A Rare Review: Insidious, a Horr(or/ible) Movie

Okay, so, I’ve been feeling a little impulsive lately and I believe six seasons of Doctor Who has left me craving a good story. For most of my life I’ve avoided horror movies because I have the tendency to terrify myself more than any story can. That’s lessened as I’ve gotten older because I can control myself a little better. Anyway, that’s going too far back. Point is that I’m in the middle of watching “Insidious” by myself (it came up on Netflix one day, which is the only reason I had any interest in it…random Netflix movies like “Sleeping Beauty” (dir. Julia Leigh; it’s got nothing to do with the Disney story) tend to catch my attention). I figured I may as well make something productive out of this.

First of all, one of my new ways to cope with stress is by relating it to Doctor Who. Previous example:

I was standing on the corner of Chicago Ave., heart pounding, drained from all the people I was around inside the art gallery opening, waiting for a ride I wasn’t sure would find me, with a dead cell phone in my hand. I held down the power button repeatedly, hoping the phone would spontaneously turn on. I thought, If the Doctor were here, he’d make it work.

Now I’m doing that again with this movie — Hey, that guy in the baby’s room looked vaguely like Christopher Eccleston. It’s just the Doctor trying to help them with their haunted son!

Anyway, I’m about halfway through the movie and these two guys that look like they work for the Geek Squad come to the house of the people with the haunted son and suddenly even though my palms are sweaty, their irreverent bickering is making me laugh. Then, the main spiritual-insight-providing woman is introduced and I like her instantly. She’s a sprightly little old lady in a mint green suit coat and she changed the whole tone of the movie. She dictates her vision of the spirit that’s possessing the boy to one of the Geek Squad guys and he draws it for her. Her manner of explaining her interpretation of what’s going on to the parents is so crisp and straightforward. This kind of excellent script-writing is what separates humdrum “supernatural thrillers” from movies with some intrinsic value.

I’m actually all right with the main demon, who was differentiated from the others “hovering around” Dalton’s “vessel” because of its intent to cause pain to others. Its depiction is very mythical: red face, hooves for feet. Made me think of a Minotaur. I’ve also messed with that sort of character in Redefining Evil in that Sotoka-Khepri may have been screwed up, but it was the demons with the intent to harm and thwart good that really made him vicious.

There was a lot of foreshadowing that led up to the connection between Dalton’s problems and his father’s. And I love that his issues were related to “night terrors” because it’s a term not often used but personally I’m familiar with. Josh (Dalton’s dad) was somewhat absent for the first part of the movie because it was Renai (Dalton’s mom) that started seeing all the spirits. I was worried his character was going to fall out of the storyline altogether and create this concept of women being the unstable ones. I was happy when all the responsibility for bringing Dalton back was placed on him because he had the same ability Dalton had to “travel” outside his body.

The portrayal of the spirit world that was layered on top of the real house was wonderfully surreal — boys from the 1920s laughing, running, and disappearing; a whistling man in a living room where a man and woman sit on a couch while one reads the paper; Josh wandering through the dark with a lantern — all doused in a milky green hue. I definitely thought of Spirited Away and how Chihiro is balanced between the human and spirit realm on the train when she sees spirits and humans in the same plane. Watching Josh demand that the spirits tell him where his son is while knowing Elise told him not to let them know he was there created the tension that led up to his discovery.

I REALLY REALLY REALLY liked that they gave this main villain a lair. So many horror movies I’ve heard of ride on the principle that something can only be scary if you can’t see it — e.g., Paranormal Activity. But this movie garnered itself a nearly-epic status when Dalton looked in horror up towards the ceiling of the red-tinted, Gothic hall to where his captor played music from a Gramophone while sharpening his metal hands (RIGHT?!)

This whole storyline is startlingly compelling. It’s incredibly focused and there are very few hokey moments that draw from its purpose.

…Ugh! And then the ending ruins it (Josh’s old haunt, the old lady, managed to steal his body and so kills Elise and Renai). Granted, it’s in line with the logic of the story. It also successfully ties together Dalton and Josh’s stories because they were struggling with the same thing and, where you would expect Dalton to lose since he powered 3/4 of the movie, he comes out unscathed, beating his Darth Mal-esque demon back to his own body. Meanwhile, Josh’s seemingly successful confrontation with his old lady haunt delayed his return to his body long enough for her to beat him to it. The only annoying thing (which is annoying to me in any story that does it) is that the ending left it wide open to a sequel, because Josh’s spirit is still alive in the spirit realm and we don’t actually know if the old lady managed to kill Renai too. Also, we didn’t technically see Dalton’s haunt get defeated; it just lost access to his body. So…so that would be interesting, and no, I would probably never watch the sequel.

Now, off to find humorous things to watch for the rest of the night! (Or do I have to watch Spirited Away now…)

This also makes me wonder if the only difference between a movie like Insidious and a normal movie that I would like that has spiritual elements is that horror movies insist upon making the ending either ambiguous or favoring the forces of evil. Most fantasy movies allow the idea that good always prevails. Many of the horror movies I think of defy this. Maybe that’s why they’re horror movies. I wish a story could have horror elements but a positive ending. Sigh.

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