Insidious is a difficult movie to write about since it simply begs to be both over and under praised. Over since it’s a sharp, tense horror movie that could have been made in the seventies (The fact that it worked at all in the crowd I saw it in speaks well of it. A group of jackasses for whom the fact a movie was playing was entirely incidental.) A character based horror film that understands that haunted house movies are just as much about the horror of spreading water stains on the ceiling as the horror of a rain of ectoplasm. That the shrieking of a colicky baby is just as frightening as the shrieks of the damned.
Easy to under praise because there is no denying that the film’s reach exceeds its grasp by a rather wide margin. There is of course the old conventional wisdom that one should always keep the horrors offscreen, as what the imagination will bring up will inevitably be more frightening than anything an FX artist could cook up. Normally I’m against this conventional wisdom, as it seems like playing to tie. In this case, perhaps a little bit of ambiguity would have gone a long way. As the ultimate source of evil is revealed to be what looks for all the world like a comic con Darth Maul, with hairy feet, who happens to be the world’s biggest/most infernal Tiny Tim fan. It is underwhelming to say the least. In fact I would go so far as to call it one of the stupidest monsters I've ever seen. Imagine The Strangers shot with the creature from Robot Monster.
Yet there is no denying that the end I am way more in the “pro” Insidious camp. For ninety percent of it’s runtime Insidious is horror exactly how I like it. Character based, tense, with that palpable delicious sense of real world dread and anxiety colliding with otherworldly immensity.
The film follows a family whose son falls into an unexplained coma, the wife begins seeing strange apparitions which leads her to believe that there are supernatural shenanigans afoot. Like I said, the best haunted house literature understands that any supernatural troubles are just an extension of the ordinary ones present in any family dynamic. Both Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson do very strong work in this regard. Byrne basically the personification of thwarted ambition, and Wilson putting his typical “good natured schmoe” type to never better use. Coasting through the family’s disaster with an air of affable disinterest. The kind of man who will greet a woman with a screaming infant in her arms, two fighting boys at her feet and a harried expression on her face with a “What’s wrong babe?”
Not that the film doesn’t have the supernatural goods either. The film ratchets up the tension quite nicely and gets in a few decent jump scares and at least one that I wouldn’t hesitate to call absolutely class A (in which a figure seen pacing in the background suddenly inexplicably enters the foreground).
As I said, the final fifteen minutes of the film overextend themselves, when things get full on Poltergeist. There are parts of the final sequence that work beautifully, and others that make you just kind of shake your head, including a final twist that is latter day Shyamalan like in it’s arbitrariness (OK maybe not THAT bad).
Insidious may not be a great movie, but it is a good one and sometimes that’s just what is needed. It’s a well made genre movie by people who care both about the genre and movies in general. A programmer in the very best sense of the word and I can’t believe I’m typing this, but I can’t wait to see what James Wan does next.