Following a prompt discussion with myself (accomplished exclusively in my head without coming across as a raging lunatic) I decided that before reviewing the result of this weekend’s cinema excursion I’d like to quickly lay another brick in the bridge over the gap in my knowledge of modern horror.
I was really looking forward to finally watch “Insidious” (late at night again, as one should) – a James Wan’s departure from gore to explore the more classical nooks of the genre. I do realize the film didn’t reap the best reviews out there during its cinematic release, however upon my own private screening I have to admit it wasn’t all that bad. Although it ended up being miles away from what I hoped it would be, I think there’s some merit in calling “Insidious” a horror.
The story is dead simple: A family of five (a mom, a dad, two 7-8 year-old boys, and a baby girl) moves into a new house in order to jump-start their lives again after god-knows-what had happened to them and shortly thereafter weird events start to transpire. The usual patterns of things moving around, strange noises, whispers heard through the baby monitor is quickly followed with one of the boys – Dalton – suffering an accident while investigating these strange noises. As a result he ends up in a coma and the family has to deal with that on top of the seemingly haunted house. The increased activity of whatever is haunting the house forces the family to move home in hope to flee the horror that their lives have become. Little do they know (and the trailer kind of reveals it as well), it’s not the house that was haunted, so the horror begins once more.
I have to say that I enjoyed the premise of “Insidious” wherein we are presented with a haunted house/poltergeist story with its usual genre set pieces and devices, but with a twist… I can definitely say I dig that approach, because it successfully threw me off balance in a way. Usually, everybody has some pre-existing notions about what to expect from a given film, which is especially applicable to horror. Therefore, when I sit down to watch a ghost story, I sort of expect a certain type of devices, certain type of jump scares and a very characteristic way of building up threat and suspense through a creative usage of sound, music, set design and camera work. What I thought James Wan was going for was to have me think I know what to expect and then drop me at the deep end by going from the poltergeist to possession. While the idea could be seen as viable, fresh and potentially scary, “Insidious” didn’t get anywhere close to using this device to its full potential.
Therefore, the composition of the story divides “Insidious” into two (almost equal in length) halves with the first one being more of a haunted house story with the mystery and threat, and the second being this really awkward mish-mash of demon possessions, other-worldly experiences and the confrontation with the malevolent being of interest. By the way, what separates the two is a tad-too-long soliloquy that explains far too much and introduces the twist together with explaining it – in short, it doesn’t really do its job.
Taking this little division into account, I have to admit that I liked the first half of “Insidious” far better than the latter one. Why? The reason is simple again – it’s actually genuinely scary and plays out surprisingly fresh in the context of what has been done within the genre before. The scares are creative and not overly complex, the entirety of the shock factor is based on our own innate fears, which made the atmosphere more relatable in a way. As you’d imagine, “Insidious” was shot on a not so much shoe-string budget, but low enough to prohibit over-use of any pricy CGI, so most of the things you’d find there are old school practical scares – and good ones at that.
Unfortunately, whatever the first half of “Insidious” has accomplished for me, was wasted terribly in the final act. The premise was all over the place, the scares were scarce and the overall concept of the story became laughable – at best. And I am incapable of fearing something that I find ridiculous, I’m sorry… Without spoiling much I can only say that being exposed to that volume of ghosts and demons in a short space of time made me completely immune to them. In the end, “Insidious” spirals out of control and drops down to the level of a laughable second-rate horror flick that tries to be something it’s not; it looks to me that James Wan has clearly lost the plot some time into the story and even the scares stopped working altogether.
In the interest of honesty, I wasn’t completely displeased with “Insidious”. Sure, the actors (especially Rose Byrne) may have been a tad annoying, the story descended into chaos after a while and attempted CGI was adorable at best. But the bottom line is – was it scary? I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. There’s a good collection of scares in this film (sadly, mostly in the first half of it) and some of them are really crafty. On top of that, Wan very often doesn’t get you by complete surprise, but will hint at what’s going to happen, so that the scare works on a subliminal level as well and if you are observant enough, you can take pride in noticing it as well. On top of that, the film has a few winks to Wan’s earlier “Saw” franchise with the Jigsaw drawing on the black board, or with the rather predictable, but ultimately scary sequence reminiscent of the ‘flash photography in the dark scare’ I loved in “Saw” so much.
All in all, “Insidious” was scary enough to get me on board, despite the tragically disappointing final act. I don’t know, how the sequel is going to work though, but horrors can override the curse of sequels by providing good enough scary experience in place of the overall originality. Nevertheless, what I am looking forward the most, is “The Conjuring” hitting the screens this summer, as it is supposed to knock your proverbial socks off with the level of terror it carries.