Insidious (2011)

Film #6: Insidious (2011)

Insidious is a horror film brought to us by James Wan, director of the original Saw film. While that movie was a slasher, this film is a quieter but equally effective stab at the supernatural subgenre. After moving into a new house, Renai and Josh Lambert (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson) face a familial crisis when their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) inexplicably slips into a coma. Three months later, Dalton, still comatose, is moved from the hospital back home, where Renai (and Dalton’s younger brother) begin to see things and fear that the house is haunted. The family moves to another new place, but when problems persist, Josh’s mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) brings in psychic-esque friend Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye). Despite Josh’s initial protests, Elise’s methods prove that Dalton’s soul is lost in a supernatural world called ‘the further’, and it’s up to Josh to go in and recover his son.

I have a general skepticism toward horror movies rated PG-13, so I wasn’t expecting any good scares to come out of Insidious. My skepticism proved to be unfounded, however – the first two-thirds of this movie are downright unsettling. A lot of it has to do with the old maxim of “less is more”. Everything at the first house is really effective. The house’s large size and emptiness is a perfect setting for spirits that romp about and appear in quick flashes to Renai. Add in the Hitchcockian strings that punctuate these moments and you’ve got a healthy dose of legitimate scares. When the family moves to the second home and Renai gets a bizarre spiritual performance of Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, Insidious begins to position itself as one of the best horror movies of the past decade.

Then things start to go downhill. Preceding Elise’s arrival are two assistants who test the house to make sure there’s really a supernatural problem. These two guys, one bearded and one bespectacled, provide some good comic relief in their one-upmanship. But when Elise arrives and starts explaining the very specific circumstances surrounding Dalton’s coma, things get shaky. When Josh descends into the spiritual world to find Dalton’s soul, they straight up fall offtrack. The “less is more” doctrine goes flying out the window, and the demonic antagonist who was terrifying in brief instances becomes laughable when fully exposed. Laughable and ridiculously ineffective – Josh is able to walk into the demon’s home and take Dalton without any much protest. This entire end sequence is a disappointing destination for a trip that started off so promising. A sort of shock ending is tacked on to try to get one last scare, but by time it comes around, you’ll be too disappointed to care.

Insidious is a bipolar horror film, the first half showing that a PG-13 movie can in fact be scary, and the second half showing that a promising beginning can in fact end in awful disappointment.

Final rating: 6/10

–James A. Janisse

Stray Observations:

  • For real, though, GREAT use of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” there.
  • What the hell happened to Dalton’s younger siblings? They went off to live with their grandparents and never came back.
  • I think the break in quality in this movie is clear: The channeling segment with Elise and everyone in Dalton’s room is scary and awesome; the subsequent explanation is the sharp downhill drop.
  • I’ve been on a horror movie kick as of late, so fair warning, the next two reviews will also be of that genre.

2 responses

  1. Pingback: The Orphanage (2007) « The Analytic Critic

  2. Pingback: Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) « The Analytic Critic

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