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movies / April 3, 2011
By Eileen Jones

Insidious is a rotten movie getting unaccountably good reviews in some quarters. For instance, Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly says: “Insidious is a haunted-house movie that has some of the most shivery and indelible images I’ve seen in any horror film in decades. Yes, it’s that unsettling.”

Only it ain’t, though.

It’s one of those movies that relies on a surefire trick: a loud noise, BAM, accompanied by a gust of music SHREEEE, while a dark figure shoots out from the side in your peripheral vision and crosses the screen WHOOSH, so you jump. That’s called a “startle effect”—yeah, some cognitive film theorist actually named it, that’s why they pay him the big bucks—and the movie has about 75 of them. BAM, SHREEE, WHOOSH, over and over.

Of course, a lot of audiences like that sort of thing. Really young ones, mainly. That’s why those stupid Haunted Houses get set up every Halloween, always with the same trappings: dark rooms lit by phony candelabras, store-bought cobwebs, dry-ice smoke, family-massacre tableaux, overly made-up ghouls popping out of dark doorways grabbing at teenagers who yell “YAAAH!”

That’s the grand finale in Insidious, a cinematic version of one of those corny Halloween houses.


The movie starts obnoxiously with an overproduced title sequence announcing its ghostly intentions. Even the letters of the opening credit names are spooky, with a little white spirit of each name floating up and away. That didn’t bode well. It meant everything would be right up in our faces going “BOO!” and that’s not a good strategy with haunted house movies.

Quietly, boys—proceed quietly. But the combined forces of the Saw franchise, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, plus producer Oren Peli, the guy who did Paranormal Activity, had other ideas.

So they set up one of those agonizingly fake American families moving into a showplace of a house, where the big grandfather clock in the hall ticks so loudly and ominously (TICK! TOCK!) any sane person would say “What the hell is wrong with that clock? I can’t hear myself think!”

Generally in haunted house movies you start with either a wholesome family (Poltergeist) or a disturbed family (The Shining). Insidious tries to have it both ways, mildly hinting at pre-existing problems with the marriage of the lead couple (Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson). He’s one of those arrested development cases, all joshy boyishness. Then, confusingly, he turns out to be a high school teacher who looks tweedy and downtrodden when sitting behind his desk at school. Somehow he makes so much money on his teacher salary he can support the whole family flock in high style, allowing his wife to “work on her music” at home. No wonder people think teachers are rolling in dough.


She’s one of those draggy, complaining wife-mother characters that’ve done so much to bring down the birth rate in America. Fortunately we don’t have to hear much of her lugubrious music being composed, because stuff starts happening. The usual boilerplate—objects moving, scratchy noises, muttering voices—except for one big exception, which is the oldest kid in the family doesn’t wake up one morning. He’s in a sort of undiagnosable coma, and periodically a sinister ghost-man is seen hanging around his bed, who looks like an aging rock star. That’s the last straw for the family, so they move AGAIN.

Hey, the dad’s a teacher! He can afford it!

But the ghosts come right along with the comatose boy, and start multiplying in numbers. Damn! It’s time to bring in a paranormal expert, played by Lin Shaye, who has to provide a lot of exposition about how things work on The Other Side, especially in “The Further” where the kid has gone. Someone will have to astral-travel to “The Further” to fight off demons and bring the kid home, and that’s how we wind up in the cheesy Halloween House.


Yeah, it’s really not good.

And it has all the annoying distractions of not-good movies; you start thinking about inconsequential things between “startle effects.” Like what a stupid name “The Further” is. Or why they called the movie Insidious when it isn’t. Or how Barbara Hershey, playing the mother-in-law, has had so much patchwork plastic surgery and botox that parts of her face move and parts don’t. Or how constantly referencing the few good haunted house movies (The Shining, The Haunting, The Innocents, parts of Poltergeist and Sixth Sense) is an unwise strategy in a not-good haunted house movie—it just reminds you how badly these guys have bungled it





Add your own

  • 1. allen  |  April 3rd, 2011 at 11:37 am

    If the Saw franchise, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, plus producer Oren Peli, the guy who did Paranormal Activity, had other ideas.

    Say no more … not only is this enough to convince me the movie will probably suck, but I think I just lost my appetite to boot.

  • 2. Erik  |  April 3rd, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    You call that a hatchet job? My wife hits harder.

  • 3. CensusLouie  |  April 3rd, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    If you’ve ever read any of the interviews on how the first Saw movie got started, then you know how the makers are the new breed of movie assholes absolutely convinced that their terrible contrived ideas are genius.

    It’s really been a big reason why modern movies for the past 15 or so years have gotten so much worse. Not that Hollywood was never slimey up until then, but there’s been a definite shift away from artists and craftsmen with a genuine vision. Now it’s all about cocky assholes where their skills of self-promotion is all that’s important.

    If you’ve read the Saw development story, then you know that the makers are exactly that kind of person: the kind that aren’t any good at writing, but are excellent at convincing clueless executives that their stuff is great.

