Monday, April 4, 2011

More Proof For Why You Should Never Let Barbara Hershey Be Your Mom

Here’s the thing about the act of “going to the movies”: it lets you know what a ‘real’ roomful of ticket buyers actually thinks about virtually every beat. Sure, there are cell phone ringtones that defy rhythmic logic, inappropriate comments about after-show plans, and nacho crunching so loud it would make Marlee Matlin jump, but there is sometimes a genuine joy that comes with a Friday night crowd at a horror movie.
Thus is how I saw Insidious and really, that’s the way this better-than-you’d-think ghost(ish) story should be seen.
Quick Plot: A soon-to-be unhappy happy family moves into a creepy new house and immediately starts sensing trouble inside. Musician mom Renai (Rose Byrne, always sympathetic and sad-eyed) hears funky sounds over the baby monitor while middle child Dalton complains about bad things abound in his bedroom and dad Josh (Patrick Wilson) grows cold and distant. Before long, the boy falls into a mysterious coma and Renai is seeing flashes of mysterious strangers lurking in closets.

That’s the very basic setup of Insidious, and maybe all you should know going in. For the fresh spoiler-free review, skip down to the bottom or just hear me say here “I liked, didn’t love, but genuinely enjoyed Insidious and highly recommend buying a ticket.” Thanks for stopping by.
With Dalton unresponsive and the weirdness growing in the house, the Lamberts do something wacky (for a horror movie) and move. Assuming their real estate jenga cost them a few bucks, the new digs are much smaller and less haunting-ready, but that doesn’t stop an evil little dwarf thing from dancing wildly to Tiptoe Through the Tulips!
Yes, that happens, and it’s way more terrifying than Tiny Tim’s turn as a maybe-killer clown in Blood Harvest.
although looking at this photo, maybe Blood Harvest is way scarier than my memory recalls
I mean it! The dancing dwarf thing is ICKY and got the kind of universal “Ahh!” scream from my nacho-eating movie crowd that you long for with these kinds of films. For its first half, Insidious is incredibly effective as a haunted house/child tale. The solid cast keeps it grounded, central horror of a little boy lost keeps us caring, and two pretty dang incredible jump scares catch us at just the right place. It’s a GENUINELY scary film.

Even the ghostbusting comic relief keeps Insidious alive. At the recommendation of Josh’s mom Barbara Hershey (whaaaa?), Renai invites a trio of paranormal investigators inside. Sure, they’re clearly modeled on Poltergeist’s Zelda & Co. (or nerds from that OTHER Barbara Hershey possessed film, The Entity), but as played by screenwriter Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Dead End’s Lin Shaye, they’re quite entertaining and do a nice job of lightening the mood before the inevitable spookhouse finale. And that, dear readers, is right where Insidious goes from great little theatrical horror treat to good one.

It’s not that Insidious throws away its strengths in the final reel; it just doesn’t quite commit to what it had established. The explanation for Dalton’s possession/absence/coma-thing works fine, and bringing in Josh’s past hauntings adds a fine layer to the end. The problem lies in Wan’s execution and styling in The Further, the sort of astral netherworld trapping Dalton and a slew of other beasties. While individual moments are skin-crawling (ironing ironing ironing!), the setting has no real visual style or basic geography, something that limits our sense of place. It doesn’t help that the main villain that has been terrifying us for the first hour ultimately looks like an extra from the ballroom dance sequence in Labyrinth.
But that being said, Insidious does end on a pretty fantastic note and hey, for one hour, it actually unnerved me. That’s not an easy feat nowadays.
High Points
Just because I get tired of people whining about it, let us all give a little nod to the fact that Insidious is rated PG-13 and in now way does that ever detract from any of its scares

One of my biggest pet peeves in horror is how characters never seem to think to turn on their lights when there are mysterious noises and/or certain killers lurking throughout their homes. So thank you, Josh Lambert, for insisting on flicking on EVERY SINGLE light switch when investigating
Low Points
Generally, the whole design (or lack thereof) of Dalton and Josh's astral land. Now that I've said that, I'm envisioning an amusement park named Astral Land and my goodness, it's far more visually interesting 
Lessons Learned
When not eerie, gas masks are great for a go-to laugh

Pay attention to your children's art. It may be awful, but occasionally, it will also give perfectly specific clues for finding them in Astral Land
Matching your pajamas to your family members is really just asking for a demon thing to come take one of you away

If we’ve learned anything from The Entity, Beaches, Black Swan, and now, Insidious, it is this: Barbara Hershey is not the woman you want to be your mom

Stray Observation
So do we all agree that the only reason this family had two other children, in terms of story, was so 1) we could have a baby monitor scare and 2) the older brother could spout that quite unsettling line, "I don't like when Dalton walks around." Because really, that's all they were there for yes?
See/Skip/Sneak In
Depending on which marketing campaign you’ve seen, you probably know that Insidious is made by either the (deep voice) “team that brought you Saw” or (slightly less deep voice) “producers of Paranormal Activity.” What it actually ties most to, however, is Wan & Whannell’s second team effort, Dead Silence, an imperfect but fun little throwback to classic horror. Insidious is far more accomplished and does seem to show an upward growth for these two genre enthusiastic Aussies. More importantly, it’s an original horror film (cue token ‘not a remake/sequel/reimagining/redux/rere’ tag) that is, in my opinion, easily worth a modern day ticket price. See it, share your thoughts, and if you eat nachos (and why should you not?) please, I say please, stop raping them during the quiet parts.


