Sunday, April 24, 2011

Review: Insidious (2011)

I had first heard of Insidious on it's opening night, with a barrage of Facebook statuses telling me to 'go see Insidious! Joe Bishara will haunt your dreams!', a friendly commentary from the many mutual friends composer Joseph Bishara and I share. Within the week, friends outside of my small community of people in the horror world were noting the amazing awesomeness of the film, and last night I found myself walking into the theater finally going to see the movie with so many positive social networking reviews.

Now, since this is the first post on Pretty [+] Dead I should note that I do not watch television or go online, well, that much at all. When I stumble upon horror movies it's rare for it to be when they are still in theaters, so this was a real treat for me. I tend to scare easier with assistance of a big screen, so I was excited to walk into Insidious. I was even more excited because all I knew about the movie was the musical composer, and that “The house isn't haunted! It's the boy!” (the quote provided by my lovely mother who does watch TV, and therefor has seen the previews).

From the start of the film I was on edge and with questions. We learn a bit of the family, but before we can really grasp the personality of the mother (and main character), Renai, we're presented with the problem of her son, Dalton, falling into a mysterious coma. The limited character development is something to be expected in haunted house movies, yet I dislike the questions I found myself felt with—why did they move in the first place? Was there something wrong with Renai; perhaps a mental illness like depression? As a viewer, I'll never know, and found Renai and her husband no more intriguing than your normal horror movie family--I was rooting for them, but only in that vague 'because I'm supposed to want them to live' way. I did enjoy the inclusion of the ghost hunting characters, Tucker and Specs, two nerdy geeks whose scenes are reminiscent of the Ghostbusters film, who injected with just enough humor to add the movie without seeming too hokey.  If nothing else, they were the only character's whose survival I banked on.

The film itself can really be separated into two portions: a haunted house flick, followed by a mysterious dream-world fantasy film with terrifying bonuses that loops back to the haunted hour portion for the final minutes. I much preferred the haunted bits of the film in the first half, which uses your normal horror tropes of surprises, visions, hauntings, and things that go bump in the night (only these monsters danced in the daytime too) so effectively I found myself on the edge of seat, debating whether or not I wanted to lower my eyes. Mystery plays an important part in the film, and is used deftly at first, with the viewer questioning just what is haunting the house and the imagery of the movie keeping just dreamlike enough that you weren't too sure what you were seeing. Even when presented the the idea of a “fire-faced demon” trying to take possession of the young boy's body, so long as the demon's image is mostly left up to the viewers it's far easier for them to scare themselves—which is exactly what I found myself doing.

Unfortunately, after a séance gone wrong, and a bit of of astral projection, we are no longer left in the figurative dark, and when I did get to see the entities going after Dalton's body I was less than spooked. Once the guesswork was gone, I no longer felt the need to debate on whether or not I should keep my eyes on the screen—I now knew fear, and, well, it wasn't that bad. The haunting feeling was gone, and I was less than impressed with the astral plain presented in Insidious, known as The Further. There is so much that could have been done with the idea of a spirit realm, and The Further lacked the originality and creativity that it could have used to create a terrifying visual treat for the viewer. While I do enjoy the film's use of subtlety, it felt too isolating for me, as a viewer. I lost my connection to the film, and was brought back to the reality of the dark theater. Even when the film loops back into the house I felt the disconnect, which continued until the end of the film, which was nothing beyond disappointing—one final cheap scare for the viewers, even though by then the tension was long gone.

Despite my disappointment with the latter half of the film, the plot was refreshing, and I appreciate the deviation from the normal haunted house film. For fear of giving too much away, I can't say much more, but if nothing else Insidious is worth a watch due to it's original twist on a haunting, it's imagery outside of the realm of the Further, and it's wonderful ability to scare you when the main characters are in broad daylight. So long as you can let your own imagination feast on small hints of evil, Insidious is a truly frightening movie—for the first forty minutes.

Characters: 2
Plot: 3
Atmosphere: 4
Scare-Factor: 3

Final Score