So here I am reviewing a modern movie, oh look at me! Well I've been absent so it's time to catch up and reviewing old movies needs context and history so let's start with something we all know.
Spoiler free version.
Insidious is a movie with two distinct halves, really distinct, like Hitchcock's Psycho. The first is creepy and builds slowly (insidiously) with lots of shock value from sudden loud noises (the modern way it seems) and the odd visual surprise. The story is simple enough, a family move to a new house to build a better life and things just seem to get worse. Weird but not awful things seem to happen until the boy in the picture above goes into the attic (of course the attic) and falls off some wooden steps while trying to turn on a light. He falls into a coma from his injuries and Mom gets depressed while Dad just hangs out at work having a snooze. Then Grandma arrives and changes everything. . .
After 53 mins it stops being 'Paranormal Activity' (without Katie Featherstone) and becomes Poltergeist (1982) meets The Omen (1976) with things like The Shining (1980) and more besides thrown together with some steampunk and more audio visual cliches. I will be honest with you, the first 53 mins had me looking over my shoulder. The second half just came as a light relief. Together the two halves make an enjoyable experience but despite the early scares you emerge unscathed and just maybe a little sad. My score out of 5, an admirable 3. Half a movie well worth watching.
Now for the spoilers - look away now if you haven't seen it.
Let's be honest with ourselves, Oren Peli is a producer on this film so the fact it starts like a 'Paranormal Activity' film is no surprise. It's the fact it deteriorates into derivative nonsense that really shocks. The first 53 mins are SO scary, long silences, open sequences, nothing happening but expectation then something followed by nothing again. As the tension builds to it's climax (that's half way through remember) we start to see scary stereotypes but by now we're so scared it seems right. I was checking around me at this point, expecting to see almost anything but then the secong half arrives. Babs Hershey is a star, no doubt about that, and acts as the bridge into part 2. The part that hopes you've never seen an original horror film before. I liked the 'Ghostbusters' and their make-shift equipment combined with their 1950's dress and comedy stylings. Elise herself is very 1950s giving all the new characters a cohesion but ultimately it looks a bit "Be Kind Rewind' with the old movies being re-enacted with children's toys and cheap effects. As we go overload into cultural standards and cliches it becomes predictable and unsurprising, a total change from the first half but totally negating any problems sleeping after watching. Quite handy really.
The bits I liked best were the interplay on the baby monitor, again, not a new concept but scary nonetheless. I also loved the mise-en-scene. Seriously. Look at the screen, what do you see? A load of junk but in the right light maybe something scary? If you do don't be surprised if that very same scary thing you thought you saw arrives. It was there in the mise-en-scene. If anyone reading this does not know what this is, it refers to the setting up of the scene, the background, the objects, the lighting etc. For instance, doesn't that jacket and hat hanging behind that door look like a 1950's schoolboy? Next up a 1950s Schoolboy is running around the house, laughing at us. Doesn't the way those pictures, cupboard door and shadows look like a gas mask? Within five minutes Elise has donned a gas mask. Got it? Right. They are actually showing you what will be up next in the design of the shot. It's a cool trick which prepares the mind to accept ideas, it's not new either but still works. The same could be said of the jump cuts. Often a jump cut expresses the passing of time but here the jump cuts are also preparing us to accept the same technique later, in the underworld, where the dead family's expressions change to smiles in an instant using - you guessed it, jump cuts. I also really liked the use of Tim Tiny with 'Tiptoe Through The Tulips', a truly disturbing song and man who sounds just plain odd. The world's very first modern Goth you know, seriously, he was born in 1932!! Eat your heart out Marilyn Manson!!
Ultimately we spend the last 50 mins of this film trailing through 'homage' to better films that have gone before and just when you think it's over they go a step too far. Obviously unhappy with an ending they choose to step into Korean or Japanese horror territory and give us one last shock. Sadly this new twist is not followed up and the film just peters out like a 'Two Episodes Of M*A*S*H sketch. With no-one bothering to write an ending it's much less satisfying than a Joe Wilkinson and Diane Morgan sketch though as there's no laughs or scares. You just think to yourself, "Wow, an hour ago I was really scared - what happened? Am I watching the same film?". It reminds me a great deal of the Doctor Who episode 'Hide' which is set in the 1970's and features outdated equipment being used for high-tech supernatural research and ultimately the second half of that story is a disaster too. Wonder where they got the idea from?
Still, at least they didn't stoop to tying a rope around Patrick Wilson before he entered Orpheus' Underworld, I mean 'The Further'. It could have been worse, like using dolly out zoom in shots like Hitchcock or casting a lead from a 1980s supernatural horror like, I don't know, 'The Entity' or something, that would have been really bad.
Oh, hold on. . . .