Friday, April 15, 2011

The Insidious Problem

If you plan on seeing Insidious, but haven't yet, you may want to skip this blog post.  To get to the problem with the film, I have to reveal part of its plot.

I was very hesitant to see Insidious.  I don't know how a PG-13 horror film can be effective.  I realized it was a "ghost" story, so to speak, and that it probably wasn't aiming for emotionally disturbing, so that weighed in its favor.  Then there were the good reviews.  A lot of them.  So, accompanied by a certain female companion, I went.

I was reasonably pleased.  There were too many cheap scares (the kind that cause you to jump in your seat, which I hate because they are easy), but overall the film was very creepy ... until the end.

The movie doesn't fail in its attempt to deliver a good scare, but it does falter, and that is because the location switches.  Toward the film's climax, part of the action takes place in a realm called The Further.  This is the place you go when you astrally project.  This is where the scares stop.

Previously in the film, the scary moments all took place in the young married couple's home.  This is a setting with which everyone is familiar.  When something happens in a house that is otherwordly or out of place (a man standing the corner, music playing by itself), it is freaky.  When things happen in a realm unknown by viewers, a realm where seemingly anything can happen, the scares disappear because the rules of normality no longer apply.  Ghosts and demons don't usually inhabit our homes.  Therefore, when they appear it causes a scare.  Visit their dimension, however, and they seem a hell of lot less special.

This almost tanked the movie as far as I am concerned.  When the father character of Patrick Wilson goes into The Further to save his son, it had one or two unsettling moments, but that was it.  All the fear that had been built up earlier in the film was now diffused.  I felt no tension because I believed anything could happen, and if anything can happen, anything can be undone.  Had I directed/wrote the film, I would've discussed The Further, played it up as a horrendous place ... and then never showed it.  I would have had plenty of scenes of Wilson in his chair, seemingly sleeping, but in The Further.  I would've kept the camera on Wilson and those in the room and instead of showing this foggy other world, I would've had various noises sounding (gnawing sounds, ghastly moans, metal on metal, etc.).  Wilson would have been in obvious physical and mental distress.  Bite marks would appear on his face.  Viewers would be waiting for something, and would have no idea what they would get.  When the action in the film that really exists (and not my version) turned back to the house, with Wilson and his son re-united, I would've kept that all in.  Bringing The Further into our world was a good idea.  Bringing our world into The Further was not.

If you have to expose your scares, it's always best to do it in a familiar setting.  After all, what is scarier, coming home and finding a stranger sitting in your chair, or breaking into someone's house and seeing them sitting in their chair?  Obviously it's the former.  The familiar breeds a feeling of safety and comfort.  Disrupt it, and you've got your audience right where you want them.

Insidious was still a good film.  Underrated, even.  It almost derailed itself, but managed to salvage some its momentum.  Had The Further never existed in physical form it would almost be perfect.  Maybe they'll get it right with the inevitable sequel.


  1. I would never have found this blog if I didn't chance upon your link at work through an amazon horror thread under one of their recommended purchases. When I saw You reviewed I Stand Alone I knew I was going to get some ideas from your blog.
    I am always on the prowl for sophisticated splatter punk and extreme/ indie horror movies and books.

    Your analysis of Insidious could not have been more accurately expressed. In fact I watched half of it and could sense it coming since it had all been cool and i;d been watching awhile. Saw it had about 25 min left so I shut it off to preserve the creepy feel for another 24 hrs.

    Your blog is well written and deserves more exposure to more readers. I'll weigh in on a few of the movies as some are my favorites.

  2. Thank you for your comments! I always like hearing from a new reader. Even better if he or she likes what I have written. Sorry it took me a bit to respond, however.

  3. Personally, I loved this movie a lot. It's not easy for me to find a good PG-13 horror film. I loved how they made the demon actually demon-like; face like fire, animal-like stance, long claw-like fingers. It's almost perfect. Though the face looked really close to Darth Maul's face XD Whatever. The ending was also very, very good. Not what I expected at all. It's great not seeing a film with the common, sappy, happy ending. I love endings that keep you wondering and make you go, "...What just happened?" Haha.

    As for The Further, that part was the worst part. I agree with you on that one. It just looked so... predictable, for lack of a better word. The common fog, echo, etc. It looked like it was made for a small Halloween haunt. But when the four people showed up behind the father and smiled those super creepy smiles, it scared the hell outta me!! And the demon's lair was awesome!! I loved how they had him play with that machine thing (or was it an organ?) with his demon-like hands. And how the demon had the boy chained up like it's claiming him as his own territory, it's perfect.

    All in all, Insidious is on my list of favorite horror films.

    1. There were some great moments in this film, but I stand by what I wrote. I have read that a sequel is coming, and I still hope they get rid of The Further.