Don’t sell the house, just ditch the kid: “Insidious”

June 13, 2011

So, next up in the barrel we have Insidious. This is the newest offering from director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell—the dudes that brought the Saw franchise to an unsuspecting world (hey, thanks guys, your Nobel Award is probably in the mail as we speak). The movie’s kind of a departure for the dismemberment twins, since it’s not torture-porny in the slightest. Instead, it’s a supernatural thriller, which eschews gore for old-fashioned suspense, low key shocks, and a general sense of dread. And it’s pretty effective, too—at least until it goes pants-crappingly insane in its final act. Hey, just signpost: when the medium prepares for a séance by putting on an old, World War I gas mask with a hose that connects to her associate’s headset, yeah that’s when you’re gonna want to lick the acid tab.

But up until that point, the movie’s actually pretty effective. What we got is your garden-variety haunted house story. Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose “the busiest hottie in Hollywood” Byrne) have moved into a new house with their two grade-school-aged sons  Dalton and Foster (the obnoxiously bourgeoisie names for the kids is a nice touch of verisimilitude). The plan is, now that they have their dream house, Josh and continue teaching school and Renai can look after the kids while working on her music (or something similarly arty, who cares?).  Well, everything goes Pete Tong when Dalton  falls off a ladder in the attic and slips into a coma. Or something. “They don’t know what to call it,” Renai explains darkly.

So, the dream life has some hinks in it now, as they must take care of a comatose-or-whatever Dalton. But, hey, this works okay, right? No toys to pick up or anything. But, left alone with him all day, Renai begins to experience some odd things, and pretty soon she’s convinced the house is haunted. Josh, for his part, doesn’t buy any of this, but pretty soon things start going all Poltergeist, and even Josh decides they should just pop smoke.

Wow! Smart couple! They discover their house is haunted and they decide to get the hell out of Dodge. Shortest horror movie ever. Oh, but wait. Weird stuff starts happening at the new house too. Of course they can’t move again—I mean, Josh is an effing public school teacher, who is going to give him a second home loan? Besides, the ghosts would probably just follow them again, right? Fortunately, Josh’s hippie-dippie mother (Barbara Hershey) knows a team of ghost hunters and invites them in.

Okay, so this is where it really starts going apeshit, so try and follow along here. Seems, Dalton could “astral project”—i.e. send his consciousness out of his body; i.e. what used to happened to me during math class—and during one of his astral wanderings, he went to far and got lost in a dimension called “The Further.” Now, Dalton is lost in The Further, leaving his body as a sort of paranormal runway light that guides beings from the other side into the land of the living. The most dangerous of these is a demon, which seeks to wreck havoc.

Incidentally, are you drinking yet? This will down a lot of easier if you have snoot full.

Ah, but there is hope! See, Dalton gets his power from Josh, who can also astral project. He just doesn’t remember it, because they, uh, did some shit when he was a kid and he was stalked by what appears to be the ghost of Miss Havisham, who showed up in photographs. Yeah, go pour yourself a double. Anyway, they send Josh into The Further to rescue Dalton. Once in The Further, Josh must navigate what appears to be that “Black Hole Sun” video and rescue Dalton from the evil demon (who likes to listen to Tiny Tim’s “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” and generally comes off like Darth Maul’s theater-queen cousin).

It’s really kind of too bad. Until it goes crazier than a barrel full of monkey nuts, Insidious is a genuinely creepy little movie. Wan and Whannell both seem to understand that a lot of fear can be wrung out of simply giving us unsettling images and circumstances. Wan shamelessly steals those creepy twins from The Shining, and why not? They’re creepy as fuck. And as I mentioned in my review of The Strangers, merely hearing someone knocking on the door at three AM is enough to get the adrenaline rushing. So, Wan and Whannell build a whole set piece around that (and the burglar alarm going off). And it works.

But then we get to the last third or fourth of the movie, and suddenly it’s all “astral planes” and pararlell dimensions, and…just…whiskey tango, foxtrot? Remember how scary The Exorcist was? Lemme ask, was there a huge amount of explanation about the demon? No, because it just seems ridiculous when you start explaining the mechanics of that stuff. Just as it the demon seems a lot less scary running around on his goat-legs and flicking out his snake tongue than when he’s just a murky, shadowy outline in the background.

And what’s going on with Rose Byrne? She’s scary-skinny in this movie. She didn’t seem this skeletal in X-Men: First Class. I mean, I know she’s been busy this summer (this film, X-Men, Bridemaids), but she should remember to eat.

So, that’s Insidious. I guess what we learned here is that when it seems like your house is haunted, check to make sure your kid’s not a portal to another dimension before you call the realtor. You lose a lot of money that way. Also, some movies should quit while they’re ahead.


  1. And isn’t that why the new exorcist and generally new horror movies suck, they try to explain everything.

  2. This isn’t that bad , but they are just not making them as they used to.

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