Insidious scared me a couple of times, but it bored me more than it scared me. It bothered me that many of the genuine scares were marred by unnecessary sound effects that made them cheesier instead of scarier. I wish someone came along that could scare us without all those doors creaking and slamming and musical effects that are tantamount to cheating. Oh, my bad. Stanley Kubrick already did that in plain daylight in The Shining. But the reason that movie works is because a man has gone insane and he wants to harm his family in a place where other human evil has happened. In Insidious the characters are such stick figures, that they are barely there and we barely care about them. The lovely Patrick Wilson is wasted because he doesn't seem to have a character. Children exist and then are dumped in the service of a plot with enormous holes. The weirdest things happen in this house and Rose Byrne acts like a zombie. What I call "The Holiday Inn Law" of horror movies ensues. When unexplainable shit happens in a house at night, the first rule of common sense in my book is for everybody to decamp tout suite to the nearest Holiday Inn. The great premise of this movie, that the malevolence will follow the inhabitants even into a Motel 6, is totally wasted because this movie wants to be all things to all people but it doesn't do it smartly. It's about ghosts and demons and people who travel outside their bodies, but it doesn't make any sense. The last act of this movie, which does not take place in the real world, is one of the most frustrating anticlimaxes ever. I could care less about what happens in the other world. What scares the hell out of me is what can happen to us here. It gets scary when the zombies and living dead and all those cranky souls come to pay us visits. Not the other way around.
There is something strangely static and lifeless at the core of this movie. Too much information is given in retrospect that stops the film in its tracks, while too little is made of potentially interesting material. Why is this family moving houses? Do the husband and wife get along? Do the children get along? Why bring along Barbara Hershey if you are going to waste her? I thoroughly enjoyed the wonderful Lin Shaye as the medium who is brought to set things right. She was awesome. In what must be a joke that falls utterly flat, a priest is summoned but he is soon dispatched. Then the medium arrives and she is not kooky or a midget, but a smart, no-nonsense professional. The poor woman is saddled with some ridiculous dialogue explaining her nomenclature for all things that go bump in the night, but she is still the best thing in the movie.
The biggest problem with Insidious is that it is not thrilling. It's too busy ripping everybody else off to show any kind of spark.
Rosemary's Baby, for instance, may not be a classically scary movie. There are no bumps and jolts. Instead the fear is of madness and obsession and crazy neighbors. Of a woman who is alone with her deepest fears, in the middle of New York City. It is very funny, thrilling and extremely disturbing; the kind of disturbing that can haunt your dreams. Recently, I saw Jaws in its entirety for the first time. It is a thrilling movie. The gleeful mischief that Steven Spielberg is a genius at, his inventive, malicious playfulness, make sitting through it feel like a totally immersive adventure.
James Wan, the director of Insidious, holds himself in such high regard that he bills this movie as "a James Wan film", not once but two times in the opening sequence and even puts his name on a blackboard in a scene, lest we forget who is responsible for this derivative, non-sensical hodgepodge. But he totally lacks the spirit of unbridled creativity of more humble masters.