FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Mar 4, 2011

In...In...Insidious

While those of you who are not a member of The Olds may not get it, I hope at least some of you out there are singing that post title to this tune.

Anyway, what of Insidious, the forthcoming ghost flick from Saw creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell? Consensus seems to give it several thumbs up; while I think it's the best thing they've done since Saw, I give it 3/4 of a thumbs-up. Or, I should say, a thumb 3/4 of the way up, for I have a regular-sized thumb.

Wow, verdict out of the way early, so unlike me! However, I'm feeling succinct today. In fact, I'm feeling scatterbrained and bullet point today.
  • You'll like this movie. It starts out very strong, sort of a Paranormal Activity (you know, creepy stuff around the house...but it's not the house that's haunted, it's the boy!) with a plot. This is no surprise, as Paranormal Activity's mastermind Oren Peli is a producer on Insidious.
  • I'm very firmly entrenched in Camp Rose Byrne Can Do No Wrong, and so the fact that the two-thirds of the film belong to her and her character Renai, I was quite happy. In fact, early it seemed that Insidious would address a theme that's a bit Yellow Wallpaper-esque- that marriage and motherhood can sometimes not jive with a lady. As is virtually always the case, however, this was never taken up wholly. Maybe it was never an intent of the filmmakers, who knows...but I think it's there, just a little kernel of something interesting. However, for the last third of the film, the focus shifts to Renai's dullard of a husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) and it becomes his story. Renai does little from that point on besides cry, and it's a letdown.


  • Between this movie and Wan's & Whannell's previous effort Dead Silence, it's evident that the duo find old ladies to be entirely terrifying, just by the virtue of their existence. Surely poor old Miss Havisham haunts both of their dreams.

  • When Insidious becomes Josh's story, it also becomes a love letter to Poltergeist, complete with a wacky ghostbusting squad and Lin Shaye as a Tangina/Dr. Lesh hybrid. This is not unwelcome, particularly the Lin Shaye-ness of it. Maybe it's just me, but I love seeing her in a major role in the multiplex.


  • Early on, there's no denying that Insidious is fucking creepy. It is, in fact, a "good old-fashioned" haunted house movie replete with phantom footsteps, creaky doors that open of their own volition, the whole nine yards. There are also some of the best jump scares I've ever had the pleasure of jumping out of my seat to.
  • Later on, there's no denying that Insidious gets far less creepy. It never degenerates into an overblown CGI mess, but the filmmakers make some really bad choices and show far too much that's on the "hey, that's corny" side of scary. If I'm told a place is akin to Hell, full of tortured souls suffering in eternal torment and you decide to show this place, don't make that place a house filled with ghosts who stand there and give "creepy" smiles. If you've spent an hour establishing that a demon is horrifying, don't subsequently show him in his lair, surrounded by bouncing marionettes (we get it guys, you did Saw and Dead Silence) and sharpening his claws on a modified old timey sewing machine as "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" plays.
Insidious is a race horse you bet on despite your well-founded hesitation- could this actually be a winner? To your surprise, it starts out even stronger than you could have hoped for. You cheer it on, unconcerned that you're making a bit of a fool of yourself- you know, like Julia Roberts at that polo match in Pretty Woman- and you think YES. Your faith is restored! The, in the last half-lap, it falters and you think NO. No, Insidious, just a bit further! Keep chugging, you can do it! Insidious does keep chugging, but it's too winded to finish in first. It falls back, and back again, barely wheezing across the finish line. You crumple your betting ticket a bit disappointed, but then you reflect on the jubilation you felt early on and you think YES. Yes, that's enough...besides, I only bet $12 and I also had some Sno Caps. It was a good race.

14 comments:

JA said...

I completely agree with you on all counts. I didn't dive into the problems I had with the last act in my review because I wanted to keep everything vague and positive because it does get so much right but YES to the stupid frozen ghost faces part. But it wasn't a movie ruiner, at least, I just kinda groaned and waited for that bit to be over. And I didn't mind any of the stuff with the red devil guy because HE TERRIFIED ME beyond an unreasonable point. Other points: Lynn Shaye hell yes!

And I've been waffling back and forth on the switch of POV from Rose to patrick in the final act - you can see it coming from a mile away (Why yes it is weird that there are no pictures of him as a child now that you mention it!), and you like Rose so much by the end that you want to see her go through it, but James Wan made a good point at the Q&A that we know that Rose's character would do anything by that point for her son, that she's a bulldozer that'd get shit done, so it adds more of a question mark to the proceedings to suddenly have the dude from the background who's been such a pill suddenly forced to stand up. I only wish that they'd made him see more afraid of the old lady. If they'd pushed his fear of her a little further once the memory of her was brought back to him then I think it would've worked a little more - we'd have really felt what he was facing.

