Haunted house? Think again.
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 1, 2011
I’ll say one thing for “Insidious,” the latest fright-fest from the producer of “Paranormal Activity” and the writer-director team from “Saw,” as it’s proudly being marketed: You can’t criticize it for false advertising.
It really does share each movie’s DNA. Like the former, it’s part haunted-house story — complete with a “Poltergeist”-y female medium and a pair of lovably goofy ghostbusters. Like the latter, it’s part gothic horror show, complete with a bad guy who looks like the love child of Darth Maul and Gene Simmons.
Therein lies the problem: It’s too much “Saw” and not enough “Paranormal.”
It’s not that it isn’t scary. You’ll jump out of your skin so many times that, after a while, you may just decide to leave it off. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannel have said they had two rules in making “Insidious”: that there be no fake scares and that if characters in the movie think their house is haunted, they move.
To their credit, the filmmakers scrupulously observe both rules. When you jump — and you will — it’s because there really is something to jump about. The old house in which the film opens is no “Amityville Horror,” but between the crackling voices on the baby monitor and inexplicably moving objects, the place is plenty spooked. True to Wan and Whannel’s word, when Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne), the young couple who have just moved in with their three kids, have enough of that nonsense, they quickly call a real estate agent.
Unfortunately, the next home they move into is just as bad, if not worse.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the reason. It isn’t the houses that are haunted, but the Lamberts’ son Dalton (Ty Simpkins). After taking a mild bump on the head, Dalton falls into what appears to be a medically unexplained coma, while all around him the spirit world is going crazy.
Up until this point, the film is a deliciously creepy mystery, with an admirable sense of restraint and steadily building tension, a la “Paranormal Activity.” (That film’s writer-director, Oren Peli, is a producer here.)
Soon, however, the “Saw” sensibility kicks in, leaving little to the imagination. A team of professional boogeyman-hunters shows up, featuring the aforementioned medium, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), and two nutty-professor sidekicks (nicely played by Angus Sampson and Whannel, who defuse the by-now-almost-unbearable tension with just the right amount of comic dialogue and ridiculously elaborate equipment). If you were wondering just what the heck was going on, Elise explains everything in a scene that pretty much ruins the movie.
It turns out that something very, very bad is going on in a place that Elise refers to as “the further.” Though you may know it as the Other Side, it mostly looks like a fog-filled level of a supernatural video game. Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe by movies such as “The Sixth Sense,” there’s a lot more there than just dead people.
At this point, the movie ceases to be truly, deeply frightening at all, with a climax that’s uncomfortably close to that of “Poltergeist.” The heart may still race, and the body may still jump at every turn, but the imagination — where the scariest stuff lives — has given up the ghost.
Contains brief obscenity, scary entities from the spirit realm and a child in jeopardy.