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Insidious: Film Review

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Insidious, Film Review

InsidiousI do not envy those who made Insidious, a new horror film by James Wan, director of Saw, and by the production company of Paranormal Activity. I do not envy them for the same reason I do not envy anyone who decides to make a modern horror film. As of late (and by late I mean the last thirty or so years) the genre has come face to face with its own monster, so to speak. The monster in the room here is the fact that for some time now visuals have taken precedence over substance. For years, viewers have been able to count on the Big Three of horror films: one surprise knife in the back, the minor but loveable side-character playing the hero at least once, and one superfluous-yet-money-making nude scene. If the scene shocks the audience, the shock is visual and not contextual, and as a result “horror” has come to mean campy shtick (think: Saw) or generally half-hearted and awful attempts at something different (think: Last Exorcism).

And so with all that room for improvement, Insidious had nothing to do but raise the bar for the horror genre, right? Right. Which makes it all the more surprising that it buried the bar deep in some non-descript backyard never to be seen again.

This movie is about the Lamberts, a family in suburbia who have moved into a house for reasons hinted at and never explained, and who are met almost immediately with the presence of supernatural occurrences. Of course, there is the flighty but ultimately correct wife versus the grounded and fundamentally flawed husband dynamic here and, as per the usual, it adds nothing to the film. In fact, the entire dynamic of the two main characters in this movie, Josh and Renai, is an incomplete and inconsistent mix which one minute will have you envying their absolute commitment to one another and the next wondering if they even like each other.

The family eventually moves from their dream home to another when their son falls asleep and stays in that state indefinitely, but the occurrences do not end. Finally, they send for Elise Rainier, a medium of sorts, who, of course, knows the answer to what is happening after visiting the home for about ten seconds, seeing a demon, and provides an answer which centers around the ideas of Astral Projection and the like.

This is actually a pretty cool concept, and one that has not been explored by the genre much if at all, which, again, makes it monumentally disappointing that it was executed so poorly.

InsidiousInsidious is a movie which seeks to do many things, and does nary a one correctly. In being a horror film, the only horrifying thing in it is the fact that four very good actors actually signed up to do it. When it tried to be a supernatural thriller, all things supernatural looked far too, well, natural, with the ghosts having real weight and substance, looking no different than their live counterparts, walking through the scene like a wayward extra. It attempts humor while eliciting a minor chuckle and philosophy while it cannot garner a single accepting nod of the head.

The score and many of the directing decisions seem about thirty years behind the times, which would be all right if the movie was billed as a throwback and released around Halloween for the sake of nostalgia. “The Further,” the dream-place the people go to when they astral project, is a mix of sets from earlier in the movie and a large pitch black space where a thirty dollar fog machine tries to add ambience. Like the director, composer, and nearly everyone else who worked on this disaster of a movie, it failed.  Had Freddy Krueger jumped out from the darkness no one would have been surprised, caught as this film was in the early eighties, which, upon further contemplation, is an insult to the early eighties. Were this film to have been made then, it would have been B grade even then. On a rainy day in April, it was simply outdated.

The antagonist in this movie deserves a paragraph of his own. He is a demon, or a man in very bad makeup, who does a lot of hissing and crouching and never really being all that scary at all. The vast majority of the laughter coming from the audience when watching this film, the vast majority of my own laughter, came at the climactic scene in which this demon can be found in his room, sharpening his claws with all the menace of a Tibetan basket weaver.

To consider what the film does right, the actors all pulled off quality performances, not detracting in the least from the film and giving the audience some sense of connection with their characters, which is a nice change of pace for the horror genre. There were some scares to be had here, but quite a few laughs could be heard from the audience during most of what should have been suspenseful moments, and some of the loudest could be heard coming from a certain reviewer.

Insidious insults the intelligence of the audience, and would have been better suited to billing itself as a place of nostalgia rather than horror. The laughs were plentiful and came from the same place as laughs during a Jason or Nightmare on Elm Street remake, astonishment at the complete and utter ridiculous. Those laughs had after watching, discussing the movie with friends, might well be worth the price of admission. For me, though, the only insidious thing about Insidious is that I had to pay ten bucks to see it.

–Matthew Holden is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our new City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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