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Insidious is…

Yea so the tag lines on the trailer weren’t the best ever, and that damn trailer ruined the best scare in the film, but never mind. These things are forgiveable because – imho – Insidious is the best horror movie of 2011 – and probably one of the best paranormal films of the last 10 years.

Why is it so good? Well for two big reasons. One, is that the story has managed to be original and interesting – which is pretty unusual for horror movies in this day and age. And two, it’s genuinely scary. I’m not afraid to admit that I was shaking like a girl when I went to see it in the cinema.

The story concerns the haunting of a young family. Soon after Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) and their children move into a new home their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) slips into a medically unexplainable comatose state. After his return from hospital, still in a state of deep sleep, strange things begin to happen around the family home – leading Renai to insist that the house is haunted and that they must move.

Things don’t stop there however, as ever more disturbing events begin to take place from the moment they move to the new house. Eventually, through the intervention of Patrick’s mum, a paranormal investigator is brought in. Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye) is able to shed some light on the Lambert’s predicament. The explanation provided is certainly more original than the average horror film – something similar to the Poltergeist movies – and perhaps even some of H P Lovecraft’s more ghostly tales (Dreams in the Witch House, for instance).

What really makes this film work for me, is the ever present sense of total malevolence. There are no friendly spooks in this universe, no pitiable souls. You cannot sympathise in any way with the creatures which torment the Lambert’s – and nor are you meant to. They are pitiless, vicious, inhuman monsters who pray like parasites on the living world, seeking for a way back in.

And the very, very best thing about this film for me is the Lip-Stick Face Demon. Yea, I know, it’s a shame about the name.

I’m not going to spoil anything for anyone here by including a picture of him because they put it in the damn trailer! (I will get over this eventually) but there you go. Despite that, Lip-Stick Face gives me the creeps every time I see him – the power has yet to diminish. Despite disingenuous, though inevitable, comparisons to Darth Maul (Philistines!!)  – I think he’s got an original and amazingly disturbing look. And he’s about as much like Darth Maul as, Casper the Friendly Ghost is like Toshio from Ju-On. 

He’s totally fearless, doesn’t play by the rules – and oozes the kind of malevolence that plugs straight into the fears of childhood. I don’t know if it’s the soulless, dead eyes, the gaping mouth or the blood red skin. Or maybe it’s the brutal, relentless, insidious pleasure he seems to take in tormenting his victims – and the underlying sense that for him, all this is child’s play. This is most strongly presented when we see him sharpening his claws on a millstone as ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ crackles on an old gramophone.

Insidious plays (to varying degrees of success) with the themes of childhood and parenthood. The horror’s of parenthood are expounded as the Lambert’s are utterly powerless to protect or save their child. Like children, they find themselves confronted by a world which is beyond their understanding and are forced to rely upon Elise’s knowledge and ability.

Old Lipstick-Face is the worst type of horror that can lurk under your bed. Yet he’s not the only monster to lurk in the shadows – Josh ultimately has to face the terror of his own childhood.

I couldn’t really write a review without giving mention to the Old Woman. For some people – she is the really terrifying aspect of this film. Now, paint me purple and call me a heretic, but she doesn’t hold a candle to old red-face for me. But each to his own. Her appearances in Mrs Lambert’s family photo-album is certainly one of the film’s best shiver moments. [As an interesting tidbit, did you know the Old Woman is actually played by a man?]

For all that gushing praise, Insidious is not without its faults. Yet again, we have a horror film that spreads itself too thin. I like the feeling of mystery that surrounds the other ghosts and demons, but the human characters are under-developed. Too much of Josh’s back-story is thrust upon us in too short a time, with far too little indication of what was to come. The revelation about Dalton could also have been pre-cursored with subtler hints and a stronger sense of mystery.

Insidious pretends that Dalton’s haunting is an amazing and unexpected twist on the haunted house story – it isn’t. Firstly because you gave it away in the damn trailer!!! and secondly because the themes being explored aren’t new – they just haven’t been touched on in a while. Sorry to burst your bubble guys.

Sadly, it also falls down with its ham-fisted attempts to spell out for us that childhood can be macabre and terrifying!! Yes. This doesn’t come as any surprise for most of us. We all had one. Once Josh goes in search of Dalton in the shadowy spirit world, there are – unfortunately – some laugh-out-loud moments. ‘Sadly’ because they weren’t meant to be funny – but for some reason the creator’s of this film thought it would be a good idea to have a spirit world inspired by Dr Seuss.

Overall though, I would highly recommend Insidious if you want to be scared-silly and thoroughly entertained. It’s original, though it does try a bit too hard sometimes – attempting to juxtapose horror and childhood in a way that seriously backfires – and getting a bit too carried away with its own sense of originality. It should have been tighter, focussing more on the characters, building the sense of mystery. It’s scary how little Josh knows himself – yet this is not exploited. But it is an undeniably creepy experience – and its just a little bit different from anything that has come before. It looks different. It feels different. There’s something unique about it. And I still say for all its faults – it is the best horror movie of 2011. But the writer/director of Saw and the producers of Paranormal Activity, had a hell of a lot to make up for. They’ve gone some way with this. Please, keep going.