Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Something's Creeping Up!

Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell have burst into our filmic consciousness having being responsible for Saw that launched an enduring franchise, created a new anti-hero and spawned a frenzy in the torture porn subgenre. Horror films are their forte though Wan did branch off for a remake of Death Wish with Death Sentence, before re-teaming with Whannell behind the camera to come up with Insidious, one of the best jump in your seat horror offering in quite some time.

It's easy to pass this off as another quick hack out to earn an easy buck at the box office. For instance, the poster has this creepy child, and creepy children have been staple in films such as Orphan, Joshua, the remake of The Omen, and countless others in recent years. The opening credits scene is incredibly cheesy and cheap looking, but it gets better, trust me. Then there's the story about a haunted house, a requisite in many, many horror films, but that's only the tip of the iceberg, as Wan and Whannell intended to lull you in with complacency built up from one's horror film experience, before shoving the motherload of scares right down your throat.

Even the building of the premise may make you roll your eyes at the expectation that this may be just another Paranormal Activity, since it tells of the Lambert family, with parents Josn and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne respectively) and their three children Dalton (Ty Simpkins playing Wilson's kid again, collaborating before in Todd Field's Little Children), Foster (Andrew Astor) and another toddler in arms who bawl at the slightest of disturbances in the house. And there are plenty, with the usual moving and slamming doors, a very receptive baby monitor and documentary styled camera movements that reminisces that of Paranormal Activity 2, sans voyeuristic eyes from CCTV and found footage.

You won't be faulted if you had suspicions that this film took a leaf from Paranormal Activity and combined it with your classic haunted house spooks, but here's where Whannell, who also starred in this film as a paranormal geek alongside Angus Sampson, upped the ante despite having to have the family move house, and came up with a tale that's best kept under wraps to retain the surprises that come along the way, although some may find fault with his rather geeky and detailed explanation through the medium Elise (Lin Shaye), engaged by Josh's mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) that links up with Josh's own repressed past.

But as far as scaring the audience goes, Insidious scores top marks. Wan has a knack for designing his scary pieces with aplomb to jump scare even the most jaded of horror film goers, and the best part is, you're primed to expect something to happen, and they do, without too many time wasting red herrings. Wan gives what an audience will expect, and does so without pulling his punches, so much so that it's somewhat of a thrill ride as we journey with the characters to make sense of what's happening. The beauty comes from the simplicity of the ghoul design, cliched some may be even, and one red faced demon that looked very much like Darth Maul. But they did their job in old school like fashion, complete with a very in your face, scratchy soundtrack that did half the job since this film would not have worked without Joseph Bishara's violin-centric score.

Costing only 1.5 million dollars to make and grossing over 50 million to date, Insidious just goes to show how profitable horror films can be, where there's no need for fancy graphical effects, but reliance on simple practical ones to send chills up your spine. If it's a good scare in the cinemas you're after, then Insidious serves that up by the bucketloads without insulting your intelligence. Stay right through to the end credits for one final hurrah. Highly recommended!


Steve Kopian said...

normally I respect your opinion but I think you're off the mark here. While I will grant you that there are some genuine scares here and real moments. I think Wan misses most of this by a mile with an illogical and cliche riddled plot and worst of all the constant use of LOUD noises where the jumps are. The audience I saw this with screamed more at the moments where Wan didn't use the volume at 11 trick. I've seen the film twice now and found it even more annoying the second time through.

Stefan S said...

Hi dbborroughs, I thought the big reveal here was something quite different in a long while from the usual spook fests. I'm not sure why you've seen the film twice ? :D

Steve Kopian said...

The fact that he was doing things different was aplus, except that he kept guilding the lilly with the loud sounds and noises.

I freely admit that had Wan not over felt the need to do it, it would have played better. For me the moments where the sounds didn't come- the first demon behind the crib, or the scene where the wife walks through the house and you see the ghost standing in a corner when she walks by were genuinely scary- they produced some real screams at the screening I saw. The other jolts were all generated by the loud noises.

An addendum, after I posted my above comment I spoke with afriend who saw the film at a regular theater and they said the noise wasn't as jarring as I seemed to think- which maybe to blame on Lincoln Center and the NYC theaters.

Even allowing for the loud noise scares I have a real problem with the plot in that I what happened was largely telegraphed way in advance. I knew what was going to happen at the end and why. While the lack of blood and real scares are to be applauded they really could have used a better script. I couldn't believe that a film that was so desperately trying to break the mold of horror convention went for an ending that ends with a sequel set up.

Forgive me I really dislike the film. More so when I see other better recent horror films such as Stake Land or Grave Encounters or Village of Shadows which break convention and shake things up without resorting to extreme blood and guts and false scares, much the way that Insidious was trying to do.

In answer to your question- why see a fim I don't like a second time- because enough people I respect liked the film enough for me to try it a second time to see if I got it wrong. I frequently will try a film a second time if the right people say there is something good in it (or if I stumbleon it and it catches me in the right mood). I've taken your word a couple of times in order to retry something- and more than a few times I do like the film more.

This time I think we're just going to end up disagreeing.

(Though I probably should learn to hate the film a little less loudly)

Steve Kopian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan S said...

Hi dbborroughs, thanks for sharing but let's agree to disagree :-)

In any case I am in agreement with you on those where the sounds didn't come in... the demon behind the crib totally spooked me, and yes the kids which were appearing/running in the house too.

I thought Wan did great in covering a spectrum of techniques, at least to ensure some would still get jolted in some way :-) Sometimes the more subtle touches do get missed by audiences (I know of friends who took quite a while to spot the one at the crib).

Guess I will have to take a look at the horror films you had mentioned!

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