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Sunday, 8 May 2011

Half A Good Film

I thoroughly enjoyed "Saw"; it was suspenseful and fun; James Wan was almost Hitchcockian in his approach. To an extent I enjoyed its sequel, and this would be thanks to Leigh Wannell, who starred in them, but doesn't ever seem to receive much recognition for the writing. It should have ended there, but what are you going to do, the market is what it is, right? Given that "Insidious" sees the two guys back together, and after the rather lacklustre "Paranormal Activity 2" and the torture porn of late, I was looking forward to a film that would provide a rare opportunity to enjoy some intelligent and genuinely frightening psychological terror. To an extent, they succeed.

Credit must go to the film for some great casting; I'm a big fan of Patrick Wilson (see "Hard Candy" and even "The A-Team" for evidence of his ability) and Rose Byrne, who are great as this perfect couple, and very busy character actress Lin Shaye ("A Nightmare On Elm Street", "My Sister's Keeper" and "Snakes On A Plane" to name a few of many!) has great screen presence. The problem is they are under the direction of somebody whose intention with the film falters halfway through, meaning they find themselves either doing things that do not make sense, seem silly and absurd, or worst of all, they are wasted by being given very little to do; this is a particularly bad crime when you have someone in your film with as much to give as Barbara Hershey ("Black Swan").

Wan and Whannell spend pretty much the first half of the movie providing a haunted house setup; the initial haunting, the house move (not really a spoiler, given that the trailer TOLD us what the twist of the story is), and the events that take you to the pivotal point of the film are all done very slowly; some would argue a bit too slowly, but it's good to see him taking his time with the creepy setup. Not since "The Exorcist" has there been a horror movie I can think of that has been paced in this way; it causes a restlessness in the audience, and a desire to want the story to push forward, which of course heightens your anticipation and makes you more uncomfortable. Wan is very good at the classic vibe; he actually manages to do what "Paranormal Activity" did, but better. He tips his hat to many other classic of the genre, a bit too heavily at points, but it remains very solid and creepy.

This only emphasises the disappointment we feel when the film reaches the part of explaining what has happened, and sets up what will occur in the second half. Whether it was Whannell's choice to change gear, or instruction from on high to get away from the "Paranormal Activity" similarities (same producing team), we can't know, but whoever's it was, they should regret it. The explanation of things feels like a bad re-working of "Poltergeist", and the previously scary techniques are replaced with ham-fisted effects and dodgy makeup. Too much is shown, and due to the look of certain aspects of the piece, it starts to become a bit laughable; the on screen events becomes sillier and sillier, and we reach a point where the tone becomes one of "creepy computer game", rather than "scary horror film". There is an introduction of comedy into the film that is completely uncalled for and though genuinely funny, the jokes could not be more out of place; they ruin all the atmosphere that has been created, and you know it is going downhill. This is also the point where we have stopped being scared, and this is a problem for any horror film, hurtling towards its final act with the audience having been lost some time ago.

Speaking of the final act, it is just absurd, and in thinking about the film afterwards, you begin to realise just how many loose ends there are, how many plot holes are left open, and then the question of whether it is all for the sake of a sequel comes to mind. Given that "Paranormal Activity" had one, it is hard to imagine them not pushing for one here, which is a shame, because this should have been the brilliant, one-off psychological terroriser the first half promised so heartily, and not the silly theme park walk-through it becomes.

All this said, James Wan has some talent, as he has proved, and I will not give up on him just yet. Worth seeing on the big screen, in a room full of people for some of the jump-scares, but otherwise, "Insidious" is one to rent.

Insidious - 4/10

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