On Tuesday night, we caught a special "sneak peek" screening of Insidious at the local AMC. Insidious turned out be a suspense-ridden ghost story, jam-packed with content. Today, I'm bringing you a guest post from Nick Sayers, my husband and partner in crime. For the record, I agree with 90% of his review. All in all, it was a great film despite a few quibbles here and there. Without further ado....
Some are marking Insidious as James Wan's return to horror. I mark it as entertainment’s return to horror. Audiences have sat through a decade of J-Horror remakes, media-medium hauntings, and found footage fright fests and for the most part, audiences like it. James Wan is very conscience of this and melds what y2k audiences find scary into a terrific, terrifying film about the nether world of demons, hungry spirits, and how humans experience the spirit world.
The setup of the film starts like many others: new family in a new house. Much like Paranormal Activity, we are acquainted with the house and then shown small, detailed glimpses of changes between daylight hours and nighttime. The turning point is when tragedy strikes the family, as one of their young boys falls from a ladder and ends up in a coma.
As the haunting comes to fruition, the audience is tricked and lulled into the negative spaces of the frame, which evolves into one of the most intense jumps/scares I have ever experienced in a film. In fact, my legs spasmed so hard I jammed my ankle against the seat in front of me, causing me to have a sore leg. After I came to my senses, I looked around to see if I had been the only one with a strong reaction (out of embarrassment). I breathed a sigh of relief to see most people in the theater were just as shaken. Overall, the first half is a very recognizable love note to old fashion scares, subtle horror, and Judeo-Christian ghost myths.
The second half of the film takes the classical ghost movie setup and creates a vast mythology filled with the nether world, Asian concepts of hungry ghosts, and the nature of demons. I believe Wan's departure from the subtleness of the first half of the film will be the source of most contention for audiences. Some will see the start of the film as a breath of fresh air from J-Horror concepts and more reminiscent of an old fashioned scare-fest. This aspect did not weigh negatively on me, because Insidious expressed a culmination of all the things in ghost movies that have scared audiences for the past fifteen years. It works too. This all comes to light when Elise Rainier, brilliantly played by Lin Shaye, comes to the family as a ghost hunter and "traveler" expert (won't define due to spoilers).
According to Rainier, hungry ghosts appear in the world because they crave life, while demon's slip from the nether to possess and cause pain. Sounds like The Grudge and Paranormal Activity with some tweaks, but Insidious takes it a step further with the nether world, or “the further”. As Wan takes us on the journey to the nether, it turns into a haunted house of scares and evocative imagery, rooting to Wan's love for the "50's nuclear family." To explain the intricacies of this world and its connection to human dreams would spoil much of the film, so you will have to take my word that it's well worth the wait. I will tell you that my own encounter with the climax of the film had me smiling and unnerved at the same time as I left the theater. Mainly because it has been a while since I felt my skin crawl, stomach drop, and my adrenaline surge while watching a horror movie.
At the start of this post, I wrote that I thought it was entertainment's return to horror. I want to be entertained by a horror movie. This is apparent because my favorite horror movies are Evil Dead 2 and The Thing, which are films with no bull-shit entertainment factors. Lately, I feel like filmmakers are trading entertainment for unimaginative remakes (and sequels), obscure art-house duds, and the classic exhibition of the awkward sex-rape-violence triangle to "shock" folks. Rarely is the audience's entertainment an object of attention. With Insidious, it is not only taken into account, it is a focus of the film, taking the viewer into a haunted house and scaring the crap out of them. You will find no awkward female masturbation, Serbian rape, or clumsy rebooting of classics in Insidious. Just an enjoyable ride.
Written by Nick Sayers