You know what are great? Movie attics. They sort of exist as their own little entity in movies, a place where a family has a bunch of old stuff just because it’s old. Nothing up there really reflects anything in terms of personality, or even whether or not there are kids involved. It’s just old and cobwebby (?).
You can also be sure that if it’s used in any great capacity, it’s horror movie ground zero. Attics set a mood, even in something as infuriatingly stupid as Insidious. The movie doesn’t have much of anything going for it to begin with, a cheap-looking, kinda/sorta, off and on third-person view of a haunted house flick. Basically, it’s a more upscale Paranormal Activity. That attic is pretty cool though with its random iron furnace and oddly positioned window lighting.
Insidious is creepy for all of the wrong reasons. It has nothing do with spooks, specters, or ghosts, no matter how much it wants you to believe otherwise. It’s that camera, always in a weird, dirty feeling over the shoulder viewpoint, or creepily looking down on the small child in a coma. Even worse, that “style” just sort of disappears at will, the movie never set on a documentary style or more full blown Hollywood spectacle. Either way, it doesn’t work.
But, let’s say for a moment the familiar “door shutting by itself” gimmick worked on you. Maybe the creepy kid thing hasn’t run its course for you yet. That’s fine. More power to you. There comes a point though where Insidious breaks new ground for unimaginable stupidity, introducing two of the most groan inducing, out of place paranormal investigators ever. It would have been less jarring if the Ghostbusters crew walked in firing off proton packs. Sadly, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell) do exist, an apparent attempt at comic relief that falls so utterly flat, nothing to come can work.
And seriously, his name is Specs, and yes, he wears glasses.
These two buffoons act as parodies to all of those equally ridiculous ghost hunting reality shows, crumbling the foundation of the premise, and slaughtering the tension during the finale by disemboweling it. Tucker is tasked with holding a flashlight at Josh’s (Patrick Wilson) face so he has a guide to escape the “Further,” a place where your soul goes to, well, do stuff… or act like a zombie. Who knows. Anyway, Tucker takes the task too seriously, dives onto the couch in front of Josh, and can’t right himself. For (literally) four minutes of screen time, he’s still unable to pick himself up. It’s not that hard even if you’re a man of size.
So yes, Insidious deals with the idea of Astral Projection, Josh’s son sucked into this world of oddball demons that comes across as a low rent Nightmare on Elm Street. In real life, the kid is in a coma. In reality (or non-reality?), he’s simply lost. The family, perfect for America as they are with their two and a half kids, are haunted by demons who want the little boys body so they can brought back to life. That’s what causes all of those jump scares, and apparently, forces them to have a creepy, Gothic attic.
Insidious becomes the second movie reviewed here shot with the Red One Mysterium-X, (the first? Hobo with a Shotgun), and the results could not be any different. Insidious looks cheap and flat, rarely finding a groove in terms of definition or detail. In fact, it seems more fond of the digital, smooth appearance than any legitimate texture.
At the very least, it can be said the Mysterium is far more capable in terms of darker environments. Noise is limited to a singular shot (save for a series of jump edits), and black levels prove exceptional. The movie opens on a pan of the house at night, all of the lights of course turned off, and it’s black level bliss. They’re strong, deep, and rich, which is the exact opposite of everything else.
Insidious is mired in softness, the 4K abilities of Red’s latest digital work never apparent here. What fine detail is here, from the exteriors of the house to close-ups, doesn’t have a stern focus or a crispness. Actors look more like plastic than actual people. It comes across as a TV show shot quick and compressed for cable, only without the mass of artifacts cable compression brings with it. Sony’s AVC encode is more than competent in that regard.
Color is muted for effect, which is fine. Flesh tones are pale enough though to make it hard to discern the main cast from the undead souls in the Further. Primaries never carry any power, nor do they have a chance to. Contrast is a little dim, yet this still leads to harsh edges, and even a few halos. It’s a mess of minor problems that add up over the course of 100 minutes.
Usually these types of movies are littered with creepy crawlies making bumps and scratches at the walls or something similar. Insidious? Not so much. It’s the type that thrives on general silence, making due with limited sound design for effect. High-pitched screeches are common and overly loud, the norm for a genre quickly losing its grip on what’s actually terrifying.
In the final hour, the DTS-HD mix goes into overload, blaring bass as the demons become agitated. A kid slams his hand down on a table at 1:07:40-ish, the low-end so absurdly powerful, it’s one step from being destructive. There are some fun surround uses too, a series of gunshots clearly taking off from the left front and pinging in the right rear, the directional effect as good as it can get. Voices will swirl in the world of the Further, and nothing is shy about making its presence felt. Fun, at least sonically, in the second half.
Horror 101 has director James Wan and crew discussing horror, the genre, and what’s needed to make it work, all while using the movie as a template. On the Set of Insidious is just a standard “thank you” to everyone who worked on the movie, and Insidious Entities deals with the creature effects. Trailers and BD-Live (which only offered connection errors on multiple tries) are left.