Wan & Whannel’s Insidious

Alliance Films, Blumhouse Productions

STARRING Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye
WRITTEN BY Leigh Whannel
PRODUCED BY Jason Blum, Jeanette Brill, Oren Peli, Steven Schneider, Aaron Sims

SHOT BY John R. Leonetti (A.S.C.) & David M. Brewer
MUSIC BY Joseph Bishara
DISTRIBUTED BY Stage 6 Films, FilmDistrict, Sony Pictures

Screened 2011-03-08

Attended a sold-out screening of this the other night with the writer and director present for a Q&A – but I never stay for those. A brief synopsis: A married couple (Byrne and Wilson, who need not act married since they simply are (a criticism directed at writer and director, not the actors (although really Wilson gave much more than Byrne who didn’t seem to know what to do with herself without a bulk of the work being done for her or a competent director but we don’t care because she’s got such a pretty perpetual pouty thing going – but I digress))) moves into a new house and begins to experience poltergeist-like happenings which scare the wife something awful. When their young son enters a coma which one dopey doctor cannot explain, they enlist the help of a recommended medium (Shaye) to determine ‘where the boy has gone’ and what the house has done to him. But is it, in fact, the house which is haunted? That’s the hook that will bring in the audiences, so the answer is obviously no.

Here’s my explanation for why this film exists. It was made for a single paltry million, directed and edited by James Wan and his written by his actor bro Leigh Whannel, a team infamous for its cheap horror iterations. Leigh had a little backburner idea, a tiny and “intimate” little haunted house story “with a twist” and his rich buddies decided to let it happen because his notoriety would bring in an audience, any audience, who wanted to experience the equivalent of an amusement park ride – a relevant analogy since the film’s story is (I’m quite serious) as fleshed out as a story leading to an amusement park ride, and the thrills are caused by physical shocks – in this case an endless bombardment of what I call “defeaning gibberish noise.” Such noises are difficult to foresee and any attentive living being cannot help but leap… The formula is a guaranteed sell for the LCD moviegoing public, mostly comprised of young people who are, god-willing, soon to grow out of the “capitalistic distraction phase” of their lives. It’s a popcorn flick for people who won’t mind the film’s terminal cheapness, the lazily unadorned, blank sets, the preteen spookhouse ghouls, and the generally entry-level quality which abounds.

This is the type of horror film which springs from the obsession with the American horror phenomenon – which is primarily a marketing phenomenon. I’ve had this discussion a number of times now, when somebody wants some recommendations for truly great horror films; it’s a hard question to answer because there simply are not many – accessible, quality films which function by themselves, devoid of falling back on camp knowingness. The Shining. Rosemary’s Baby. The Innocents is cool, Carnival of Souls is alright, the Italian films from the 70s and 80s are intriguing but are a bit too close to the bizarrerie we currently have… and now it’s simply a different industry. Started in television, spread to the porn industry, and now it rules the film industry – technological advancements (video) that deliver the power of creation/distribution into the hands of Every Man have created such ease of production that exponentially more work is being created, and it’s only natural that the defining majority of this work will be of dubious quality. They are assembly line products. Mr. Wan and his buddy Whannel have some wealthy friends who decided, “Their names are attached to the Saw franchise, there’s money to be made, no oversight required since those horror fans will swallow anything we give them. Go, boys!” One million dollars for their little film. See, if you have $1,000,000 to make a film you put the effort into the script/story/characters/actors because the money will be devoured by so many other basic productions expenses – Insidious stretches that mil as far as it can go and I doubt anybody will deny that the end result is a big compromise. Who will see the film and say it was ever anything more than an ‘endearing ditty?’ “There were a few fun moments.” Even those compliments are generous. Patrick Wilson’s attachment is the biggest surprise and the most pleasant; he is the only person in sight who elevates the material.

Since those who make low-budget horror films are generally clueless giggling ninnies, the progress the genre makes is measured in baby steps; a film comes out which borrows from 10,000 other horror films which came out in the past few years, and perhaps innovates a new quick, loud edit, or a new use of a digital effect… and that’s progress. But these creators have nothing to offer beyond gimmicks, and their products are not designed to be dissected by Nazi doctors like myself (still, I must feel superior, so off I go). The screening ended. As myself and the other viewers streamed out of the full theater, I passed Wan and Whannel hovering near the wall. I heard Wan mutter, “Don’t they know there’s a Q&A..?” Alas, alas. But without a script, that’s what $1 million buys in your business, boys.

written by David Ashley