Saturday, August 6, 2011

Insidious (2011)

     One wouldn't think pairing dead behind the eyes Patrick Wilson with dead behind the eyes Rose Byrne (seriously, who keeps giving this woman work?) would lead to anything positive.  Yet, at least for the first two acts of Insidious (2011), there are the makings of a new horror classic.  Beleaguered couple Josh (Wilson) and Renai (Byrne) are clearly trying to escape some problems – they are raising three small children on a public school teacher's salary, Renai clearly has had some career setbacks, and something happened at the old house – and find some degree of peace as they move into a spacious new (to them) house.
     Renai is seemingly over-matched in just getting her children dressed, fed, and off to school.  Needless to say, she has a fair amount of difficulty with her crying baby interrupting her sleep and attempts to create some new singer-songwriter/soft rock hits.  When she hears strange voices over the baby monitor and begins seeing people who aren't really there, she absolutely looses it.
     And here is where the more satisfying movie would have been.  Crazy Renai terrifying her family and slowly destroying them – and with the aid of mother-in-law Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) feeding the psychotic delusions.  All the while, as the audience wondering if there is something to her hallucinations/visions, she could keep exposing her family to more real dangers.  How far will a mother go to save her comatose child, and how much can the family stand?  A different kind of horror, sure, more grounded and psychological, but still very satisfying.  That, however, is not the movie we get.
     As a straight ahead, by the books horror film, Insidious is fine until we get to the third act and some extended astral projection. Part of the problem is that the other world in the film, the Further, is supposed to have a dreamlike quality – and almost no filmmaker has done well mimicking dreams.  Another part of the problem is that the supposed big bad demon looks like a cross between a Cirque du Soleil performer and a Freddy Kruger wannabe.  None of the ghosts, demons, what-have-you creatures in Insidious look scary.  They look like they just showed up to be part of a standard American horror movie.  When left to the shadows or barely shown, this is fine.  When exposed, however, it isn't exactly laughable, but it does ruin any suspension of disbelief (mind you, once I was asked to believe that a Patrick Wilson character had special mental powers I was already beyond believing in the story) the viewer has left.  Surprisingly ineffective were Leigh Whannell (also the writer) and Angus Sampson, who I guess were supposed to offer some comic relief but just distract from whatever tension the situation demands.
     There is a twist ending that is, well, expected.  If it ended a different way, there would actually be some internal inconsistency, so kudos to director James Wan for following through and not trying for some other kind of surprise.  Wilson doesn't give much of a performance, but there is little to his character until the third act; see him in Hard Candy (2005) to see him act.  Byrne, on the other hand, gives a better than average performance and made me feel bad for thinking she would ruin the film for me.  My suggestion is to watch the first two-thirds of the movie and then make up your own ending.  Or watch the whole film, but imagine the final act looks much better and isn't padded with Josh wandering around in the dream fog and looks much more dreamlike.

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