Maybe some afterworld equivalent to some cereal box top sweepstakes where the postcards don't go to Walla-Walla?
Nah, probably not, huh? That'd just be silly. I wish my backspace key wasn't broken.
Regardless, these weird-ass questions (or some damned similar) are answered (or given the old college try, at least) by Leigh Whannell, writer of Saw (and the only sequels thereof that were worth a damn). Whannel teams up again with Saw director James Wan and, for the first time, Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli (as producer this time) to bring us Insidious!
Yeah, Insidious, another low-budget horror thriller that promises ass loads of scares with plenty of familiar moments and plenty of new and genuine twists to keep the story fresh. In short... it's just the kind of movie this website was created to make fun of...
Or could have been. In actual fact, while Insidious is a far cry from a truly perfect flick, most of the promises that Whannell, Wan and Peli make from marketing to opening are actually made good on as the production expands into the story it dares to be.
The terror tale itself centers around the typical all-American family, working on their king-sized slice of the American Dream as they move on up in the world and right on into a great, big American Gothic home that (so that we can have a story longer than five minutes) starts to show all kinds of signs of some kind of paranormal infestation. Of course it's the young, hot mommy Renai (Rose Byrne) who notices the creepy things first, while her schoolteacher husband Josh (Patrick Wilson) remains skeptical, practical and cynical. Naturally, as in the ghostly-lion's share of Haunted House flicks, the poltergeists seem to be most interested in one of the kids, mainly Dalton (Ty Simpkins) who has big dreams at night and, by day, believes he's a superhero. This, of course, makes at least a LITTLE sense, considering the fact that his DAD is Nite Owl!
But I digress!
As the film unspools before us, we begin to see some of the horrors that are befalling the Lambert family and, let me tell you, some of these truly are horrible and terrifying. It's amazing to note that Insidious was rated PG-13, not for some milquetoast, play-it-safe marketing reason. No, this is because, unlike Saw, or even Dead Silence, Insidious eschews the blood and torture angle in favor of a much more visceral, grueling horror that does rely on starts and jump-scares, but also builds in legitimate layers of tangible suspense. This is a refreshing and much scarier take on terror than most of the usual allotment of Bad Horror box-office jokes, more often churned out as profitable product than art.
However, at the same time, a lot of what Team-Insidious shoots for can be found in some of the classic and more ground-breaking horror of the past, even more than, say, Paranormal Activity! There is a whole hell of a lot of Poltergeist massaged into this film, not to mention a story or two from the notorious Amityville abode. It's to the point that the audience can almost set their proverbial watches by when the friendly older psychic lady shows up to perform weird rituals and, hopefully "Clean house". In this case we're looking at Lin Shaye's Elise Rainier and her requisite geek squad is represented by Angus Sampson as Tucker and Whannell himself as Specs! Lest I forget, to prove that "the gang's all here", were also introduced to Josh's knowing mother played by, oh, HEY... Barbara Hershey!
Yep, there are scattered influences all around, folks, and not only from the Haunted House or Possession subgenres either. a lot of the surreal, further out sequences feel more than a little inspired by A Nightmare on Elm Street and its sequels, while a few possible nods to Freddy himself just might be in the mix. Clearly somebody in the crew is a bit of a Star Wars fan, too, as one of the demonic apparitions sure looks a hell of a lot like Darth Maul! And, of course, a hidden image of "Billy" (the puppet from Saw) and varied shots of shaking, strung-up marionettes pop up for a few seconds to remind us that we are, indeed, watching a Whannell/ Wan team up, even if the core concept of the film feels only a 1/2 step removed from Peli's Paranormal Activity!
To be fair, however, this isn't quite the derivative gallery of borrowed horrors that it could have been. With very few exceptions, Insidious' familiar parts feel more like homages or subtle nods than out and out rip-offs. This is, in part, because Insidious does manage, somehow, to be very very scary on a very deep, almost visceral level. No, it's no The Legend of Hell House, but the imagery and framing, sounds and lighting all work together to create an unnerving atmosphere that is best described as "Suspense". The jump scenes still use some of those same cheap violin screeches and quick cuts that most cheap startle flicks employ but here the creators back this up with solid tension, tangible suspense and enough sincerity and comic relief to almost cause the audience to believe the unquestionably far-fetched premise.
Trust me, Wan knows what images can tap that primal place in our collective unconscious that makes us question bumps in the night, insist on sleeping with the closet door nice and closed and never step down from the bed long enough to allow what ever might be under there to grab a handfull of ankle. This is the kind of fear we all know is bullshit, we all know should have been evolved-out by now and we all tell our kids not to let bother them because it's completely irrational. Yet we all still have it and Insidious uses its every trick to remind us just what that irrational fear looks like! In short, in many ways, this film is everything that Drag Me to Hell should have been and thought it was.
Of course Insidious is not a perfect film and its got more than its fair share of flaws, particularly in the collapsing and silly final act. On the other hand, this is a pretty damned scary movie for all the right reasons. Saw and its imitators tapped in not to "horror", but into the notion of "gee, that looks like it might hurt!", whereas the current crop of Bad Horror Rehashes tap into the concept of robbing you of your lunch money so they can buy their solid silver bathtubs. But Insidious mixes overall good actors and acting with just enough comic relief (check out the bickering between Specs and Tucker) and some very deeply disturbing, well timed images and themes, some borrowed, some new to earn a surprisingly bloodless Three and One Half Stars out of Five! Yes, folks, I didn't expect to like it so much either, but even after the final credits rolled (and that last creepy scene blew onto the screen) I was still liking what I saw. Bravo to those who remember what scary really is and can pull it off on a small budget. I'll be coming back FOR YOU... in the NEXT REEL!!!
Hey, you may not dig the ending
But clicking HERE for more reviews
is a HELL of a place to start!