Mark Reviews Movies

Insidious (2011)


1 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Barbara Hershey

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language)

Running Time: 1:42

Release Date: 4/1/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 31, 2011

About halfway through Insidious, the main characters do the most intelligent thing I can ever recall a family doing in a movie about a haunted house. It's the advice we always internally (or externally if one's rude in a movie theater) yell at that family in the damned house: "Move out of the damned house!" After their eldest son goes into a coma that the doctors say isn't a coma but can't define in any medical terms, weird forms and shapes appear in the shadows, and the wife is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the family packs up their things and moves out of that damned house.

The decision is a punch in the arm to the narrative, which stalls after repeated moments of things going bump and figures appearing in the night. Sure, it isn't the most financially logical thing for them to do, but it's exactly the kick the movie needs.

This move is all for naught, of course, for both the family, who quickly learns that it's not the house that's damned, and for us, who fast realize Leigh Whannell's screenplay has only used the change of location as a temporary respite before picking up the formula haunted house story right where it left off in the previous locale. Before long, there's a priest, a psychic, a séance, and a trip to the Netherworld, complete with half-baked spectral mythology and a lot of strobe-lights to distract from the fact that this has all been done before.

The family is the Lamberts, dad Josh (Patrick Wilson), mom Renai (Rose Byrne), and sons Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astor), and a baby, who, along with the middle child, is mysteriously unaccounted for during the climactic craziness. Renai writes songs, while Josh works at a job that allows him the luxury of moving into two houses within a course of several months.

Troubles start early, like when Reani's books, which she had just put on the shelf, end up on the floor, and no one can account for the reason why. Eerie noises that become voices begin emanating from the baby monitor, but there's no one in the room but the infant. Something is creaking in the attic, but maybe it's just an oddly placed furnace. The score during these growingly predictable scenes becomes frantic pounding on a piano, allowing director James Wan to telegraph unease without creating any.

Eventually, Dalton wanders up there to investigate the sounds and winds up falling from a shoddy, old ladder. After three months in the hospital, the boy returns home in a not-coma coma on a feeding tube.

Things continue about the same for the rest of the family (Whannell bypasses the difficult adjustment period for caring for a child with a debilitating medical condition, because, after all, the kid turns out to be little more than a portal to the creepy goings-on), and more hazy vocalizations come out of the baby monitor, Renai sees someone or something standing over her child's bed, which disappears when Josh comes to investigate. It escalates to an apparent home invasion—the burglar alarm blares as Josh wanders around the house with a fire poker—as the front door opens without any visible help.

Renai is scared of the house; she can feel it. Ever since they moved there, bad things have happened, and Whannell litters his dialogue with repetitive, stock phrases in the same way the movie's scare-moment scenarios ape convention.

Finally they leave, and things continue in more of the same way. The form of a little boy scurries around the new house to the tune of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," and more and more spirits appear at moments highlighted by a zing on the soundtrack. The psychic (Lin Shaye) and her bickering assistants (Whannell and Angus Sampson) arrive at first for comic relief (which might work if the movie were scary enough to warrant such a breather) and then to show off a lot of do-it-yourself gizmos that ultimately amount to little more than a sound and light show to go along with the psychic's calls to the Other Side.

Insidious then enters a blue-hued alternate plane of existence where all those sinister spirits dwell and introduces the big villain—a red-faced, cloven-hoofed demon of comically generic proportions. It's the haunted house that cliché built.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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