Insidious (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Insidious (2011)

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James Wan has been tinkering away at my head for some time with his little contraption films.  The original Saw was undone by it's overzealous style and equally bad acting (especially from Cary Elwes, who should have known better).  He traipsed about with Dead Silence and Death Sentence before finally taking a break from the directing gig (and producing the seemingly endless Saw franchise) before returning with Insidious.

I'm happy to report that it seems he has been studying up with some of the surrealist greats these last few years.  The first ten minutes of Insidious, and the last half hour, are some of the most gripping and visually creative horror I've seen in the last few years.  There are architectural structures that make little sense, endless fog, and pancake makeup smiles at just the wrong moments.  It's the fun haunted ghost stepchild of F.W. Murnau's The Last Laugh and the best of Lynch's Twin Peaks, all in a very entertaining package.

If nothing else, Insidious packs one of the most exquisite and stylish intros filmed this year.  Wan's camera drifts throughout the house in a lingering tracking shot that is tracking, what, exactly?  Then we get the sense that we're following something, a presence, and see that very presence calmly waiting above a candle.  It's all at once peaceful and scary, further emphasized by the placid credit sequence and it's black and white photography.

Each depicts a standard scene throughout the house of the family moving in and, almost imperceptibly, something is slowly growing more corrupt in each picture.  All before settling peacefully, once again, on a sleeping woman.  The discord and the peace,  all together in one fantastic intro.

There are a few too many loud bumps off-screen that this sight becomes unfortunately common, but not so much that it proceeds glacially a la the Paranormal Activity series.

Shortly afterward little Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls down a ladder, hits his head and enters a coma a few days later.  The doctors explain to his parents Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Bryne) that there's no brain damage, so why the coma?  Soon afterwards little odd happenings around the house become big disruptive happenings, as Renai finds herself tormented by a particularly pleasant but nonetheless aggressive little ghost.

Then the film becomes a sly comedy for a bit, bringing in the ghost hunters Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to do a little digging around.  Since the movie takes their methods more seriously than we might here in plain ol' reality, they bring in the astral medium Elsie (Lin Shaye).  This is where, for some, the movie may go off course but for me it was invigorating.

I enjoyed the placid horror and contemplative nature of the first half but the film becomes something harder to classify in the second.  There are elements of humor from the hunters, but they carry their own sense of menace - particularly when Elsie whips out her device to watch and listen to the ghost's and is tantamount to a gas mask in need of two hosts.  Then that wonderful production design used in that late film trip to the other side.  If there's one fault it's that Wan is still a bit over reliant on little dolls to make things scary, but the rest of the big chills come not from sudden movements but from the unseen horror executed with a waiting smile.

The ghost hunters are quasi Mythbusters and Elsie their endlessly entertaining Kari.

The performances were mostly solid even if Patrick Wilson (usually a favorite character actor of mine) was tuned into the film a bit more somberly than he should have.  Lin Shaye takes to the role deliciously though.  She's an old hand at horror films that twist the rules a bit (with a quick nod to one of her first roles in A Nightmare On Elm Street) and takes her character to the bleeding edge of delusion before pulling back with just the right level of chilled look in her eyes.  The ghost hunters are the obvious comic relief, but Lin is impossible to ignore during her trance-like process through the movie.

Insidious is a pleasant surprise.  It's not going to be one of those horror films that changes the game, but it incorporates just enough of its forebears in such a way that the presentation feels fresh.  Since the game is illusion even the appearance of novelty is quite the trump card.  Insidious plays it's hand wonderfully, and finally has my hopes up for whatever hopefully mannequin-less film he does next.

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Insidious (2011)

Directed by James Wan.
Screenplay by Leigh Wannell.
Starring Lin Shaye, Patrick Wilson and Rose Bryne.

Posted by Andrew

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