Horror is a genre that I love passionately and despise fervently on a daily basis. What I hate the most about this industry, at least this week, is when another plastic and unimaginative horror film comes out and they load the TV spots up with all these comparative statements to brilliant, 70’s era, genre-creating titles. “Scariest Film since the Exorcist. Most Terrifying since Poltergeist”. These quotes, of course, refer to Insidious, which just reared its ugly head onto the home market last Tuesday.
Why do I hate it, you may ask? One, it isn’t even as scary as the sum of all of Exorcist and Poltergeist’s bad sequels let alone the originals. While the films has some creepy images and a few good jump moments, the sad fact remains that the trailer showcased every single one of them. The rest of the film is tonally awkward, badly paced, and outright goofy in a way that borders on SyFy original quality.
Insidious’s attempt at originality functions on a two act play style. Act one follows the Lamberts, Josh and Rene, a thirty-something couple that have just moved their family into a new home, and all is well until their oldest son, Dalton, falls into an unexplainable comma. With doctors baffled, Dalton returns home to visiting nurse care, and the family finds itself in a typical format of a haunted house flick: stuff moves around, bloody hand prints appear, and a ghostly figure that looks like some loser that used to be a roadie for King Diamond materializes to cause havoc.
Rene convinces Josh to move, and guess what, the same stuff starts happening in the new house. So, they decide to call in some help to figure out why and help comes in the form of two stereotypically humorous ghost hunters who use modified children’s View Masters to stumble upon one of the film’s only creepy scenes, two undead girls that appear in Overlook Hotel fashion, but with unnerving Cheshire Cat smiles. Don’t worry if you blinked and missed it, because director James Wan will try to pull this stunt about a dozen more times before the movie is out, until it so redundantly unscary that I wanted to cry.
Anyway, after that bit, the ghost hunters call in their boss, Elise, who is some kind of psychic and decides to have a séance while wearing a gas mask. While, apparently, this is based in fact for people with ESP to heighten their skills through sensory deprivation, the real reason, which Wan told Fangoria, was just because he wanted to have a different feel to the overused séance scene. Well, different he got. I can’t dispute that, but it also looks goofier than ID-Software’s Rise of the Triad video game in 94’ when they did Gas Mask View. Everyone that’s put off by this scene better crawl into their own gasmasks because its only going to stink worse from here as Insidious takes a turn for the Looney Toons style.
After chaos at the séance ensues, and I’m surprised Taz doesn’t spin out of the table, the group finally comes up with a plan. In short, there’s a bunch of half-assed repressed backstory about Josh’s past, but all you need to know is that he could Astral-project his soul as a child and now his kid Dalton took up the hobby and got stuck in a place called “The Further.” While Elsie’s explanation is too lengthy to even paraphrase here, just think of that episode of the Twilight Zone where that little girl falls through a dimensional hole in the wall and the dog has to get her, except add a house, and a bunch of those Cheshire Cat smiling ghost and poof you’re there.
The reason for all of this is that Dalton’s travels have left his living body as an empty vessel, prime real estate for every ghost, dead King Diamond roadie, and demon that looks like an anorexic Raiders fan in a five dimension radius. So, Josh has to astral-project once again to find his son in that creepy of all worlds, “The Further.”
So he wades through a bunch of fog machine puffs, retro 50’s families doing that creepy Cheshire Cat smile, yet again, and has to fight the King Diamond roadie who he takes out with Lord Raiden’s across-the-screen, face-first dive move. (Yes, it looks that bad). Finally, he finds his son chained up in the demon’s liar. What is the demon doing you may ask? Why he’s sharping his claws while listening to Tiny Tim’s “Tip-Toe Through the Tulips.” Immediately after, the demon presses his sharpened-claw-silhouette against the stain glass window that separates them and there’s a sound spike. Really, this scene is supposed to be tense. I’m sorry but there’s no more being afraid of this guy. (Finally, I understand Why Paranormal Activity didn’t show their demons, because demons do goofy unscary stuff like listen to Tiny Tim with their down time).
With all the tension being flushed down the toilet, the father and son try to escape “The Further,” and Wan tries revive tension with some sort Night of the Living Dead all-ghosts-storm-“realworld”-house-scene, which makes no bloody sense because up until now the ghost could pass through walls but now barricading doors seems to work. The demon chases the kid with a bunch of bad clichés: hand from under the bed and a fast wall crawl, but we don’t care cause he’s about as scary as one of the monsters on Sesame Street by this point, and at last the climax comes to end.
Insidious, of course, has to use the formulaic last scare, the good guys didn’t really win, ending that is so obviously coming that Steve Wonder could see it. Then it’s over. Watch out Linda Blair and Craig T. Nelson because your classics are going to be forgotten and buried, pushing up “Tuilips” even.
Is Insidious as bad as I’m making it? Probably not, no, but don’t buy into the hype that it can even touch The Exorcist in terms of fright. Instead, it’s purposely absurd and relies too heavily on homage with slight twists, and it’s worth repeating that every scene that’s eerie is over done until they’re not, and others are just done poorly like the aforementioned Raiden move.
Insidious could be a lot fun, if you like your horror to be just off-keel enough to be creepy, and as long as you don’t go in expecting it to come near its TV spot’s claims. It’s going to take something very special to rival Regan’s spinning head, and Insidious just ain’t it.