The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Patrick Wilson and his houseguest.

Watching Insidious is like having someone jump out of a closet and scream "BOO!" at you over and over for 102 minutes. This is not a bad thing. The film - a collaboration between the writer and the director of the original Saw and the producer of Paranormal Activity - has a nice, classic vibe to it. There's no blood or gore to speak of, just a lot of super-creepy moments meant to make you jump out of your theater seat.

Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson play Renai and Josh Lambert, a couple with three small children who have just moved into a new home. Before they are even fully unpacked, their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls off a ladder and is rendered unconscious. Doctors can find no medical reason for his coma, which drags on for months. During this time, Renai starts to have unsettling hallucinations of demon creatures. She thinks the house is haunted, and subsequently convinces Josh to move yet again. The same problems reoccur in the new place. Against her husband's wishes, Renai brings in a paranormal expert named Elise (Lin Shaye), who tells them that the house isn't haunted, Dalton is.

And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Insidious doesn't really offer up anything new to the horror genre. It's got demons that pop out of nowhere, abrupt loud noises on the soundtrack, and the ironic use of an old pop song (in this case, it's the already eerie "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" by Tiny Tim). There's a sťance, and a couple of ghost hunters, and creepy child. Anyone who has seen a horror movie has seen this stuff before. Let's not even bother considering the explanation for all the bizarre proceedings, since only a fool would anticipate plausibility, or even logic, from a picture like this. The explanation is what it is, which is to say: extremely goofy. Doesn't matter.

The reason why Insidious works is that it understands syncopation. Most horror films hit very specific beats - ones that the audience sees coming a mile away. Consider this old chestnut: lead character walks into the bathroom, opens the medicine cabinet, pops a pill, and closes the cabinet door. What happens next? Doubtlessly, you know that a killer or demon will suddenly be seen standing behind the person, its reflection visible in the mirror. This scene has been done a million times, yet filmmakers keep dragging it back out. There is no surprise in such a moment anymore because we all expect the "scare" to hit on that precise beat. Insidious, on the other hand, unleashes its scares on the off beats. Director James Wan waits until you don't expect it, then has something pop out. He avoids such obvious telegraphing of his shock moments. This gives the movie an unsettling edge that lasts throughout.

Normally I don't factor a film's budget into a review, but in this case, I think it is worth noting that Insidious reportedly cost just $1.5 million to make. That low budget has given Wan the freedom to be creative. With one exception, there is no corny CGI here; the atmosphere is created through makeup, lighting, set design, movement, and experimental camera work. I am reminded of the original Nightmare on Elm Street, which used the same "in camera" approach and was leagues more disturbing than last year's CGI-heavy remake. In a similar vein, a key scene in the final act is set exactly as it should be - in total darkness. A larger budget may have brought with it the temptation to fill that darkness with a great big something when, in fact, it is the vast blackness that makes it so scary.

There is a pleasant simplicity about Insidious. Like a campfire story told well, it understands that the basic ability to catch you off guard is more effective than a lot of unnecessary flourishes. The performances are nicely attuned to the material, with Lin Shaye (There's Something About Mary) doing particularly interesting work. I had fun getting jolted by the film. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but so what? The sťance scene alone is worth the price of admission. Boo!

( out of four)

Insidious is rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language. The running time is 1 hour and 42 minutes.