Insidious has recently become available on Netflix UK. I remember seeing the posters for this film when it was first released in the cinema. The boy with the weird eyes… the house in the background. I didn’t really know what the film was about when I went to see it; I had purposefully not read any reviews, and as it turns out, it was a bloody good job I didn’t. I thought it was a brilliant horror film. It had me genuinely frightened, and frankly that never happens to me anymore.
Looking back on the reviews Insidious received at the time, there is a lot of talk about the 1982 film Poltergeist. Is Insidious merely an homage to that great Hooper/Spielberg classic, or an outright ripoff? If I had gone into the film with thoughts of Carol Anne in my head, I am sure I would have been finding similarities all the way through, and it would have spoiled the experience for me. So there is something to be said for watching a movie with no preconceived notion (although where does that leave the role of the reviewer?).
In my opinion, watching Insidious for the third time (and still jumping in all the right places… somehow the anticipation made it worse) revealed a well crafted homage to Poltergeist. There are obvious nods to it, like the shot of the tree outside the bedroom window, the steak on the countertop, and the boy being pulled underneath the bed towards the end of the film, his feet waggling hilariously. But it is not derivative, not lazy, and not a rip off.
The commitment to using physical special effects works to great effect. In the first half of the movie, the tension is built by corner-of-the-eye scares, and shocking appearances. They really do work. Did you see the creepy little boy in he laundry room before the wife sees him dancing like a Dad? The way they are done make you ask yourself, “Did I really just see something?” And when you realise that you did, you tend to poo your pants.
A lot has been written about the two ghostbuster characters that add a finely balanced comic relief to the proceedings. Reviewers seem to hate them. Their methods seem obviously fake to a more para-scientifically sophisticated audience. The steampunkeqsue equipment is clearly ridiculous, but it adds to the strangeness of the atmosphere. My favorite is the modified View-Master stereoscope, though the medium’s communication gas mask is both funny and horrifying at the same time. I loved this aspect of the story; it added another level of weirdness to an already strange set-up.
The main reviewer-criticism seems leveled at the final part of the film, where the hero father (played by a dashing Patrick Wilson) enters the (admittedly) rubbishly named Further to rescue the trapped soul of his son. Again there are no CGI effects in evidence. Everything is smoke, billowing cloth and camera effects, which leads to a classic Hammer Horror look. The ghosts and demon are similarly modeled. If anything, they have pushed the simplicity of the design as far as it could go without looking cheap and cliched. But this line is never crossed. It makes for chillingly surreal environments which are beautifully suited to the rest of the work.
I love this film. Perhaps you can tell. And, since it has made it into so many top ten lists, many of you seem to agree.
Beware, then, of watching a film with your mind already made up, and you opinion already swayed. Regardless of the reviews you have read, walk into that theatre as a tabula rasa, and experience the movie for what it is. Judge it on how it makes you feel, rather than on the responses of others.
That being said, why don’t you tiptoe through those Insidious tulips again, as it is a film well worth watching more than once.
And remember, the scariest thing you will see there is Barbara Hershey’s Joker mouth.
Editor’s Note: Considering the content of this review, I originally planned to skip the inclusion of a trailer for this film. But, in the end, I decided that I’d let you decided to watch it, or not.