There’s nothing like watching a horror movie with someone who’s shitting themselves throughout it.
Being scared of a film is something this jaded old movie fan rarely experiences, but god damn I’m really happy to experience the fear that someone else feels. I wasn’t super keen on the intermittent slapping I got for showing Insidious in the first place, but you got to take the rough with the smooth.
I originally saw Insidious shortly after it came out in 2010 and enjoyed its kitchen-sink approach to ghost stories, using every cliche under the sun but managing to make it into something fairly fresh. You could see why it struck a chord with audiences, with its nasty scares and wacky demons. Actually I’m not sure people did like the main red demon who shows up. There was a lot of talk about Darth Maul, but I for one think he’s pretty unique, although yeah, Darth Maul’s brother. I’ve kept him half hidden for the sake of mystery but I must point its at that moment when I heard a massive scream from May, watching the film with me, followed by an almighty slap for putting her through all this. On the knee though, it was all quite harmless. Its not like she’s a demon or something.
The main demon in Insidious is a creepy and nasty piece of work, and we even get to see him in his home, sharpening up talons to kill his victims. Its reminiscent of the creature in Jeepers Creepers, sowing his victim’s skin up like a weekend hobby. Or even Freddy Kruger creating his glove at the beginning of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. Its nice that our monsters have something to do other than killing, possessing or in the case of the creeper jeeper, sniffing their victims.
Still, it has to be said that the plot is essentially identical to Poltergeist: family moves into house, one of the kids disappears to the other side, there’s lots of weird stuff going on and they get some geeks to come and help them and they all sort it out with the help of a weird old woman at the end.
What is so different with this version of events though is the tone. It is so straight laced and serious and everyone involved gives a committed performance: Rose Byrne desperately trying to keep her family together. Patrick Wilson burying his head in the sand, unable to face his past or the truth, Barbara Hershey as Wilson’s mother, trying to help them anyway she can, which should be pretty easy for her, she’s been haunted by The Entity for over thirty years, she’s used to it.
Considering Insidious is such a mainstream horror it does refuses to do two things which a lot of modern horror movies would without thinking about it, and is all the better for it.
Firstly, there are very few jump scares. The soundtrack is all about the build and rarely about the shock. Watching something like The Messengers and you can hear where the makers have thrown in musical scare queues all over the shop, to try and frighten the audience. It doesn’t work. Insidious meanwhile will have doors creaking open, footsteps above you and voices out of sight, and will rarely just try to shock an audience. It will just build a growing sense of ease. It keeps the actual shocks to a minimum, so when you do suddenly see a dark figure standing over a baby’s cot and the music launches at you its genuinely chair-leapingly terrifying.
Secondly, they wisely avoid much use of cg. Mama was all going so well until they got caught up with the computer generated creature fest at the end. Both the Mama ghost herself and the clifftop environment undermined the climax, as well done as it was, it jarred with much of the rest of the film’s atmosphere. Insidious keeps post effects work to a minimum, working with just kids in old fashioned clothes and clever camera work. Even when it gets to the point where they have to go over to the other side, its mostly just dark empty spaces with a smoke machine doing its thing. But this gives it a tangible, real feel that only adds to the all pervading sense of dread.
And in the end, i think that if all these factors work together to a point where a beautiful, lovely girl is hitting you for making them sit through a frightening film then the film makers are onto a good thing. If you get to the climax and the nervous wreck next to you says “when can we see the next one?” then you are making a good horror movie.