Insidious (2010) James Wan

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I have a theory about modern horror movies. These days (lets say 1990s and beyond), PG-13 horror movies are actually scarier than R-rated movies. There are of course, tons of exceptions but in general, these movies need to actually be scary rather than just relying on being gory. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for the blood and guts, but that stuff isn’t really scary. In this 2010 flick Insidious, James Wan shows us that you don’t need lots of blood to scare the shit out of us. A good ending would have been nice though. Oh well.

Let me back up just a bit. Insidious is actually really scary, for the first hour or so, but then I think they show us a little bit too much. Wan has done a good job building up something scary but not really letting you get a good look at it. And that’s what we want. He gives you just enough to let your brain fill in the gaps. I guess it’s hard to bring that kind of movie to an end. Wan has tried to make it something more than it had to be and that internal horror-in-your-own-mind effect didn’t last through the ending. At least not for me. Also there are some issues with originality (read: plagiarism). This movie is basically a remake of Poltergeist with 10% Paranormal Activity, 10% Betelgeuse and 5% Star Wars Episode 1 (Remember Darth Maul? The main demon looks like him but with hooves – lame).

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Anyway the movie is about a nice little family- Mom, Dad, and three little kids -who just moved into a new house. After a few minutes of fairly formulaic haunted house stuff – banging on doors, boxes moving around, voices calling to you from up the stairs – one of the kids falls into a mysterious coma and mom starts freaking out. Of course, dad thinks she’s crazy but he still agrees to move into a new house. Nobody seems to mention the financial aspect of the second move to a really nice house, even though he’s a public school teacher and she’s a stay-at-home-mom who writes admittedly bad piano music and they have three kids,- one of whom is racking up some serious medical bills being in this coma for several months and basically having the set of Scrubs in his bedroom.

So of course the haunting stuff follows them to the new house and even starts to escalate and they decide to call in a psychic medium to see if she can help. Remember the creepy, little,  “This house is clean” chick from Poltergeist? This lady is the opposite of that. She’s super jolly and friendly and I think her character wasn’t really handled right. I think this is where the movie starts to turn. She’s got a couple of ghost buster dudes on her staff who come in with special equipment and  black lights to search for ghost jizz or whatever. Unfortunately, these guys are basically used for comic relief and I think they take the mood of the film up when it should be going down. Anyway, the friendly neighborhood psychic spots Darth Maul in the house and they decide that they need to go into the spirit world to pull the kid out of his coma. Don’t worry, Dad, who’s been an unrelenting douche bag up until now, has the special gift that allows him to travel into the spirit world and search for the kid.

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This is where the movie takes it too far. Like I was saying before, it started off subtle and creepy and cerebral but the climax and the ending just got kitschy and clichéd. Wan took what was building up a horror in our heads and tosses it out the window just to replace it with hackneyed old-time record music, doll heads, and a demon who looks like the most mediocre of all the Star Wars villains. The spirit world they travel to is sort of cool, until they get to what looks like Pee Wee Herman’s rape dungeon. The final scenes just fell flat to me and the characters had multiple opportunities to escape but they just stood around or tried to hide instead of running to safety.

Now, the good parts of this movie are really good and the bad parts are just a little bit bad. Overall, I still like this movie. There are some legitimately creepy things going on, and even though many of them are somewhat boilerplate for horror movies like this, Wan executes them like a pro. Faces looking through upstairs windows, people walking around the house and disappearing, the whispering voice in the baby monitor- all handled really well. The whole movie is really unsettling to look at. Everything just looks scary. And of course there’s a nice little twist at the end too. You basically know something is going to happen but it would be tough to call this one.

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So which takes over, the home run of atmosphere and mood and creepiness or the flaws in the structure and the plot holes that distract you from what’s going on?

  1. Is it scary: 8- The way it’s shot and the overall mood of the whole thing make this one a knock out in the scariness department.
  2. Originality: 4- Wan has drawn from some other sources but I think he does it in a way that still brings something new to the audience. No big points, but it’s not like I felt cheated.
  3. Blood:  2- Almost no blood. Like I said, that’s not what this one was about.
  4. Believability: 4: Dad caves and buys another new house after they just finished unpacking? Nope. Instead of running to safety, homeboy turns and hides under a bed allowing the demon to catch up to him? Nope.
  5. Setting Cinematography: 8- Like I said, this thing just looked scary. From start to finish.

Final Score: 26/50

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