Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Insidious: Spooky Same Old?

Here's the latest from some people who made "Saw" (remember that one good "Saw" film, way back in the mists of time before the series descended into slapstick splatter-porn sequels? That's the one they made, I think) and "Paranormal Activity" (which I enjoyed. The first one, anyway) and, with resum├ęs of that calibre, this movie must be presented entirely in spooky-vision, surely?

"Insidious" tells the story of a young family moving into a spooky new house. The eldest kid falls over in the spooky attic and bumps his head. Then he goes into a spooky coma that the doctors can't explain. Then shit gets really spooky.

Basically, we have here a generic haunting film which ticks all the boxes (spooky house, spooky kids, demonic possession, seances, psychic investigators, spectral photography, etc) familiar from films like "The Exorcist", "The Entity", "Poltergeist", "Beetlejuice" and "Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey", yet manages to slither its way into the coveted position of "above average horror-movie" in spite of its obvious ancestry.

Where the film scores is with a neat twist on the formula (the comatose kid is the focus of the spookiness, or "it's not the house that's haunted, it's YOUR SON..." in trailer-talk), and with several consistently creepy and memorable images and genuinely surprising jumps. Most of the shocks are slightly cheapened by the typically unnecessary LOUD NOISES variety of musical cue so often employed as substitute for genuine surprise, but you can't have it all.

We also get a nice variety of vaguely derivative apparitions clamouring around the sleeping kid: the Darth Maul-faced bastard offspring of Freddy Krueger and Satan, a creepy old woman in a funeral shroud, a burly fella with long hair, slightly older versions of the twins from "The Shining" and a weird midget child-thing dressed like a chimney sweep.

The plotting is also formulaic and functional, with conveniently placed characters turning up to deliver outlandish exposition and explain leaps in logic which the characters and narrative must take to survive. We are graced with mostly above-average performances to help the increasingly absurd medicine go down, however.

Rose Byrne is particularly effective in the potentially one-dimensional mother role. She deals with trauma, loss, terror, confusion, isolation and determination in an entirely convincing manner, and her Aussie accent never pokes through. Having only seen her humorous portrayal of Russell Brand's airhead ex in "Get him to the Greek" previously, I was very pleasantly surprised by her successful grapple with the horror-movie heroine monster.

Patrick Wilson is also good value as the slightly douchey father. He seems to excel at playing emasculated men who have to dig deep to find some inner strength, and he does so with skill here.

The supporting cast is mostly made up of amusing oddballs, including screenwriter Leigh Whannell (remember him? He was the one who wasn't Cary Elwes in the first "Saw"! Which he also wrote) as a twitchy paranormal investigator who can draw spooky pictures real quick, Magda from "There's Something about Mary" as a psychic medium-type who seems to have all the answers, and Barbara Hershey following "Black Swan" with another weird mother role.

Some of these off-beat turns grate against the fairly natural work of Wilson and Byrne, but they do offer a much needed sense of humour which helps a little to diffuse the absurdity when characters begin seriously discussing astral-projection and whatnot.

Overall, it's a gloomy, ultimately predictable horror film built from a patchwork of familiar material and some shiny new bits, displayed in such a way to hold the interest for its duration and maybe, just maybe, seed a few images in your brain-theatre that might come back to haunt you when you switch out the light...

1 comment:

  1. Damn. Am still such a sucker for horror and the odd.