Review: Insidious (2011)
So, one night at the bar, Poltergeist got really drunk and fooled around with The Exorcist. This is their insidious child, named accordingly, who inherited almost every classic (some could argue clichéd) haunted house moment. However, the sincerity with which the creep-out moments are executed make each familiar scare tactic seem as fresh as they were in Robert Wise’s The Haunting.
The film has one goal in mind; to make you scared of the dark. It certainly achieves its goal, while also managing to break some new ground, revealing something that no other haunted house movie had the guts to do. Whether this refreshing story point hurt or strengthened the overall film is up for debate, but at least it made for something unique and new, a rare attribute in the sea of rehashed remakes and reboots we find ourselves drowning in.
Before this review really takes off, it’s worth noting the miniscule budget the filmmakers had to work with, which was reportedly a mere one and a half million dollars. Considering the scope of the film, which includes an adventurous journey into “the further”, the realm of the dead, what they were able to achieve is commendable and inspiring for any low budget filmmakers. This also meant the usual floating of inanimate objects and ghostly apparition effects would have to be substituted with scary sounds and inspired makeup designs. The film fully embraced the less is more concept and uses it to its advantage much like the Paranormal films.
The twist that it’s not the house that’s haunted, it’s their son, proves to be one of the less effective elements in the film, as it’s a pretty standard idea. In Poltergeist, the spirits are after Carol Anne, not to mention Captain Howdy’s vicious attack on Regan in The Exorcist or the countless other examples of children in peril. It’s a quick and easy way to get your audience invested in the struggle. We have to save the children! The children! However, once again, it’s the honesty of the film that elevates it beyond a lackluster haunted house story, not its derivative plot.
The title card bursts onto the screen accompanied by screaming violins, effectively warning you of the terror you’re about to endure. The score itself is classic, it even contains a creepy children’s song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”, used masterfully in a scene involving a little paperboy ghost. As the haunted child’s mother cleans things up around the house, the camera dips to the side slightly, revealing a little boy in old clothes with his back turned, staring at the wall. The ingenious element is that the moment could go completely unnoticed. There’s no music cue signaling danger, the framing isn’t obviously threatening. It’s not until the following scene where the child ghost dances to the Tulips that you even realize what you had seen. This is pure subliminal Exorcist technique.
Finally we get to the controversial ending. What don’t we see in The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity, The Entity, or even Witchboard? We never see what the demonic presence does in its down time. Insidious shows us exactly that and demystifies the world in which the supernatural operates, not unlike The Exorcist III. In doing so, you run the risk of eliminating one of the major fears these movies play off of, which is the fear of the unknown, perhaps one of the most primal of all fears. They do try to keep the world mysterious, but aren’t fully successful. The demonic force, once a terrifying threat providing much of the scares throughout the film, is now seen basically as Freddy Krueger. And not scary Freddy either, end of the franchise Freddy, when he was basically a goofy guy cracking jokes and killing people. You can appreciate it for trying something truly new, or condemn it for betraying the number one rule of haunted house movies; never show the ghost taking a dump.