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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Insidious (Release Date: 4-1-2011)

        There's something fundamentally wrong with advertising a movie as being from the makers of Saw and Paranormal Activity. They might be the two true horror-movie titans of the last several years, but the differences between them speak to one of the biggest genre shifts currently taking place in film. For the past several years, makers of fright-flicks have been content to pile on the gore, neglecting classic scary movie beats in favor of piles of body parts. As late in the series as Saw V, the Jigsaw killer could be counted on to pull some real dollars, especially in the world-wide box office. But then came Paranormal Activity, riding a massive wave of buzz, and benefitting from an awfully brilliant marketing strategy. It arrived right around the same time as Saw VI did two Octobers ago, and made nearly four times as much. But thinking of it as a mere passing of the torch is short sighted: There's a fundamental disconnect between the two movies that goes far beyond mere brand names. PA comes from the school of less-is-more, creating fear with the things it doesn't show, and favoring tone and ambience over out-right shock. If we are to believe the implications of Paranormal Activity 2's opening weekend numbers, which rank fifth all-time for October openings, putting it several slots ahead of the Saw saga's best unveiling, people have tired a bit of severed limb,s and have returned to favoring creaking stairs.

        Even James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the Director and Writer (Respectively) behind the first Saw movie, seem to be observing this shift, as is evidenced by their PG-13 rated, largely un-bloodied new film, Insidious. The movie stars Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as Renai and Josh Lambert, a perfectly average couple and parents of three who have just moved into a new home. While Josh spends long days at work, Renai stays home to practice her music, and take care of the couple's infant. As the days pass, however, she begins to get a funny feeling about the house. A number of puzzling occurrences transpire, prompting Renai to fear for the safety of herself and her children, all while Josh simply can't be bothered to believe in such none-sense.

        If this plot summary sounds familiar... well, it is. The TV spots for the movie give away much more than I just did above, and its a telling fact: The makers know they're coloring inside the lines here, and they don't mind admitting it, instantly likening Insidious to any number of previous horror successes. The movie is even said to be a tribute to director Wan's favorite movie, Poltergeist, and if that allusion escapes you as you watch it, my guess is you don't have eyes. Insidious is also completely unabashed to visit just about every single plot point and twist from the first two PA movies, which were themselves largely the same movie. So when I tell you to expect nothing new from Insidious, what I mean to say is that you will literally not see a single (not one single) thing that you haven't seen before while watching this one.

        But here's the rub; for the slight majority of its runtime, it works like a charm. In the means of full-disclosure, I've been pretty throughly freaked-out by both PA movies, so if you're the type that can call those movies' bluffs, then there might not be much for you here. But if you're like me (i.e. wussy/easily scared) the first hour or so is a haunted house ride to be relished, with none of the gore of the Saw movies. It's ripe with disturbing imagery, directors of photography PA. Credit David M. Brewer and John R. Leonetti employing endless and languid tracking shots to build up a sense of dread that's palpable from the moment the movie begins. Many of the scares are predictable, a loud noise or sudden movement coming just when you'd expect, but as with the best horror movies, that doesn't stop you from jumping half way out of your seat. The first hour also benefits from Byrne's being alone in the house, which means maximal scares and minimal dialogue, seemingly always the torn in the side of movies like this. But just when you think this one has played it straight all the way to the bank, the next section of the movie occurs.

        To be sure, there's enough residual fright left over from the first half to make you jump a time or two during the second act, but the movie really falls apart at the seams. It's frustrating to see it come so close to resounding success, but that's before you remember that the second half face-plant is essentially the preferred road of the horror genre. This one strikes me as particularly jarring, throwing away all subtlety for rampant and stupid bouts of over-explaination, increasingly violent and obvious sequences, and a surreal twist at the end that flirts with working before falling in line with the rest of the back half. But there's no need to kick a dead horse: you get the idea. If you like your scares set in the eerie stillness of the domestic scene, and can still be had by a few cheap scares, this one is right up your alley. Just don't expect too much past the hour mark.

Grade: B-

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