Insidious (2011)

Insidious is brought to you by the people who created Saw. I figure that after they ended up having little to do with their creation, yet people still viewed them as a one-trick pony, they decided to go in a different direction. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell had those roles on the first Saw film teamed up again to bring another horror movie. The difference being the type of horror film they created.

Saw, as many of you know, isn’t a film based on subtlety. Called “torture porn” by some people, it was a graphic endeavor that had plenty of blood, gore, sawed-off body parts and other things that are not pleasant to see (although one could argue that it was the sequels that brought this label to the series). With Insidious, there isn’t any spilled blood, no decapitated body parts, or anything else that you would call particularly graphic. Instead, it takes the basic premise of demons trying to inhabit a body and throws in a bunch of jump scares. I suppose that makes it more of a horror film for everyone, although it also means that Insidious ends up being nothing you haven’t seen before.

The plot begins with a couple just having moved into a new house. Renai (Rose Byrne) wakes up and continues to unpack, even though it appears to be very early in the morning. She puts books on a shelf, and ends up getting sidetracked by a photo album. Later, at breakfast, she’s joined by her husband, Josh (Patrick Wilson), and we learn that they’re a couple like everyone else. He forgot to tell her that he can’t take the kids to school, and she is upset that he didn’t tell her earlier. At this point, we believe that they’re real characters living real lives. It’s a good introduction to their lives, even if that introduction proves unnecessary because two of the children end up being forgotten about. Oh, and Renai notices that the books she put on the shelf have been moved, even if the children claim they didn’t touch them.

One day, the oldest child, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into a coma. Quite literally, in fact, as he falls off a ladder in the attic, and ends up not waking up the next morning. The doctors tell the worried parents that no brain damage was sustained, and that they’ve never seen anything like it before. Regardless, Dalton’s out and he becomes the only child that matters anymore.

Three months pass. Dalton is still in a coma, but he’s in home care now. It’s now that things start going wrong—or at least, going weird. Renai hears strange sounds on the baby monitor, she begins seeing people in her house, doors begin opening and closing themselves, and yes, those moving books were supposed to foreshadow this. Of course, you know that you’re going to watch a horror movie, so you’re probably well aware that those books were moved by something not supposed to be in the house, but I guess that was shown for those unaware they’re watching a horror film.

However, if that was the case, I wonder how they didn’t clue in after the opening title sequence. When the film’s title is shown, it’s done as a jump scene. Then, when the actors, producers, writer, director, and all of those other names you don’t read are being shown, we see still photos that have things moving in them that are supposed to creep us out. And there a lot of loud noises, which is a theme that will continue as your progress through the film.

Insidious isn’t a bad film because it does deliver quite a few scares.

Unfortunately, as with most horror films of this nature, we need to figure out what’s going on and how to fix it. Enter two women, Lorraine (Barbara Hershey), who is Josh’s mother, and Elise (Lin Shaye), who is a paranormal expert of some nature. Eventually, the two women explain exactly what’s going on and the precise way to fix it. It’s at this point when I lost interest.

There are some fun scares in this film. I’d say there are at least 10 times when you’ll jump in your seat. If that’s what you want, well, you won’t be disappointed. to say that I had a bad time with Insidious would be a lie, although it wasn’t as enjoyable as I would have hoped, even if I was scared for a solid portion of time.

What it lacks is originality, which isn’t necessarily a complain by itself. However, since the story relies on a couple of twists and “unforeseen” circumstances, knowing exactly what’s going to happen does become a problem. I’m glad that the plot doesn’t stay stagnate, but having easy-to-guess twists makes it predictable and less frightening. When I can figure out that something is going to happen or that a jump scene is going to occur, I’ll be mentally preparing for it and it won’t have the same impact. Telegraphing your big moments doesn’t allow them the opportunity to work.

What Insidious does well is give us strong, memorable characters that we can invest in. They’re presented like your average couple, and when things go wrong, you think “what if this happened to me/us?” It helps with the immersion even if what’s happening on-screen is improbable at best. You like these people and you don’t want to see bad things happen to them. The performances turned in are also stronger than your average horror film, so if you’re going for the actors, you won’t be disappointed in that area.

Insidious isn’t a bad film because it does deliver quite a few scares. However, it won’t satisfy the desire for innovation, and because it’s so easy to predict, many of the scares will be negated because you’ll see them coming. It’s still a fun film with strong characters, but don’t expect something that’s all that unique. Insidious is enjoyable but severely lacking in originality.

Conclusion: Insidious is a solidly crafted horror film.

Recommendation: If you want to see a familiar story told pretty well, Insidious does that job.

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