At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Insidious “2011”

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara Hershey, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Andrew Astor, Heather Tocquigny, Ruben Pla, John Henry Binder, Christopher Marr Besina, Marfren Cubar, Joseph Bishara, J. LaRose, Philip Friedman, Kelly Devoto, Corbett Tuck, Ben Woolf, Lary Crews, Jose Prendes, Caslin Rose, Josh Feldman/Runtime: 103 minutes

I think it is fairly safe to start this review off by pointing out that Insidious is a beautiful rarity in the world of horror cinema. That is because all the initial looks at it might make you think that this is going to be a run of the mill film you’ve seen a thousand times before, but as we all know appearances can be quite deceiving and that is most definitely the case here. I say that because this movie manages to buck the odds, the PG-13 rating it has been saddled with to say nothing of its plot that seemed like a copycat in certain aspects of Paranormal Activity and instead crafts and sculpts itself into a fairly fanfreakingtastic slice of horror cinema. Is it a perfect outing by any stretch of the imagination? Not even close. It is one of the better offerings that horror cinema has managed to give audiences in the past 2 decades? Easily. Will it be seen as a now and always iconic entry in horror cinema? That is one that is up to each viewer to decide for themselves, but if you were to only compare it to other horror films like it then I could definitely see how that is a very strong plausibility. Indeed Insidious is a rarity amongst horror films in that it is able to utilize its cliché ingredients to their fullest extent possible from the reliability on jump scares which come up when the music clues you in and goes right on down the line to the fact that yes this slice of horror cinema does have a twist at the very end. Yet unlike most of these the gore is thankfully minimal and the suspense has been cranked up to a scale factor of about 10. Indeed much in the same way as Wan and Whannell’s previous collaboration Saw managed to redefine just what it meant for a film to be classified as “torture horror” so too is this film more than capably able to redefine the “paranormal haunting” subgenre in a way that Paranormal Activity, especially the later ones, could only wish to achieve and other entries like The Haunting from 1963 looking down and smiling their approval on.

The plot is as follows: Insidious gets underway with our introduction to a loving couple by the names of Josh and Renai Lambert. This couple, among other noteworthy details about them be it together or separate, are the wonderful parents to a pair of boys and a recently brought into this world little girl as well as members of that delightful group known as new homeowners. However for as lovely as their new home is they are also about to start possessing a fair degree of regret when it comes to moving there. A nightmare which begins when their son Dalton has a bit of a bang-up whilst in the attic though thankfully he’s only got a bump and bruise or 3 and a pair of quite relieved parents that it’s nothing more serious than that. Tragically, we see that the following morning Dalton doesn’t wake up, but it’s not that he’s dead dear reader. Rather, he is a coma-like state and no member of the medical community can really pinpoint an exact cause or reason. Thus after a few months of being in the hospital, we see Dalton come home where he is able to thrive courtesy of a collection of tubes and blinking machines that the parents have learned to operate in order to keep him alive. However as the family tries to go back to some degree of how things were even in the face of Dalton’s continued existence being questioned, we see that eerie occurrences begin taking place with alarms going off with no intruder present that could have set them off as well as spooky and seemingly ethereal voices being heard on the baby monitor amongst other examples. Thus it’s safe to say that the Lamberts and their home are now under siege from an outright assault by an evil spirit and if they wish to pull themselves free from this evil’s grasp they, along with a wise old medium and her two goofy yet devoted sidekicks, are going to have to go down a road that few know about and even fewer wish to freely traverse in order to save themselves and just as importantly their sanity as well.

Now right off the bat it should be noted that there are quite a few ingredients that are essential to this movie succeeding on the level that it does with everything from helmsmanship, score, effects, script, acting, and mood to name but a few examples all playing a part in making sure that the finished product is able to operate as one of the more spine-tingling slices of horror cinema of the past two decades to say nothing of one that is able to operate even in the face of being slapped with a PG-13 rating. A feat that is possible in part because the creative minds behind the film chose to put emphasis where the film needed it the most. Sure this movie might get underway in a way is a bit run of the mill, but the rest of the movie manages to act as quite the astonishing U-turn as this film manages to showcase so much terror, assertiveness, and energy that the movie really takes on a second life in a sense. Yes, much as the name of the film might hint at, things get underway in a way that is quite, well, insidious as we get the usual suspects in a horror film like this such as eerie noises, floorboards creaking, creepy attics, etc. Yet these all also manage to help this movie establish a distinct tone that will inch you closer and closer to wherever the end of your seat might be until finally complete and utter chaos lets loose and the movie goes through quite a few terrifying moments whilst still being able to keep itself on balance in a way that is both riveting and integrity-laced. Suffice it to say that this slow rise from typically annoying things that occur in a new house to things that might send a shiver down your spine and from there straight on to downright terrifying is wonderfully done as well as making sure you will want to see the movie time and time again.

This of course leads back to the dynamic duo of Wan and Whannell and suffice it to say that their work in sculpting virtually every inch of this film cannot possibly be glossed over. Sure it is not that difficult to say that good writing and helmsmanship are essential to any movie succeeding to the best of its ability. Yet what this pair has managed to accomplish with these run of the mill if not downright clichéd ingredients is a genuine testament to their skill in making a legitimately scary movie. Yet whilst they may use these same elements to conjure up a lot of the scares on display here, but in this film they actually cooperate with rather than compete with the narrative. As a result, we see that instead of a collection of “eerie moments” without any sense of payoff or resolution like in a Paranormal Activity film, Insidious manages to give the audience a wonderfully horrifying degree of tension in nearly every minute of this film’s 103 minute runtime with the human component playing a pivotal role in strengthening the potency of the narrative as well as the scares that part of it.  Suffice it to say that the Wan/Whannell partnership manages to make this movie as riveting as it can be without giving way to a cheese or schlock factor thus showing the importance to horror cinema of both a well-penned narrative and a top-notch cast that no matter how big or small their role in this might be manages to prove itself truly far and away better than a lot of the ones found in horror cinema of a similar ilk.

All in all I think it can safely be said that Insidious is one top-flight entry in the realm of horror cinema that by all rights should not be nearly as good as it turns out to be due to everything initially indicating that this was going to be something run of the mill, yawn worthy, and not really scary in the least. Somehow however, film helmer James Wan and scribe Leigh Whannell have managed to buck the odds in their path and sculpt for us a riveting, chilling, and actually fun to a surprising degree little slice of horror cinema that toys with the clichés respective of the genre, but manages to avoid falling into the trap of not constructing a solid narrative and cast of characters to operate in synch with the jump scares that in this turn out to be quite terrifying. Suffice it to say therefore that Insidious really truly is one well-made film from beginning to end and one of the finest in its sub-genre of the last 2 decades due to how every ingredient manages to work in a synchronicity that is beautiful to watch time and time again. On a scale of 1-5 I give Insidious “2011” a solid 3.5 out of 5.