The October Diaries: Insidious

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Sean & Christof

October 23rd, 2014:

Year: 2010
Director: James Wan
Format: Netflix
From IMDB: A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.

Christof’s Take:

It’s uncharacteristic of this particular living room to host three movies by the same director in one October, especially when none of these movies were made before 1990. In fact, none of these movies were made before 2005.

Call us the wine-snobs or dumpster-bums of the horror cinema world, but we just don’t sample post-millennial horror that often. Ultimately, I’m glad we took some vacations, and I’m further pleased that James Wan was a three-time cruise-ship captain.

(Ooh! Fun metaphor! I feel refreshed!)

Concerning the three Wan movies, I’d put Insidious right betwixt Dead Silence and The Conjuring, which is convenient because that’s where it resides chronologically. Hopefully, this means James Wan has his best films on the horizon. However, with the unfortunate magic of the comparative existentialism of contextual relativism, this does make Insidious taste a just a little itty-bitty bit bland after the robust flavors and nourishing juices of The Conjuring.

(Gross, sorry.)

I don’t really know what to say at this point. It’s another haunted house/demon movie, where it turns out to be the family that’s being haunted, which makes the move to a new house unhelpful. So there was a sense of spinning wheels, but watching a wheel spin can be pretty fun if lit well.

Something new: astral projection got some play! What fun!

There was definitely some clunkiness, especially in the middle, concerning the logic of the drama rather than the logic of the horror. The characters weren’t particularly intriguing to me, and in spite of a wonderfully charming cast (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson), there were extended periods where I didn’t really care about what was happening.

However, again, I know that if we watched this movie before we watched The Conjuring, I’d have less gripes. Expectation can be a fickle guide through a director’s body of work. As always, there was some really interesting imagery that Wan brought to the table.

One last important note: there is maybe my favorite ghost of all time in this movie. You’ll know which one I’m talking about if it makes you laugh more than it gives you the creepies. This ghost is a goddamn delight, lemme tell ya. The type of ghost you could really see yourself being one day.

I’m not clawing my face off in anticipation to watch the sequel, but I’d like to see it at some point.


Sean’s Take:

We decided to venture even deeper into the James Wan filmography to see where Insidious might land. We enjoyed most of Dead Silence, but were much more impressed with the tasteful control he had over The Conjuring. Turns out this one landed somewhere between the two. It had some fantastic scares that echoed the high points of The Conjuring, but it lacked that film’s tonal fluidity. Insidious started out right on par with The Conjuring before venturing into some choppy territory which ended up straining my attachment to the plot.

A breaking point for me was when we were introduced to the two paranormal investigator characters who were clearly written to provide moments of token comic relief. What I loved about The Conjuring was the lack of forced characterization like this. It had funny moments, but they were born out of moments of tension and the natural family dynamics of the characters. They weren’t haphazardly placed on top of the tense moments — as was unfortunately the case with Insidious. The bickering of these two investigators wasn’t organic enough to mesh with the rest of the movie, which had maintained a pretty solid momentum up until this point, and it wasn’t funny enough to allow me to mentally pardon this breach.

With these characters also came a pretty drastic departure from the plot. What felt like an ordinary haunted residence movie turned into a narrative where characters venture into the ghost world themselves. This was visually a lot of fun, but it took the edge off the scare factor. As soon as Patrick Wilson started walking around amongst a handful of ghosts, they lost a bit of their terror. Jaws was famously at its most scary when you didn’t see the shark (supporting the classic “You’re imagination is scarier than we could show you” thesis). The Conjuring follows this advice more closely, allowing only small gestures and glimpses of the terror.

As much as I might’ve temporarily mourned the loss of the sustained tension, I also came to appreciate the cornucopia of creep-ghosts that Wan chose to fill the void. The main ghost-demon-entity was particularly satisfying to the ten-year old boy inside me. It looks like the amalgamation of a thousand creepy demon images that form in a young child’s mind. I also appreciated the introduction of astral projection as a key plot point. The horror genre is always willing to swing for the fences with plot elements and this one worked very well for me.

All told, if I had seen it before The Conjuring I’d be raving a bit more about how amazing this one is. But after seeing that one so recently (as well as a couple of other demons-be-possessing-people movies we caught this month — Something Evil and Night of the Demons) the effect of a family moving into a new house and getting spooked was lessened substantially.

If Something Evil was the haunted house tricycle, Insidious is the two-wheeler with the training wheels still on and The Conjuring is the “Look, I’m riding a bike by myself!” entry.



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