Horrifying Musings of the Fourth Kind: Insidious (2011)

When a happy family moves to a new house, they start experiencing odd things here and there; things moving, sounds, etc. they think nothing of it until their son, Dalton, goes into a coma for no reason at all, and the ghostly hauntings worsen.

Pretty much everyone who has even a fleeting interest in horror has heard about the film that came out in April of this year that the majority of people say was terrifying: Insidious. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to see it when it originally came out in theatres, but now that it’s on DVD, I finally had the chance to check it out recently and see just how scary it was. “PSH” I said to myself – I’m so desensitized to “scares” nowadays (Paranormal Activity aside) that there’s no way this will scare me at all! Talk about OVER HYPE…. NESS.

Well… I was wrong. I actually was scared. Quite a bit. It’s not easy for a non-found footage horror film to scare me (anyone who knows my taste in horror flicks knows that the Paranormal Activity series is my weakness) but Insidious, impressively enough, actually managed to do just that – even if it was, admittedly, a bit overhyped.

Part of the reason why Insidious can be so scary is because of the mood the film instantly sets for viewers, making me immediately understand how JasonzSon could have compared this movie to something that has the found footage style; it definitely has that unmistakeable atmosphere to it.

Insidious also doesn’t rely on mere jump scares to frighten its viewers; no, in an age of terrible “horror” flicks like My Soul to Take (Damn it Wes Craven, you’re capable of making a good horror film!) Insidious is one of the rare “scary” movies nowadays that are actually… Well, scary. It does a fantastic job of building suspense and unlike a good portion of horror movies – both new and old it actually does follow up on the suspense-filled moments instead of showing you the half-assed “scare” with you then getting pissed off because either it was some lame jump scare or it was some horrible looking CGI… thing. Of course, there’s always the possibility of nothing whatsoever happening, too, which is equally infuriating.

Now, that isn’t to say that there wasn’t any CGI used at all, and I admit that in some cases it could have been better (like with the demon near the end), but for the most part, Insidious was CGI-free – at the very least, if it was used more than I noticed (which is unlikely with my master observational skillz) then it was good enough – and minor enough, but, well, while we’re talking about CGI, “good” and “minor” tend to turn into the same exact word – enough that it wasn’t even spottable.

Going back to the scare factor for a moment, it’s things like the lack of CGI that contribute to the insidious feeling of the movie (get it? “Insidious” feeling? The movie’s called Insidious? Eh? Eh?). It didn’t need an over abundance to get that unmistakable atmosphere. It was easily set by scenes like the record player (on a completely random note… Who in 2011 still actively uses a record player?) suddenly stopping the playing song and changing to an oddly creepy, way-too-happy tone with the ghost of a dead child being just seen through the windows dancing to it (this may not seem so bad, but Insidious is one of the few movies that can accomplish making a scene like that creepy. Who knew?) or, another perfect example, closer to the end when we see the demon sharpening his claws to the same exact song, eagerly awaiting the coming murder of the innocent boy downstairs (seriously, what the hell is up with that song??). There are many other great examples, but you’ll just have to watch the film for yourself to see them.

I suppose mentioning that song – that is now forever burned into my mind by the way; thanks, Insidious – brings me to another aspect of the film that really shines: The music. Almost every original piece stuck out to me as perfect, being utterly chilling in some cases, with the one exception being… Well, the mother didn’t really have to sing. She wasn’t actually a bad singer – I’d even go so far as to say she was pretty darn good – but was that part really necessary? Really?

On the subject of the sound of Insidious (hey, general sound effects and music are related!… sorta. They’re both… ummm…. ear… stimulation. Yes, that sounded just a tad weird. Oh god I’m having flashbacks to that Family Guy episode about the ears…. AAAH!) this movie relied very much on what you heard and how subtle the noises, such as footsteps, voices, etc. were. It can be a very quiet film, and when you do hear these things, it’s always done well. Or, well, quiet most of the time, that is. In the very beginning – the opening title, actually – we get this painfully loud, “DDDDDRRRRRRRRRRRRUUUUUUUUUMMMMMMMMMMM!!!” noise that’s just a little unsettling, if only because of the audio level. I mean sheesh, guys. I may be a noob with Adobe Premiere still but at least I can balance the audio! What do you guys get paid for, my god…