Anyway I expected CRAP and it wasn't crap so I was really very happy. The part with the thing behind the thing! OH MY GOD!!!

Steven said...

Dangit, I was looking forward to this one. Like the filmmakers, I too am terrified by old women. And come to think of it, Rose Byrne sometimes gives me the jibblies, as well. But in kind of a good way.

Stacie Ponder said...

I think it really falls apart in the last leg, but what comes before is so good that it doesn't ruing the movie as a whole.

Hmm, perhaps I see the intent of the POV switch now, but I still think it's a bad choice. He's such a fucking milquetoast the entire time that when he became the hero, I wasn't invested at all in him. It didn't make me wonder abut the outcome, it just made me tune out. They could've kept the mom in charge and her confront her own demons or what have you...would've been doubly interesting if they'd explored the Yellow Wallpaper themes I was talking about. Oh well.

Still, I wonder what they have against old ladies... :D

RobocopsSadSide said...

No... No... Notorious? :)

zombivish said...

This was one of my biggest disappointment of last years Midnight Madness. I'm not a real fan of Wan or Whannell, (Saw was ok at best IMO) and so had very little in the way of expectations going in, but the first two thirds of the film were some of the most genuinely creepy stuff i'd seen for ages.
It was legitimately scary (granted I'm a mark for a well told haunted house tale) w/ oddles of atmosphere and real dread.
I wasn't the biggest fan of the ghost hunting team - their wackynessfelt out of place with the rest of the tone of the film, but it wasn't enoguh to kill it for me.
SPOILERS
It was wa when the Dad goes to the "spooky" limbo world. ugh. A vision of hell by way of a Duran Duran video. it killed all the tension, dread and mood the first 2/3 had so wonderfully build. balls.

Kensington said...

"In fact, early it seemed that Insidious would address a theme that's a bit Yellow Wallpaper-esque- that marriage and motherhood can sometimes not jive with a lady. "

What!?! Preposterous. Here, take these meds, sweetheart and go make me a sandwich.

Joel said...

I love Rose, and I can't wait to see this, but I'm sad her CV will be forever soiled by "Knowing."

David Robson, Proprietor, House of Sparrows said...

Excellent - I really dug Wan's DEATH SENTENCE (which I found a more honest film than THE BRAVE ONE, a similar film which came out simultaneously), and am pleased to hear this one's worth it. I only skimmed your piece to preserve my virgin head from spoilers but will revisit when I see the thing and have actual opinions to share. Whoo.

The title of the piece made me laugh. I am of the Olds.

RJ Battles said...

This is probably a dumb question, but, is the title of this post In...In...Insidious" a reference to the opening of the Duran Duran song "Notorious"? "No..No..Notorious"

RJ Battles said...

Shit, I just re-read the post and the answer is in the first paragraph. I must've skipped over it when I saw there was link. Sorry, never mind.

Anonymous said...

was the old lady in the dad the whole time, because she wasn't in the family picture?

David Robson, Proprietor, House of Sparrows said...

Finally saw it yesterday, and liked it more than you did. So there!

I didn't feel like anything was lost in the second half from the first. I liked the change in energy that came with the ghost hunters. And consider me a new member of the LSAS (Lin SHaye Appreciation Society).

And the transition from Renai to Josh worked for me. I feel like we've sen enough horror movies in which women confront the horrors of motherhood and fight to save their children. More rarely do we get to see the father put in a position where he HAS to step up. Particularly a largely absentee father like Josh - yeah, he works a lot of late nights at the school "grading tests" (so he says a few too many times), ostensibly to pay Dalton's escalating medical bills, but he's clearly avoiding the problem. Indeed, the scene in which Josh looks at Dalton's drawings and finally realizes a) what Dalton's adventures in them are really about and b) his own failure as a father for not recognizing the crisis even as it was starting sets up the rest of the movie beautifully. It's a nice piece of acting from Wilson, and maybe the most bracingly human moment in Wan's work so far.

So, yeah, it worked for me.

Tom said...

Old women ARE terrifying. However, after Insidious 2, I think you are dining on your accusatory verbiage.

Stacie Ponder said...

I'm not sure what you mean. There's a sequel planned, so I was wrong for thinking the first film finished weak?