Insidious (2011)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Director:  James Wan
Studio:  FilmDistrict
Starring:  Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins
Tagline:  It’s Not the House that’s Haunted.
MPAA Rating:  PG-13
Genre:  haunted house, ghost, possession, family drama, thriller
Scare score: A-
Rating:  B

I remember when this film first came out and all I could think about was that I had no idea what the word “insidious” meant.  Having finally looked it up just the other night before watching the film, I’m not positive I see exactly how it applies to the plot of the movie (Dalton’s condition?  Josh’s ability/ visions from childhood?)  Either way, I suppose this hefty movie title is helping horror fans everywhere to improve their vocabulary.

Plot overview:  Recently after moving into a new home, the Lambert family is dealing with the discomfort and stress of juggling jobs, school, a new baby, and an unfamiliar house.  One day, young Dalton (Simpkins) is drawn to the attic, where he hits his head and is then visibly scared by something he sees.  When he does not wake up the next day, parents Renai (Byrne) and Josh (Wilson) rush him to the hospital and learn that he is in an inexplicable coma.  After moving Dalton back into the house under close care three months later, strange and terrifying events begin.  These largely affect Renai who is home to witness them all, but the possible haunting is clearly breaking apart the once happy family.  After moving into another home with hopes to escape the scary phenomena, the haunting becomes even more violent and horrifying.  Josh’s mother Lorraine (Hershey) calls in friend and medium Elise Reiner (Shaye) to investigate the happenings, thus revealing a far darker reality with a much deeper past than anyone could have imagined.

I can’t believe I waited almost two years to see this film.  Lucky for me some friends invited me to a movie night of sorts, and it was the perfect horror flick to watch given that one girl scares easily: her screams added a lot of terror to this experience, and even I had to jump a few times.

Plotwise, I found the movie to be very cool, although it was too much of a Poltergeist redux to be “original.”  Still, this film went much further than, say, Poltergeist, taking the haunted house theme and internalizing the horror, thereby manifesting itself into the family.  So many horror movies, when the murderer/ghost/villain is placed on the back-burner, become stories about the relationships between a group of friends, lovers, or in this case, a family.  We saw the cliché stay at home mom being forced to take care of all the kids, unpack all the boxes, deal with the baby and all other fears associated with being a young mother in a new, unfamiliar house while the dad worked long days, constantly arriving home late (what teacher stays at work until 10 PM??)  The first half of the film is ripe with family conflict, suspicion, and distrust between husband and wife.  That being said, I absolutely loved how important Josh becomes in the second half of the film.  I believe this was important to the family as well as to audience viewers.  If Josh had been any more uninvolved, I would have taken him as a character that could have been easily killed off (…mwahaha).  Luckily the family issue was nicely rounded off before the end of the film.

This movie is chock-full of ghosts and demons galore.  Due to creepy makeup, imaginative ghost personalities, and absolutely perfect scare timing (I wish I had tallied how many jumpy “boom” moments there were), the audience finds itself getting tenser throughout each twist and turn of the first half of the film.  Once the second half of the film becomes heavy on the astral projection and trippy demon realms (“The Further”) I found that I for one was able to relax and enjoy the main climax and falling action.  While I wasn’t on the edge of my seat for these parts, I do admit that I was still very drawn to the action, although with a few giggles along the way.

While the film does an excellent job of setting us up to finally see the head demon honcho and main protagonist (bloody handprints, Elise’s description for her colleague’s sketch, and that awesome millisecond where his face appears behind Josh’s), my criticism is that the creative team should have caught themselves with his uncanny similarity to Star Wars: Episode 1’s Darth Maul.  I know I’m not the first person to think this, but anybody with a general knowledge of the two films is certain to make the very obvious connection.  I still think this demon was scary (at least at first, his whole workshop-from-hell bit was overdone), but a makeover would have prevented this comical association from taking away from the movie.

In defense of the other ghosts, though, I do need to give a well deserved shout out to the old lady who pretty much terrifies us throughout the whole film; the creepy, smiling family that seem like mannequins; and especially to the little boy who I liked to refer to as the Newsie from hell.  That whole seen with him running around the house and hiding from Renai was actually horror genius, as far as scaring rookie horror moviegoers out of their seats goes.

Let’s quickly talk about what largely constitutes the second half of the movie.  As I said before, I did really like that Josh’s childhood suddenly connects to his own son’s and that he must know become the protagonist that saves Dalton.  The astral projection plot was interesting, certainly new to me, but I think the whole section that takes place in “The Further” was just a little weird.  I felt more like we were being lead through a carnival’s haunted house than anything truly malicious.  By the time we get to the demon’s workshop/ castle (?), I think I was just sitting there with a smile on my face waiting to see the father/ son duo escape.  Again, that was really overdone.  I’m not a fan of horror movies trying to throw together as many scary elements as they can into one scene (creepy dolls, weird music, the demon, sharpening his nails) because then it is no longer scary and becomes instead either funny or even kitschy.

Still trying to decide how I feel about the absolute ending of the movie.  Obviously everything wasn’t going to be peachy keen after Josh and Dalton’s return from “The Further,” so I guess that was a pretty clever way to do it.  You’ll have to watch to find out!  Or Google it…

Final critique:  Generally, this movie was very creepy, and it had a lot of heart (and a lot of ghosts).  Any ghost story is great if it is able to deliver, and while this movie will certainly meet and even exceed expectations, I have to admit I wasn’t 100% satisfied at the end of the day.  The rising action, full of “boom” moments and other terror really sets us up for a big climax.  I liked that demon, but I don’t know.  I really enjoyed the movie, but the jury is still out on if it resolved itself as well as it could have. I highly recommend this film to anyone looking for a screamfest and some nightmares afterwards.  You will be afraid to walk alone in your house after this, so it’s not recommended for the weak of heart.

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