Insidious (2010)

(On DVD, October 2014) Having missed Insidious in theaters, then on DVD, then on Cable TV even as its reputation grew as a good example of recent American horror, I found myself playing catch-up late at night, finally finding out for myself was the fuss was about.  As it turns out, Insidious isn’t too bad, but director James Wan’s follow-up The Conjuring is a bit better and thus retroactively colors Insidious‘ impact.  Both movies have similar starting points, with families in new houses being imperilled by demonic forces and semi-professional helpers coming to help them.  But it’s the execution that counts, and while The Conjuring did well with a soft-spoken acceleration of horrors, Insidious is quite a bit blunter in how it marks scares with big musical stings.  Much of the first hour feels conventional, as innocent people (and audiences) are progressively spooked by strange happenings.  But there are hints that something weirder is at play, and by the time the last half-hour moves from haunted house to possessed bodies to astral travel, Insidious becomes interesting in ways that most horror movies third acts usually don’t.  Still, that final half-hour is also in many ways the silliest, as the film’s ambitions run against its budget, and the literalization of some metaphors (coupled with a more frenetic rhythm) doesn’t quite work as intended.  Once the monster is to be shown, part of the mystique disappears.  Still, it’s quite a bit better than your average horror movie, and it benefits from a couple of good performances: Patrick Wilson is fine as the everyday-man protagonist with a secret, while Rose Byrne delivers exactly the expected as the suffering wife, but it’s really Lin Shaye who steals the spotlight as a paranormal expert who knows far too much.  Effective scares and jumps and creepy hints all cleverly pepper the film, and the result is enjoyable.  Still, in retrospect Insidious may be most noteworthy as a bridge to other better films, from Sinister to The Conjuring.

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