Another reason why this movie is good is because, unlike pretty much any other horror movie I can think of, all the characters were likable. Yep, that’s right – all of them. I know, it’s impossible to believe. But really, no matter how hard I think on it, I can’t come up with someone annoying or who I disliked at all. The parents? Nope, they were cool. Some classic initial disbelief from the dad, but really, who would immediately believe that a demon – among other things, but, well, I think we can all agree on that being the worst creature – is trying to possess your son? No one, that’s who! The children (going back to the characters in general now)? No, they were all decent too, even if they didn’t have very distinct personalities. The grandma? I liked her. And the expert they bring in to help them, well, she was awesome, as were her assistants, offering some refreshing comedy relief that, surprisingly enough, didn’t feel at all forced. Seeing as how the characters are such a big part of any movie, this was a BIG point in Insidious‘s favor, and something you don’t see much in any movies at all, let alone horror flicks. You usually have to have the obligatory bitchy teenage daughter (or teenage guy, either way) in horror films centering on families, after all. Let’s all breath a collective giant sigh of relief, guys… aaah.

There’s not much to say about the acting; it was very solid, especially from Patrick Wilson, the father (also an actor from Watchmen, one of my favorite films). Don’t take me not commenting on it much as any sort of negative, more that there’s just so much else to be discussed other than that when it’s not too out of the ordinary anyway.

You may be wondering why, with all this praise I’m lavishing Insidious with, why I haven’t already made a comment about it being one of the best horror films I’ve ever seen in general. High praise maybe, but look at what I’ve talked about so far: Great characters and acting, a truly suspenseful, scary experience, excellent score, nice mood… Sounds like the formula for the perfect horror film, right?

There’s one glaring omission from that list – can you spot what it is? No? All right, then, I’ll spoil it for you: The story. And here’s where the fatal flaw of the film lies.

It’s pretty easy to spot what Insidious essentially is at its core, and that is a rip-off. Yep, that’s right; a movie that’s SO solid otherwise has a story that is one big, giant, fat rip-off. What is it a rip-off of, you ask? Well, watch the movie – or read a summary – and it’ll be easy enough to tell, but I’ll say it anyway: Poltergeist. What this film is is basically a new age, darker Poltergeist that’s also a scarier (even though that clown in Poltergeist was pretty terrifying… Augh). It isn’t even a case of “been there, done that” – I mean that sometimes the plot is practically a carbon copy of Poltergeist‘s, and a pretty shameless one at that.

We have the happy family who weird things start happening to, then a child who turns out to be special in some way and the focus of whatever other-worldly beings are present. Then, of course, the child disappears (even if Dultan technically wasn’t “gone” physically, but he was certainly gone in a sense). Cue the badass psychic lady and her two comic relief assistants to come in and help out. The women then suggests a very unorthodox way of saving said child that only one parent can do. Not sure which movie I’m talking about? Both. Yep, Insidious has that same exact plot too. I can absolutely understand when you have something that’s been done before in your plot – hell, there are so many movies, books and whatever else that at this point, it’s practically impossible not to – but when it’s this terribly obvious, don’t you think something’s wrong?

The saving grace of this was the execution. It doesn’t take a film expert to see that despite the consistent extreme similarities in the stories, these are two very different movies; one’s light, ultimately happy and feel good, the other is dark, scary and… Well, not ultimately happy (you don’t need to know anymore than that). It’s unoriginal, yes, but the execution helps it.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that this is still a great horror movie, that the story is so very unoriginal really deals a heavy blow to it, preventing me from praising it that much more. You can be sure, however, that pretty much everything else is great, so for another horror fan, I would still give this my whole-hearted recommendation.

2 thoughts on “Horrifying Musings of the Fourth Kind: Insidious (2011)

  1. I totally agree! I loved the movie, the atmosphere had a kind of classic horror vibe to it that really spoke to me. I’m a big horror nerd myself so it was refreshing to kind of see a movie that didn’t completely rely on jump scares.

  2. But actually I do have to disagree on one thing, that its not an original idea. In an age where a hell of a lot of horror films are revamped, this movie stands out because its a topic that nobody has ever used before and that’s astral projection. Which is actually something that a lot of psychics and Wiccan practitioners use on a regular basis in their practices. It is something that as far as I’m aware of has never been covered in a film like this before. And THAT is refreshing. I don’t think its a rip off of Poltergeist. Although I do agree that the formula is similar.

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