Thursday, July 4, 2013

Insidious (2010)

I didn't notice when Insidious first came out - it's one of those titles that flew under my radar. But recently, I've been hearing about it a lot, usually in the context of being touted as one of the few really good (and effective) horror movies to come out in the past several years, among dozens of flops and mediocre titles. And with the sequel being advertised now (I saw the trailer for it when I went to see World War Z), I figured the first was one that I had to watch.

I didn't really know what to expect from this movie, as I hadn't read much about the actual plot beforehand. I think I had some idea that it had to do with ghosts. So I started watching it, and I was thinking to myself, okay, what can they do with a haunted house story to make it fresh and original? And, truthfully, they pretty much hit it out of the ballpark.

The movie sorta has two acts. In the first act, we're introduced to a cozy family and get a peek at their home life. Then, in typical haunted house fashion, things start to get weird, the family members get stressed out, and the audience is treated to some nice scares. This is all stuff we've seen before - but it's done really well. The characters are genuine and likable, and they actually react plausibly to the haunting. I mean, when was the last time you watched a haunted house movie where the family actually moves houses after shit starts getting weird? Yeah.

So then we get to the second act, and this is where Insidious really pulls itself ahead of the pack. Without dropping the horror, the story takes on more of a sci-fi/fantasy flavor and - I don't think this is really a spoiler, but if you want to be as surprised at the change of direction as I was, go watch the movie now and then come back and read the rest of this review - introduces the theme of astral projection and spirit worlds.

And you know what? I'm not going to say that the execution is perfect, but I still think that's fantastic. So many movies tell a good old-fashioned human story of horror, but shy away from entering a world of fantasy and imagination. Imagination can be horrible too, you know. I'm talking about movies like Event Horizon, or Drag Me To Hell, which end right where they should be beginning - when the character gets to Hell. Or movies like The Silent House, which craft an effective atmosphere, but then are afraid to speculate on the world of the supernatural.

Insidious is, in some ways, a cross between Poltergeist and Beetlejuice (albeit with the balance tipped toward horror/drama rather than comedy). I also got a sense of The Cell, starring Jennifer Lopez, also about a dream world populated by dangerous entities. Plus, Insidious has a certain style to it, and an idiosyncratic soundtrack, that at times recalls that old carnival haunted house aesthetic. Patrick Wilson (the creep in Hard Candy, or The Watchmen's Nite Owl, if you prefer) and Rose Byrne (the military chick in 28 Weeks Later!) are both excellent as the leading couple, and Lin Shaye is very charismatic as the medium who leads the affected family through one of the most original and action-packed séances I've ever seen on the silver screen.

I'm not quite prepared to list Insidious as one of my favorite horror movies ever, and my opinion of modern horror is perhaps not so picky as other fans, but this was a very good movie, very original, and I highly recommend it. I am now looking forward to the sequel, although having seen the ending to the first movie, I'm kind of wondering how what I saw in the trailer fits together. But I guess I'll find out when I see it!

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