Insidious Review: A Five-Star Seat Jumper for a Two-Star Horror Flick
Insidious is the jump-scare movie of the decade, and while jump-scares are a cheap, manipulative means to elicit Flanders' screams out of grown men, it's at least fair to say that James Wans' Insidious masters the art of cheap manipulation. He may be a hack, but he's a skilled hack. And it's not one of those slow, atmospheric films punctuated periodically by jump-scares -- it's a goddamn Disneyland theme ride of machine-gun paced jump-scares. James Wan will beat you over the head with them, exhaust you, puncture your eardrums, and murder your senses, quick-cutting creepy images (all familiar from Dead Silence) with crushing Argento chords and booming bass.
But it's still an awful film -- silly to the point of absurdity, and when you're not gripping your arm rest, you're laughing exasperatedly. But while it is dumb, there is something potentially interesting in Leigh Wannel's story; it's just very poorly written.
Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are Josh and Renai, school teacher and stay-at-home mom respectively, who have recently moved into a new, potentially haunted house. While exploring the attic one evening, Dalton -- who is about 6 -- falls down a ladder and bumps his head. He seems fine, but the next morning, he doesn't wake. He ends up in a coma of sorts -- his brain functions work fine, he just doesn't wake up. After he returns from the hospital, creepy shit starts to happen, and here is where Insidious is most effective, before they have to explain the creepy shit. There are footsteps, eerie voices on the baby monitor, and terrifying faces appearing in windows, basically the meth version of Paranormal Activity (and PA's Oren Pelli is a producer).
It's when the explanations begin to arrive that Insidious completely falls apart, changing course from haunted house film to haunted kid film to something like a demented, dollhouse version of What Dreams May Come. It goes from chilling to implausible to silly to testicle-punchingly dumb, way past the point of even Patrick Wilson's talents. Barbara Hershey, who plays the mother, is mostly wasted in that she's not asked to use her psycho talents. There's also a couple of goofy Ghost Hunter techs, who are funny, but they work to make Insidious even sillier, a goofiness that the requisite medium piles on. Wan attempts to go for something akin to Drag Me to Hell (Insidious is similarly PG-13), but overshoots the mark wildly.
Still, if you're expectations are properly set -- this is not a brutal, bloody, or nihilistic James Wan movie, not what you'd expect from the director of Saw and Death Sentence -- Insidious could be a fun, goofy group-going movie experience. Even still, most of that fun will come, not from the movie, but from the jump-scare reactions of those around you. It's a dare movie, a challenge: How long can you go without jumping out of your seat? How long can you hold the contents of your bladder? And how long can you go after the movie without exclaiming how stupid it was?