Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Insidious (2011)

It's been a while since I've seen a new release. Or, rather, it seems as if it's been a while--probably more like a month. I just haven't been blogging. Anyway, I've managed to steer clear of reviews, trailers, and other spoilers, diligently taking note of upcoming release titles and filling my Netflix queue, waiting patiently for DVDs to arrive. There are a lot of titles I've been waiting for: Cropsey, Stake Land, YellowBrickRoad, Serbian Film, The Ward. And as with Insidious, I know nothing or almost nothing about these films.

The problem is that I can't tell if being caught off guard was a good thing or not this time around. Typically I stave off all hype because I don't want my imagination to start shaping the movie, potentially resulting in a huge let-down when I realize that the movie "isn't what I expected." I don't want to expect anything, and this usually secures the fun and entertainment of experiencing someone else's creativity. With Insidious, however, I don't think I could have prepared for its often bonkers antics at all. I was caught completely off guard, and I'm not sure I liked it.


The scares are not really scares, and there's very little of the subtly that viewers will expect since Paranormal Activity is plastered on the marketing material. After the opening montage, which itself has a really odd tone, the viewer knows the deal: it's a haunted house without the mysteriousness of invisible entities. Every entity is placed right there for the viewer/character to see. Halfway through it gets very old. How many more ways can they show me another entity, I found myself thinking. So, again, I'm caught in this weird state of not knowing whether I liked being caught off guard by the nonchalance of the merging of the two dimensions, the matter-of-fact manner in which entities appeared, or not.

Not to mention the array of cliché devices that were halfheartedly deployed. In an attempt at brevity I'll stick with three. First and most obvious, the police are never involved. But reading Richard Laymon novels has rid me of my incessant need for characters to call the cops! Then again, the alarm is going off in the house, the front door is open, the wife and kids are upstairs, and this dude decides to wield a firepoker and mosey around for himself? Later in the film, the husband refers to himself as the "voice of reason," but he moves them out of the house (a first in haunted-house genre history?) and entertains the trio of paranormal investigators.

Second, the allusion to a husband with a big secret. This was the strangest portrayal I've ever seen. He's a (high school?) teacher who works until nearly midnight, telling his wife he's been grading tests and working late to pay medical bills. Two things here: teachers don't stay at work that late to grade papers, and they certainly don't get paid extra for it. Plus, just in case we're wondering about an affair, we get shots of him in an empty schoolroom doing nothing but flashing to the same bland shot of a kid in bed, which is used later.

And third, the exposition underpinning the husband's vague visions and the little quip about how he's terrified of having his picture taken. What was supposed (I think) to be a shocking revelation was delivered in yet another pattern of casual storytelling. I found myself thinking, Oh, okay, figures. Then, in the end we realize that it's another means of being able to show more entities in creative ways. Oh, and a setup for the ending.

Speaking of the ending, the crazy musical sting behind the bold red-lettered INSIDIOUS is so strange in the beginning but a good confirmation at the end. It was then that I realized I should've viewed the bizarre, off-centered opening montage as a staging of the entire pattern of the movie: a normal haunted-house movie slightly skewed at an attempt to be unique. Not sure if I can call it unique or not, actually; I'm not even sure I can consider it a good movie; but it's definitely entertaining if only for the interesting manner in which it is delivered. I can't help but feel the filmmakers took the two biggest complaints of Paranormal Activity (we never see anything, and, they never attempt to leave the house) and addressed them in the extreme.

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