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Take a Number: Insidious is yet another in a long line of horrific haunting movies 

Insidious qualifies as a haunted house movie and is thereby destined to suck.

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Ah... another haunted house movie or as the previews announce, "It's not the house that's haunted -- it's your son!" Well, house or son, Insidious still qualifies as a haunted house movie and is thereby destined to suck.

As insipid and simplistic as this film is, it's a wonder it got the go ahead from its producers. I guess with the reteaming of director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell (creators of the very first Saw) and Oren Peli, the producer of Paranormal Activity, there was a glimmer of hope. Instead, Insidious throws away any chance for redemption. The pairing of the best (Saw) and the worst (Paranormal Activity) filmmakers in the horror genre fails to break even.

This is strictly paint-by-numbers script writing. A couple (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have just moved into a home plagued by creaking floorboards, clanks, howls, bumps-in-the-nights and every menacing disturbance in the book. When the family's young son lapses into a coma, we find his spirit has been hijacked by ghosts that pop up in different forms and silhouetted nightmare faces. Soon the parents and children move from the haunted house only to find the same demonic happenings in their new place. Send in the ghost busters (Whannell and Angus Sampson), a medium (Lin Shaye) and a secretive mom (Barbara Hershey) and away we paranormally go. We find out about an astral plane called "the further" where entities get in line and basically take a number to possess the soul of an empty body.

Beginning with creepy credits emanating ghost-like vapors, Insidious takes a cue from Drag Me to Hell by launching the name of the film in huge letters and blaring music. The frenzied avant garde string arrangement by Joe Bishara is set to rival Goblin's finger-nail-on-a-blackboard soundtrack to the 1977 cult classic Suspiria. Wan seemingly throws a zillion tricks at us, but the main scare tactic is the film's slow pace. Yet the deliberate pacing is more annoying and boring than it is frightening. The other tactics fall flat. A scary baby monitor pumping out voices straight from Black X-mas doesn't jar. Ghost hunters show up with plenty of gizmos, bells and whistles while the clairvoyant medium wears a gasmask for a lantern-lit séance.

I've heard this flick referred to as a combo of Carnival of Souls and David Lynch. Insidious is neither. Rather it's a TV movie with a tired old genre's tricks and clichés -- none of them scary or amusing, just deadpan and lifeless. Insidious could have ventured into high camp, if it hadn't taken itself so seriously. When I play back all the stuff that happened, it sounds downright funny -- too bad it wasn't meant to be. The gadgetry-happy ghost hunters are clearly comic relief, but they're too obvious to be funny as they fuss around with antique cameras and vintage View-Masters.

There was about one minute of ingenuity in this film's total running time; the rest was just bad ideas made to look good. Wan's camera likes to slowly capture images, while the soundtrack uses every creaky door and ticking clock at its disposal. When the father/son bonding time comes via an astral plane portal, the movie could have gone all "Altered States mind-trippy" but the astral projection world lacks any imaginative fear or surrealism. Instead of opening the doors to creative imagery, we just get sucked into another riff in a parallel haunted house. Therein resides the main demon who looks like he's wearing a Darth Maul Halloween mask while prancing around the Jeepers Creepers monster lair playing Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."

Byrne does an adequate job as the mom tormented by ghosts. Shaye (the raunchy landlady in Something About Mary) seems like the only one who knows what this movie is about. And Wilson had me wondering if he's really an actor at all. He's the same guy from The Watchmen, Hard Candy and Lakeview Terrace. Yet, all I see is a suburban white guy with no depth or range.

Insidious doesn't have the giveaway word "haunting" in the title, but don't let that fool you. It sucks all the same.



Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne,
Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins, Barbara

Directed by James Wan



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