  1. what is it with idiots and nachos and/or crinkly bags of candy? for the love of voodoo man SHUT THE HELL UP.

    loved this movie, love your blog. just wanted to say that.

  2. The theater department of my college used to have a standard announcement before each show: Please silence your cell phones and candy wrappers. Whose idea WAS it to make them so noisy? And I appreciate nachos more than anyone alive--seriously, they're the only food that made me think I could indeed become a competitive eater--but the dude on my left was literally just GRINDING them throughout the film.

    Thanks for stopping by with the kind words Karen!

  3. But damnit, now I really just want nachos...

  4. The theater I saw it in last night had the volume up to deafening (I won't say insidious) levels: a simple, albeit equally annoying solution to those pesky crinklers and crunchers. I have next to no hearing in my left ear and I still found the volume too loud. I spent most of the movie with a hand over my good ear and was able to hear the movie just fine through my almost non-functioning one.
    Perhaps theaters could place a "Courtesy Bin" outside their theaters requiring people to unwrap their noisy snacks before entering? Maybe they could require popcorn and nachos to be so sodden with fake cheese and/or grease as to allow it to silently squish with each bite?

  5. Man, I love the idea of a movie theater only serving quiet food. Or maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to eat more liquid cheese and put even MORE squirts of unpronounceable 'butter' stuff on my popcorn!

  6. The last movie I saw in the theater was Land of the Dead (2005)..It used to be a fun night out..
    Cell phones:I don't understand why people need to be connected 24/7 to technology..its rather disturbing.

    As far as this film goes, I definetly will be checking it out when it hits the small screen.

  7. Wow! 2005? My goodness! There's a part of me that absolutely loves going to the movies. Love the smell of popcorn, seeing the posters for what's coming out, noting the emergency exits, all that jazz. Even after working in one (for a fateful 4 months at the age of 16) I'm still completely seduced by a crowded theater on a Friday night.

    HOWEVER, I too just go less and less, primarily for the time considerations. It's going to take me minimum of 30 minutes to get to any theater, then I have 20 minutes of previews, plus another 30 to get home. In that time, I could've watched THREE movies in the comfort of my home on my own big screen. It's just so hard to justify, particularly when I know I'll be surrounded by cell phones or that any film I see can be in my DVD player in three months.

    Still, theaters smell fun. I like cold dark places. Much like my relationship with Beverly Hills 90210, I will never ever really let go, though my interest and enthusiasm in later years will inevitably wane.

  8. They do smell great though, you are correct. And the popcorn was always better there for some reason. I also have fond memories of seeing films like Lifeforce & Predator 2 with a packed audience.

  9. My fond memories of seeing Predator came because I went with my dad and brothers at the age of 8 and when I had to use the bathroom, my dad made me go into the men's room because I guess he thought a woman would kidnap me. Ah, nostalgia.

    And yes, popcorn is better there, mostly because (as someone who made it and still has a scar from where I burned my arm on the machine 13 years ago), the secret is a lot more salt and fake butter. A LOT.

  10. Yep, good movie--and pretty amazing for a budget of 1.5 mil(though some places say it's 800K...)

    And about 15 minutes in, some woman's cell phone went off, and it took her(no shit) 60 seconds to turn it off. Amazing...

  11. I wouldn't mind catching one of these new fangled 3-D Films though..I should have gone to see Piranha last year.

    Also, I will be buying some orville redenbacher popcorn tonight, all this soggy popcorn talk needs to be rewarded.

  12. Eh. Piranha's only real fault was not doing anything worthwhile with 3D. I maintain that the only film I've seen in 3D that used it in an innovative way was Step Up 3D.

    I maintain!

  13. Kangas! Not sure why I never got notification of your comment.

    Anyhoo, Insidious is definitely a film that could be ruined by people not understanding cellular technology, but for me it was worth it to be in a theater of screaming teenagers.

    I had no idea bout the low budget going into the film and I suppose they must have used the majority of it for the final sequence. Personally that's where the film felt a tad cheap, but I don't even know that money was the issue there. Looking forward to the eventual DVD.

  14. Finally saw it! I have to agree with everything you said. Oh, and spent a good half an hour after viewing wondering about these random spirits. Like, did the girl get possessed and kill her family? Too random... Speaking of random, yes, the other children. You're right about them as well.

    Definately effective and entertaining film. Odd... I was thinking what this film would've been like with the peanut gallery soundtrack behind it!

    I'm convinced: we think alike sometimes.

  15. Right? Sure, we disagree on some aspects of horror--Halloween Water, the Nightmare remake--but I'm glad we could unite in this place, this astral projected place.

    Also, you've made me want to rewatch it while playing Peanuts music. So thank you.