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rochefort [Film Festival 03.24.11] movie review news horror

Year: 2010
Director: James Wan
Writer: Leigh Whannell
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: rochefort
Rating: 6 out of 10

Husband and wife Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) are a genuinely loving couple with three kids living in a typical suburban neighborhood. Tragedy strikes, and their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) goes into a bizarre coma of a type their doctors have never seen before, and soon after stay-at-home mom Renai is plagued by a series of supernatural ghostings and spook-outs Renai eventually convinces Josh to hire paranormal investigator Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye, whom you may remember as the sun-dried landlady in There's Something About Mary, turning in a very different kind of performance this time out), who confronts the family with a dark truth about their own past that puts them all in seriously grave danger.

I'll admit it: I thought the first Saw film was pretty good. I lost interest in the series as of the first sequel, but the first film went to some truly interesting places and managed to get a lot of bang out of its tiny budget. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell are in similar quasi-guerrilla territory with their latest, Insidious, another low-budget horror pic that tries to do for Poltergeist what Saw did for the last scene in Mad Max (you know, the one with the hacksaw and the ankle). The good news is that there's quite a lot of good old-fashioned fun to be had for the first hour or so. Almost the entire film takes place inside just two different houses; the camera dips and curves from one room to the next and helps the better scenes attain that ideal mesh of disorientation and claustrophobia, and Wan and his able cast do a good job of keeping things fast and freaky.

Even more impressive is the high volume of legitimate jolts I experienced throughout (although to be honest, I saw it with a pretty game audience, and I'm not sure it would play so effectively otherwise). I'm not a particularly big fan of the "jump scare", mainly because I think it's a lazy film-school device that has very little to do with actual storytelling, and in most hollywood horror films the jump scare often serves as proof that the filmmakers are in over their heads. There are definitely a ton of them in Insidious, but they often come in rapid, machine-gun succession, building up in intensity and making for some genuinely scary (but still relatively fleeting) moments.

The bad news is that this latest film suffers from the same sorts of poor decision-making that kept Saw from being 100% good (the excess of screen time spent on an investigative side plot, Cary Elwes' limp performance...), and a couple of choices are so lame that they almost cripple the climax. They all seem to stem from an inability to just let some things stay mysterious. Hollywood films try and over-explain and over-depict things all the time, and look how meh that usually turns out. Wan and company don't have the money to justify such an approach, but they often go there anyway. For example, the main villain is a demonic creature that is revealed piece by piece for the first hour, and its presence in these early scenes is genuinely chilling. But in the final set pieces the creature hangs around in too many shots for too long, essentially killing any mystique or scare power, especially since it ends up looking so much like a cross between Darth Maul and SNL's "Dieter".

But the biggest mistake is a tricky one, since it may in fact be the reason Wan wanted to make the movie in the first place. In Poltergeist, Jobeth Williams' mother goes into the ectosphere to bring back her daughter, and we're never shown what she sees inside. It seems to have stuck in Wan and Whannell's collective craw, because this time around we follow father Josh into the spirit realm (clunkily known as "The Further") as he crosses over to retrieve Dalton. Pretty much every aspect of The Further is disappointing, and it's in these scenes that the budgetary limitations are the most obvious. It's a real shame, too, because by this point in the film I found myself rooting for the win. See with lowered expectations.

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