Directed by : James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Barbara Hershey, Andrew Astor, Joseph Bishara, Philip Friedman, J. LaRose
1/2 (out of 4)
James Wan’s spooky supernatural flick Insidious makes no attempt to hide its origins. Starting with the hectic life of a 2 parent, 3 child family, it moves onto strange occurrences related to a house haunting, with malevolent spirits running around and numerous instances of child endangerment, before finally bringing in ghost hunters headed by a psychic who sends daddy into “The Other Side” to get his kid back. So it’s Poltergeist, then, with a few added twists: the house ain’t haunted, but the kid is, and there’s an astral projection subplot which gives way to a possession story. Insidious draws from lots of other wells too – Poltergeist II, The Sixth Sense, Drag Me To Hell, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and the first two Paranormal Activity flicks (hey, is that Oren Peli I see as one of the producers?) but it clones them well enough for most of the running time before finally collapsing on its shaky foundation.
Mining as much as it can from supernatural threats (including putting a baby in harms way – think Paranormal Activity 2), Insidious terrorizes mom Renai (Rose Byrne) while family patriarch Josh (Patrick Wilson) avoids the trouble by staying late at work. When Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into an inexplicable coma, Renai asks her husband to move the family into another house. Unfortunately, the malevolent entities follow them (one is a kid who likes to dance to Tip-Toe Through The Tulips), causing Josh’s mom (Barbara Hershey) to bring in spirit medium Elise (Lin Shaye, successor to Zelda Rubinstein) along with her comic relief assistants (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell, who also wrote the film – you might remember him from Saw). She delivers a lengthy and somewhat silly explanation that I will try to keep spoiler-free here, except for the fact that a really evil demon (looking like Darth Maul with hooves and a Freddy glove) wants to possess Dalton. A seance commences, as expected, and ends badly, also as expected, although I really enjoyed the part where Elise dons a miner’s mask for the ritual (I’m not sure why that was necessary but it’s definitely an interesting image). Finally, after most of the film has focused attention on Renai and her is-she-or-isn’t-she-crazy dramatic narrative, it switches over to Josh and his otherworldly trek over to “The Further” to bring his son back.
It seems like Wan intended Insidious to be mostly a jump-scare-a-thon, with ghosts popping up when you don’t expect them to (and many times when you do expect them to), punctuated by loud stings on the soundtrack. Admittedly, the film does this competently most of the time. A lot of it reminds me of the dead spirits of The Sixth Sense, acting out previous crimes in the afterlife, stuck in some endless loop, except when they break their routine to threaten our main cast. What works about Insidious is the expertly done buildup in the first half, before the movie just gets too silly for its own good. Visually speaking, “The Further” is a disappointment; it just isn’t imaginative enough to meet the expectations engendered by the buildup. The climax itself is also edited a bit confusingly, and it seems like Shaye’s character has no plan, but is strictly winging it. I will say that the movie is good at misdirection – we are fooled into thinking it’s a haunted house thriller when it’s really a haunted kid thriller, made to expect Renai to be the focal point when it’s really Josh, thrown a red herring suggesting an extra-marital affair and another which suggests that a certain person may have been clandestinely inhabited by a demon when it’s actually somebody else who is the target.
The bottom line is that Insidious isn’t entirely predictable and delivers just enough bang for the buck, as long as you run with the tonal shift towards the end that threatens to bring the whole house down. I ran with it as far as I could. The good news is that Wan has improved himself since Saw; the bad news is that this is mostly just another jump-scare theme-park-ride derivative of much better films. But for what it is, there is some fun to be had. I must also admit being somewhat disturbed at the thought of vacating my body while sleeping and never being able to come back – uh, God, don’t you have firewalls in place to prevent this kind of crap?
- Bill Gordon
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