Friday 29 April 2011

Insidious, directed by James Wan – reviewed by Douglas J. Ogurek

A true horror film has only one requirement: scare the viewer. In this, Insidious excels. Forget plot. Forget character. Forget dialogue. From its eerie opening image dragged from a child’s nightmare until its twisted ending, the film keeps the viewer on edge. To obtain evidence of the film’s scare factor, one need only visit the many online discussions in which people talk about nearly losing control of their bodily functions while watching it. In this film, director James Wan hacks off, if you’ll pardon the expression, the gore and violence that he used in 2004 to make a name for himself in Saw.

Strange things are happening in Renai’s and Josh’s new house. After their eldest son Dalton slips into an inexplicable coma, they move to a more modest home, but the oddities persist. Elise, an odd spiritual medium, explains that it’s not their house that’s haunted; it’s their son. She claims Dalton is stuck in a hellish place she calls “the further”, and that he must be returned to his body before another malignant force claims it.

Whereas successful horror films like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project evoke fear with a minimalistic approach, Insidious does so by piling on the most effective techniques from other horror films. In a few cases, this strategy jars with the film’s overarching mood and jerks the viewer out of the superb nightmare. But for the most part, it works.

Take, for instance, the séance, which we’ve seen a thousand times. Séances are scary. So are gas masks. So why not combine them? A gas mask conceals Elise’s face and voice from the viewer while one of her assistants transcribes her communication with the residents of “the further”. Never mind that the reason for using the mask is rather far-fetched; it’s a highly tense scene.

Among the arsenal that Insidious employs to keep adrenaline flowing are ghosts in photographs, creepy faces popping out, strange voices on an intercom, creatures crawling on walls, discordant music, and child ghosts that laugh and scurry. Again, all techniques that we’ve seen and heard, but in this film, they work.

The film’s main flaw was its attempt to incorporate humour. For instance, in one of Wan’s amalgamations, the primary monster (compared to Darth Maul in some horror circles, though much more frightening) plays old-fashioned music (source: Jeepers Creepers) while sharpening his metal claws (source: A Nightmare on Elm Street). Although humour is a key characteristic of The Creeper and Freddy Krueger, it detracts from the malignity and mystery of the red-faced monster in Insidious. The biggest mood destroyer came in the Poltergeist-inspired duo of awkward ghost hunters. Insidious has no room for such imbecilic characters. They weren’t even funny.

Despite its minor flaws, Insidious proves first that the creative well of the haunted house sub-genre hasn’t run dry, and second, that an R rating—Insidious is PG13—is not necessary to bestow upon the viewer that jittery feeling that the best horror films induce. – Douglas J. Ogurek

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