22 November 2011

Fin's Review: Insidious

To use a very tired old football cliché, this film was definitely a game of two halves. The first half of the film is strong, but it is let down by a weak and slightly cheesy ending. However, notwithstanding the shaky ending, Insidious is an effective and at times genuinely creepy tale - a thrill ride of a film that, despite being ultimately forgettable, is fun while it lasts. 

Insidious tells the story of a young family who move into an old house and begin to experience a chilling and malevolent presence. Thinking that it is the house that is haunted, they make plans to move, but after their young son falls into a coma it becomes clear that it is not the house which is haunted and that there is a much more terrifying explanation at work. As this very brief story outline suggests there is nothing new or unique about this film and if you were being very critical you could argue that it is derivative of a number of better films. However, while Insidious definitely borrows/steals from a number of superior films, it is fast-paced and exciting enough to be enjoyed on its own terms. 

Director James Wan proves to be skilled in creating tension and fear even when nothing is happening on screen, and it is while the ghosts and demons are hidden from view that this film work best. Wan is excellent at forcing the viewer to peer into the dark and to check the periphery of the screen for unseen horrors. This straining into the dark makes it even more scary when a small glimpse of the demons is given. Unfortunately the film never goes above the level of jump scares and trick shots and, while very effective, never becomes truly scary.

Much of the imagery Wan uses is at times genuinely eery - I was particularly affected by the twisted old woman ghost - but the more screen time Wan gives these creations, the more the fear seeps out of the film, until by the end I felt like I was watching a particularly creepy episode of Buffy. 

While the direction of James Wan is strong, the same cannot be said of the acting, which is very poor. Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson are particularly bad and never convince. Neither of the parents seemed sufficiently bothered by the fact that their son was potentially possessed. Having said that, many horror films before Insidious have had poor acting performances and still managed to be effective. 

It is the dramatic change in tone that this film undergoes half way through that I found most difficult. It felt to me that Wan did not know how to bring this tense, dread-filled haunted house story to an end in a scary and satisfying way. Instead, Wan introduces the character of the psychic who takes the story on a completely different trajectory. The explanation for the family's troubles is too bizarre and difficult to believe and all the tension and fear built in the first half is instantly dissipated. By the time Patrick Wilson goes in search of his son, a creepy ghost story has instead become a bizarre, slightly camp experience reminiscent of a fairground ghost train. 

I actually quite enjoyed the closing scenes - they just felt like they belonged to a different film. Demons and ghosts which had appeared genuinely scary at the start of the film had become mildly ridiculous, not least the main red faced demon. Wan seemed to be attempting to create the confusing, otherworldly, hallucinogenic atmosphere seen in horror classics like Phantasm, but he never really achieves it. 

Insidious is a fun if forgettable film and, in spite of its faintly ridiculous ending, is undoubtedly entertaining.

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