Friday, April 1, 2011

Insidious - Theatrical Review



INSIDIOUS



Release Date: April 1, 2011

Oh boy it has been a while since I had a good scary movie to go see in the theater. Let's face it, most horror or scary movies are never as fun at home as they are at the theater. Sure, they can be scarier but never as much fun as watching and experiencing them with an entire crowd as they react to everything on screen. And that is the best way to see Insidious, with a large crowd of twenty-somethings ready to have the crap scared out of them.



Review Vital Stats:
Theater: AMC 30 at the Block in Orange
Time: 12:01 am April 1, 2011
Projector Type: Digital 2D

Biases:
Loves: Rose Byrne
Likes: Patrick Wilson, haunted house movies
Neutral: PG-13 horror
Hates: Jump scares as a device
Enough: With the jump scares already!



Director James Wan has been looking to hatch another egg out of his golden goose for some time now. After the surprise success of Saw (the original) he sort of went off the grid making some mildly entertaining revenge trash (Death Sentence) to a film so unremarkable that even after watching it I can recall absolutely nothing from it (Dead Silence). His new film Insidious isn't even what I would call a return to form, it is more like the film that he should have made directly following his sequel maker. While I am on fence as to which is the better film between this and Saw, I can say for sure that this at least shows he still has what it takes to get in under your skin when he wants to.

Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) Lambert have just moved into their nice new home with their three children when we first meet them. Everything is fairly normal in their lives with Josh a school teacher who is out of the house most of the day as Renai spends her time between taking care of their baby, unpacking and working on her floundering music writing career. Then one morning following an accident with their oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), Josh goes to wake him for school and he finds that his son won't wake up. The doctors don't know why he won't wake up, Renai begins to start seeing and hearing strange things in the house and as each day passes they all begin to fall apart as they start to realize that there is something not of this world in their home trying to claim their son Dalton for itself.

Things don't stay happy for them for too long unfortunately.

I suppose I will get the obvious question out of the way first and probably the most important one...is it scary? Yes, most definitely...at first. The opening scenes are your basic set up as we watch the family go about their daily routines with the odd occurrence here or there such as books mysteriously falling on to the ground or doors opening by themselves. I was pretty sure I knew where the film was going at this point, a family moved into a new home that was obviously haunted and they must protect themselves once it is revealed they are dealing with a ghost of some sort. Well, at least that is where I thought it was going. Then a curve ball is thrown our way when their oldest son Dalton falls into a forever sleep, it isn't a coma but regardless the boy just won't wake up. And he stays that way through most of the rest of the film.

Most of the scares come out of nowhere and thankfully our two main characters react mostly true to how real people would in those situations. Which brings me to a couple things that I loved about how the film handled it's story. Usually in lesser scary movies involving a haunted house the people for some reason never leave the house once the shit hits the fan or at least they wait until it is too late. I have always hated that contrivance, I know that if the people left the house then the scary stuff would end so what is the point right? But if they stay then they are just idiots. Insidious smartly goes the Poltergeist route and gives our characters some actual brains which was a breath of fresh air.

Josh and Renai look on as they try to understand what is happening.

Once things start to go haywire in their new home they don't sit around and let it happen, they get the hell out of there. And when things start to go crazy in their next home they realize that they must deal with it but instead of keeping their kids around to be terrorized with them they actually send them away to their grandmother (Barbara Hershey) until the matter is dealt with...gasp! Well, actually they don't send all their kids away. Dalton stays behind with them because in probably the best twist in the film (ruined by that dam trailer no less) we find out that the reason their second new home is haunted is because it is actually their son that is being haunted. That is what essentially made the scare moments work for me. I was never thinking in the back of my mind things like, "What the hell are you still doing there!" or "Why would you do that!". I was focused on the actual events which was a nice change.

But even though those issues were handled surprisingly well there was one aspect of a scary movie that director James Wan seemed intent on keeping alive and well...the jump scare. I cannot even think of a time anymore where those moments worked for me. Sure, I jump when they happen just like anybody but that is because they throw something out at you from nowhere, anyone would have that reaction which is what makes that tactic feel cheap. Insidious is for the most part a scary film in its own right without the jump scares. Some of the images Josh and Renai witness or situations they find themselves in were fairly unsettling but they were almost always undermined but something or someone jumping on screen from nowhere. The real crime of this however was that by the end of the film it had been used so much that I ceased being scared at ANYTHING and was just along for the ride by that point.

Can you spot what isn't supposed to be there?

Which is a shame because there are some great moments to be experienced here. There were some instances where I got the chills just from an image or off screen sound. One of the earlier moments has Renai listening in on her baby monitor from downstairs and hearing a muffled voice over it. As she slowly gets closer she starts to make out a few words and the voice starts to become eerily clearer just when the voice all of a sudden yells out in a horrible tone and scares the living shit out of her (and us). I saw that seen in the trailer and knew it was coming and it still got me. There are many scenes similar to that, that were not in the trailer thankfully and will give just about anybody looking for some good scares something to fear as they go home.

Another piece of the puzzle that worked for me was the overall aesthetics of the film. From the Paranormal Activity inspired opening credits to the outstanding musical score I felt as though I was watching a classic horror film as opposed to a glossed up new one. Images of classics like the original Amityville Horror and The Shining were running through my head as I picked up on some very similar tonal choices. And as I mentioned before there are a lot of influences from the classic Tobe Hooper/Steven Spielberg film Poltergeist. This is especially apparent once the paranormal investigators arrive to help the Lamberts dispel their haunting guests.

Who ya gonna call?...psychic busters!

Call me a sucker but for some reason I just love it when the experts are called in for movies like this. Maybe it is because through most of the film we have been there with the family as they are tortured and plagued by these ghostly apparitions but when the professionals show up it always breaths new life into a film like this for me. They show up and are equipped with the latest technology (although here their tech is humorously questionable) and are there to help our wary family out. And for a film that is very light on the comedic elements I found the levity that the psychics two helpers brought to the proceedings was very much needed at that point in the film (their flashlights are ridiculous). The paranormal psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) also did an admirable job as the believer and salvation for the lamberts. Although the scene with her in the gas mask came off a little more silly than I think it should have.

Overall I found Insidious to be a really fun, scary and often times unsettling piece of haunted house entertainment. All the actors across the board did a fantastic job (this is gonna be Rose Byrne's year) and despite the over reliance on the jump scares I found it to be an altogether fresh look at an overdone genre as well as a return to form for director James Wan. It goes places in its final act that I didn't see coming and was happy that the trailer at least kept that aspect a secret from us. I can't find any real fault with the film, it handles itself competently and you will probably get exactly what you would expect from it. It doesn't really do anything we haven't seen before but it also does it all very well. If you are looking to have a good creepy time at the theater this weekend then this should fit that bill just fine. My only hope and wish is that the final moments of the film which elude to a possible sequel doesn't happen. While I enjoyed myself as I watched it I think it used up everything it had in one go that a sequel would most likely destroy.


CHECK IT OUT
(WITH A CROWD)

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