Thursday, April 21, 2011

Insidious - An Empty Shell of a Movie

I was worried.

You see - with all the buzz surrounding the new film by James Wan (Saw), I thought maybe someone had made the new classic haunted house/demonic possession movie before I could.

Turns out I needn't have worried.

Insidious is an empty shell of a movie, adrift in a nether nether land, with other nasty, scary movies forcing their way into it's lifeless corpse. Hey... that also happens to be the film's premise - what a coincidence!

It has its moments of great jump-scares, but never really develops the undercurrent of dread necessary to make a movie like this really get under your skin.

And why is that?

Well, it's simple.  It seems like James Wan has made a scary movie about other scary movies - kinda like Scream, but without all the fun.  Starting with the blood red embossed lettering of the title (a la Suspiria), Insidious follows the predictable path of The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Entity (nice casting of Barbara Hershey by the way) and eventually all the way to Carnival of Souls (stumbling white-faced ghoulies anyone?) and back to Suspiria (bright red lighting) once again.

Wan even throws in a sketch of his Saw puppet on the blackboard behind one of the characters just in case we're not getting the hint- THIS IS A MOVIE ABOUT MOVIES!

Now, the whole thing actually almost works because he's borrowing from some really great films, so moments of the film hold your attention, draw you in and elicit some real nice scares, but you find yourself counting the references (a drinking game for sure) more than actually caring about any of the characters.

I did however, like his attempt to stay away from digital effects and go with mostly old-school costume, makeup and lighting, but while this works fine in the buildup phase of the movie it kinda left me wanting more when we enter the third act and we're supposed to accept the fact that this amazing, limitless astral-projecting reality we're entering is just a dark old house with red lights and a dude who look like Tim Curry.

I'm starting to understand why certain horror movies work for me and some don't.  This quote from William Friedkin sums it up nicely:

“The only way I could have made ‘The Exorcist’ the way I did, is if I believed it.  If you look at the film, it’s a film made by people who believe this – we’re not kidding.  The guy who wrote it and the guy who directed it, accept demonic possession and exorcism as a possibility.”
This is exactly why Insidious only works on a superficial level.  These dudes don't believe any of it, and they never expect the audience will either.  Everything is done with a wink and a nod.  The only things that ever terrified James Wan as a kid were obviously other horror movies. If you were ever a kid with night terrors, you would never present them like they are in this film - trust me, I should know.

Real horror comes from tapping those deep lurking fears within us and expressing them for others to see.  Not because it seems like a fun thing to do, or to make the next hit movie, but because you have to.

Because you are compelled.

Wait for my next movie... then you'll see what I'm talking about.

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