Monday, October 15, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Insidious (2011)

I went into this film thinking I would dislike it like crazy. It's a PG-13 rated horror movie, and none of those seem to be any good at all. The tend to be watered down garbage without any real promise of terror. But this movie... this movie delivered in the most unexpected way. Not only is this a pretty stellar independent horror film, it works on almost every level. Sure, there are some laughably funny moments that are not intended to be funny, and the CGI is sometimes a bit of a mess, but this movie really delivers as both a good movie and a creepy one.

I'm not used to saying that. I mean, it's not as though this flick scared my pants off or anything. Honestly I wasn't really all that scared at all, but it had some great little ideas and it had such creepy moments that it kept me watching. This is definitely a movie I will be watching again and again. While a slow-paced movie, it works very well at bringing the tension and being, for all intent purposes, basically a non-found footage Paranormal Activity, which is a amusing because the director of that movie, Oren Peli, produced this one, and his influence can be seen all over the place. What surprised me the most is that the director of the film, James Wan, is best known for the first Saw movie (which is of a franchise that I do not enjoy), but is also known for the pretty good movie Dead Silence, which I thought had some great direction to it, even if it's bogged down by other things. James Wan has some incredibly good direction in this film, and it is apparent that he is a master of the craft of horror movies. I mean, his shots are superb, evoking all kinds of terrifying images within the viewers' heads. Leigh Whannel (who also plays a large acting roll in the movie) wrote the script, and the dude knows his stuff as well, creating a really horrific movie from beginning to end. They both have worked together before for Saw and Dead Silence, and they seem to work with and off one another very well in general.

I've seen some people criticize the second half of this film, saying that the ball was dropped or that the second half doesn't live up to the first half. Now, while I don't agree with that statement, I can see where it comes from. The second half rolls with a plot premise that many people may not like. It's kind of a Paranormal Activity type of plot twist that really isn't for everybody. I really thought that this plot point was brought forward well and was really effective. But I also have always had a vested interest in the paranormal (whether I believe it or not) and astral projection has always been of special interest to me. The second half may not be as unnerving as the first half, but it really delivers in stellar imagery and an utterly terrifying premise. I know many might not agree with me there, but I found it incredibly effective.

Now, of course there are moments which are not as effective horror-wise. The ending is very predictable. I mean, really really predictable. And if they hadn't gone in that direction I would have been utterly disappointed. But that doesn't mean it wasn't incredibly predictable. I liked it well enough, but would have hated the alternatives, so I guess that's a plus all the way around. The zombie-ghosts were a little too amusing for my taste and the fight scene between ghost-skeleton man and Patrick Wilson's character of Josh is downright silly. The jump scares are kooky for the most part and do not work on any level. I would have preferred subtler scares all around, much like the earlier parts of the film... but on the other hand I can definitely see why the decision was made to make the latter half of the film more "traditionally" scary. They needed to up the tension and create something scarier for everybody, not just me. While it didn't do much for me in general, I suspect a lot of people would enjoy the later scares. And I enjoyed the latter half of the movie anyway... just not as much as maybe I would have otherwise.

The best part of the movie by far was when Josh enters the astral plane and deals with all of the nonsense there. The dreamlike quality of this part as well as the fog and horrific faces he sees are something out of some deep nightmares. I love the lack of explanation as to what's going on. It works really well and I found the whole thing unsettling and deeply awesome. I was also glad- and I almost hate to say this, but I was glad so I will say it- that Rose Byrne wasn't screaming her head off and going into the astral plane with her bra and panties or something else. While I am a straight hot-blooded American male, I hate when horror movies feel that they need to show "sexy" half-naked ladies fighting demons or whatever. I find it insipid and insulting to myself as a far of horror. There are times for naked characters in movies. It is not when that movie is trying to be scary. So, I liked how Patrick Wilson took the reigns and how neither him or Rose Byrne, both good actors and attractive people, took their clothes off or posed for the camera. They seemed like regular people and that worked incredibly well for me. Lin Shaye had the real breakout performance for me though, being the psychic lady of this film, Elise, who knows everything and is basically pretty awesome. Her two investigators were also really well done, with one played by the writer of the film and the other by Angus Sampson. All the parts flowed together and worked quite nicely, even the children of the film, although, thankfully, there was little of them to see. The picture up there of the little boy on the cover art is basically a misrepresentation of the film, again something I am thankful for because LITTLE CHILDREN ARE NOT SCARY!!! So, instead the horror comes wholly from things that could be pretty creepy, none of which are little children.

While the ending is predictable, the story is incredibly well done. It flows nicely, is cleanly edited, and has effective scenes and scares. The dreamlike quality of parts of the film as well as the dark imagery really works wonders for this story as well. Also, just as an aside there are parts of this movie that remind me of a much better done Drag Me to Hell. I have to point that out. While I liked the Sam Raimi flick, it wasn't very memorable, with more ridiculousness than scary moments. This movie seems to have scenes that are similar to that other film, but played straight and effectively, which I really liked. The acting is solid, the sounds are solid, the scares are well done, not neutered as I thought it might be. There is very little to complain about here and a lot to like. I have to recommend this movie to anybody who likes horror. It's a very good watch.

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