Insidious (2011)

Directed By: James Wan
Written By: Leigh Whannell
Starring: Patrick Wilson
  Rose Byrne
  Ty Simpkins
  Lin Shaye

Have you ever visited a scare attraction? Something like The London Bridge Experience or a carnival Ghost Train? The kind of place you walk slowly around, without any particular reason to be there, and scream when a face-painted actor jumps out of the darkness and shouts “boo” at you. Repeat for twenty minutes and leave, cathartically screamed out of a day’s frustration. This is Insidious, except it’s on screen and 102 minutes long… and I mean LONG.

The skeletal storyline for Insidious centres around the Lambert family, whose son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into an unexplainable coma-thing that no doctor can diagnose. Then their house becomes severely haunted. Or is it? Those who’ve seen the trailer (or read the freakin’ tagline, for God’s sake!) will know the third act reveal already, but I won’t spoil it for newcomers. What happens from here on in can be summed up easily: some scary shit happens.

Insidious is absolutely terrifying in places. It is genuinely stressful even if / when you give up caring about the emaciated plot. Figures appear out of nowhere, children flit across the screen giggling manically, a demonic cross-breed of Freddy Kruger and Darth Maul bursts out of cupboards. It’s harrowing, disturbing stuff, but almost entirely senseless.

With no discernible rules behind these horrifying apparitions, their presence is as baffling as it is scary… and sometimes hilarious. Apart from the mostly comic Freddy Maul, the ghosts are a smattering of Victorian-looking stereotypes, creepy-smiles, random dancing children and one gothic Meat Loaf who paces himself into a bedroom. On hindsight it’s hokey and head-shakingly silly… much like a live-action scare attraction.

The other, huge problem with Insidious is that it is packed full of clichés stolen from a thousand other superior movies, including their own! The scares are genuine but lifted from numerous J-horrors and nearly any ghost film you can think of. They even lift the “voice on the baby monitor” trick from Paranormal Activity, but amp it to 11 for another ridiculous jump-scare. Director James Wan (of Saw and Dead Silence fame) and writer Leigh Whannell (of Saw and Dead Silence fame) must have spent a lot of time asking “what would scare the crap out of someone?” and three minutes writing character and plot.

Not even the themes and family dynamics are original, once again stealing the “absent father, haunted child, mother who sees things but no one believes her” set-up from Paranormal Activity 1 and Paranormal Activity 2. I would call the Producers of Paranormal Activity and scream “plagiarism!” but sadly those three gents have also produced Insidious… so it’s just shameless repetition. Insidious is solidly scary, but as original as a cloven-hoofed demon and a Victorian ghost.

Tragically, both Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne excel as the distraught parents, commanding their roles and our attention, but they literally don’t need to. It wouldn’t matter if they were played by James Corden and Lindsay Lohan, because Insidious is not about character, it is about SCARES SCARES SCARES!!

It also appears Wan and chums couldn’t quite work out what type of film they were making. It feels like it’s set in the 1950′s, with an oddly archaic title screen and a heart-stabbingly urgent score that viciously beats piano keys and rapes violin strings throughout, putting you on edge without having to bother building up any tension. It is reminiscent of Drag Me to Hell but without the self-knowing, the charm and the much-needed consistency.

There are many unanswered questions in Insidious, but my most frustrating would be this; why did James Wan think it pertinent to write his name on a blackboard and have the Saw clown face drawn below it, with an 8 scrawled underneath? Well, James Wan’s Saw franchise is getting an eighth outing soon – geddit?! High-five for subtleness there boys – boom!

Overall Insidious is shameless, cheap-trickery on a Hollywood budget that cheats audiences out of a proper film by replacing tension and story by loud noises and random apparitions literally appearing out of nowhere (and for no reason!). Once comedy duo Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (played by writer Leigh Whannell) turn up, the film takes a plummeting downturn and tailspins out of control once uber-knowledgeable psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) straps a huge gas mask to her face…

Insidious is… scary. No doubt about it. But I’d be scared if someone jumped out of bush and yelled “ghost!” in my general direction, which Insidious does for at least 50% of the time. The story is traditional, the family expected, the general concept horribly familiar, but it is absolutely terrifying in places and genuinely harrowing. On hindsight, the film made me angry with myself and the makers, because you feel like you’ve been tricked. Insidious is an expensive carnival ride that outstays it’s welcome.

Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

3 Comments on “Insidious”

  1. Damocles66 says:

    “Much like a live-action scare attraction” nails it for me. . I did enjoy the film for what it was, but due to the skeletal character development I couldn’t have cared less about the family. So… you have a child lost to the family – would have worked better for me if it had been their pet chinchilla “Oh no! Barney won’t wake up and just lays in his cage on chinchilla life support!” (at least he’d be fluffy and I like fluffy).

    The character arc of the father served to make my wife and I intensely dislike him. By the time he steps up to do something about the situation, We were already rooting for the boogens and whatnot to take him down. With regard to the Lin Shaye gas mask scene, I had the uncomfortable feeling I was watching some bizarre fetish porn and was fervently hoping that the camera wouldn’t pan down. I get that they were trying (REALLY HARD) to keep the viewers off balance, but why the gas mask? Is the other realm stinky?

    I will give Wan and company credit, it did have some really effective jump scares and a couple of solid creepy moments.

    Thanks for the excellent write-up.

  2. lycan says:

    i enjoyed this movie, well, the first half of it any way and the very ending of it, i thought it was a bit too stephen king material when it came to the ghostly effects, they were shit, i mean even buffy the vampire slayer effects looked better.

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