was FAR scarier than actually seeing them. And the full reveal of one particular entity was a little disappointing. A demon hiding and waiting in the shadows is far more terrifying then a demon in full view, especially one who looks like Darth Maul. He's still scary, but a lot of the power is lost in the reveal. Again, I may come to change my views on this. The scenes in act are very interesting, and feel almost like a fun house carnival. There are some fine visuals here, but they're NOTHING compared to the horrors you envision in your head during a seance scene when they're merely described. Less is more, its a simple lesson. The film does redeem itself in its final moments, and these will be seen by some as small flaws, and I'm sure by some, as benefiting the film. I think my frustration with the elements I mentioned may be a personal thing. In any other film I wouldn't have minded these things one little bit, but I was convinced I was watching greatness for over an hour, and that's the sort of thing that pisses me off; missed opportunities.

Don't let me put you off with my issues. The film does so much RIGHT that it deserves your love. INSIDIOUS is a genuinely brilliant movie that many will relish, and some, for the reasons Ive stated, will hate, or bemoan. I myself loved much of it, was angered by a tiny bit of it, and was disappointed by what could have been, come the end. I will say the final scene really helped salvage the whole thing and I'll be watching this many times I'm sure. I have a suspicion that given time this film may become a favourite of mine, just as soon as I separate my own ideas from the ideas presented within. If you get a chance, watch this one alone in the dark, its a damned effective horror film, and a fine throwback to the ghost stories of the 70' and 80's. One of the years best.

8.5 Sith Lords out of 10


  1. I agree with you about "Drag Me to Hell". I couldn't stand that film when it first came out as I too noticed the similarities to M.R. James' "Casting the Runes" and, more than that, to Stephen King's "Thinner". Now that I've got the "Unrated Director's Cut", I like it a lot more. As for "Insidious", it was just "Poltergeist" again but with a good dollop of "They Wait" (2007) as well. It didn't scare me but just annoyed me especially in the midst of all the overhype which accompanied its release.

  2. Haha. I bought it early on Amazon and waited for the release. My friends said I would freak over it since I adored Dead Silence. I actually have a review of it going up this week. It wasn't particularly original, saw "Poltergeist," "Amityville Horror" and "The Entity" replayed in it, but still there aren't enough of these 70s feeling ghost stories around, so I'll forgive the lack of originality for being moody and the best use of a creepy old song to freak you out, like The Strangers or Jeepers Creepers did. Excellent review.

  3. Just like to say im a big fan and i love your reviews

  4. Yeah it stole quite a bit!! still came off as fresh I think mostly due to its visuals. Im a sucker for a ghost story and as I said, something of a disciple of astral prohjection, so it probably scared me more than the average bear. Seem to be a very devisive film among us horror fans, much like DRAG ME TO HELL. And that tune WAS freaky! hahaha...thanks for reading, guys. Its great hearing all your views ;)

  5. @autumn, lookimg forward to your review. Did you clock that the Mother was played by the actress of THE ENTITY Another nice touch ;)

  6. I think the creepiest part of the movie is the kids. This movie gave me nightmares! Insidious was the scariest movie this year. I jumped out of my seat a few times during the movie. I can say that I would only have put up with half of the stuff that she went through before I was done! This was a great movie though. I definitely plan on renting it again from Blockbuster. As a customer and employee of DISH, I know that right now, there is a promotion where you can get 3 free months of Blockbuster when you sign up for DISH Network! Here is all the information. I would recommend to anyone who wants to get scared!

  7. I wasn't overly impressed with this film.

    I agree with you though that it started really well then kind of lost its train of thought, before getting back to itself at the end.

    A decent film with some scary parts but could of been far better.

    Also Darth Maul at the demon? C'mon!!

  8. hahaha.. yeah the choice of using a Sith in the film was seriously misjudged. Why show the demon anyway? Makes no sense. I wrote this a while back and havent watched it since the first viewing, I think mostly because the finale is so weak. Id rather the whole film sucked than have genuine brilliance and then a lukewarm third act.
    Thanks for comments, Iggy