    Anyone here get Netflix instant? Surprisingly, most of their user ratings are pretty accurate. So the next time you’re browsing their selection, take this challenge:

    Take a look at all the one star rated movies. 99% of them were made in the 00s.

    It aint no coincidence.

  • 4. MF  |  April 3rd, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    I wish I saw this review sooner. But this is what I get for not assuming the worst for once.

  • 5. Flatulissimo  |  April 3rd, 2011 at 9:40 pm

    The Changeling. Now there’s a haunted house movie. Instead of a shrieking sorority girl going into some room she shouldn’t, it’s fucking PATTON!

  • 6. my dick  |  April 3rd, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    I also hate the startle effect. It’s a cheap, boring trick. I don’t need to spend money to have someone say “BOO” in my face. More reviews required!

  • 7. Jyp  |  April 5th, 2011 at 6:03 am

    You know what? I knew this movie was crap before I even heard of it! Yeah. How’d I know that? They all are.

    Did Eileen write that review about Harrison Ford laying around in a pond in East Texas for three months before doing some awful movie where he creaks around like a zombie with some young actress babe supposedly nuts about him? Or was that Ames? Not the zombie, I mean.. the writer of the review.

  • 8. Flatulissimo  |  April 5th, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I loved this line:

    “She’s one of those draggy, complaining wife-mother characters that’ve done so much to bring down the birth rate in America.”

    Yeah, what is it with these? For a similar characterization, see the wife in another recent crappy “horror” haunted house movie, The Haunting In Connecticut.

  • 9. Hey  |  April 5th, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    Another great piece. But hey: is Eileen Jones Dolan as well? The lines about teacher salaries get me thinking.

  • 10. wengler  |  April 6th, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    There’s a Norwegian horror film on Netflix instant called DEAD SNOW. It has Nazi zombies. Yes, you heard that correctly, NAZI ZOMBIES.

    Check it out over this piece of crap if you have the chance.

  • 11. Ok...  |  April 7th, 2011 at 6:05 am

    Alright, everyone is entitled to an opinion. I’ve seen Insidious and I actually enjoyed it. There are definitely dissenting opinions out there and I just have to say, with acclaimed and prominent critics leaving uplifting and positive reviews of this movie I have a hard time not laughing at this review written by some nobody. Who are you that makes your opinion so above the rest?
    And on that note, to you lot who think this movie is a drag and find things wrong with every horror movie known (such as pop up scares), what IS the horror movie you long for? What would make it better? Because none of you mention anything like that. You just complain. (Probably because you can’t come up with anything).

  • 12. CensusLouie  |  April 10th, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Oh man, I just got done watching Red Dragon.

    If you want the perfect example of how modern movies (especially horror movies) are going to shit, all you have to do is compare Red Dragon to Silence of the Lambs.

    Silence of the Lambs- Showed smart people doing smart things.

    Red Dragon- TELLS you that people are smart (constantly) without them doing anything to demonstrate this.

    Lambs- Lector was scary because he could get into your head.

    RD- Lector is scary because of jump cuts and shrieking violin soundtracks.

    Lambs- Relied on the narrative for scares.

    RD- Relies on shrieking violins to tell you that you should be scared.

    Lambs- Lector taps into Starling’s insecurity.

    RD- Lector gives a cliche speech how there’s not much difference between him and the protagonist, despite absolutely nothing happening to support this.

  • 13. Paul  |  April 14th, 2011 at 3:46 am

    Wow Ok…(comment 11), that’s some really incisive observations there. For the record, Eileen Jones the nobody is getting paid to air her opinions. Unlike the butthurt little boy that you are.

  • 14. Charlie  |  April 22nd, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    To comment on 13, a nobody getting paid to do something is still a nobody, lemme know when she’s recognized for her amazing insight into story telling and filmography. Until then, sounds like a nobody to me.

  • 15. Jame  |  April 25th, 2011 at 5:41 pm

    To 14, just letting you know that I recognize her for her amazing insight into story telling and filmography. Problem solved!

  • 16. Trevor  |  December 5th, 2011 at 8:09 am

    I finally got around to seeing this and it’s not as terrible as Jones makes it out to be. She’s right about the story and the characters and the stock shocks but it’s all still pretty fun. In a stupid way. It’s no Paranormal Activity but it’s horror that is thankfully torture porn and zombie free. Seriously, fuck zombies.

  • 17. Alicia Goodall  |  February 23rd, 2013 at 8:53 am

    okay, obviously you don’t really know the whole story. it’s much more complex then just jumpy music and such. think about the story!!! the kid being possessed was just a distraction for the old lady to come back and fully possess the dad! This is why he doesn’t like his picture being taken, it reveals the old lady. In the last photograph of him taken it is a family portrait and he looks extremely uncomfortable. also, you can see his hands are bony. this is because he was instilled in the fear of having his picture taken by the medium who hypnotized him into forgetting. the boy was a distraction, the red faced visitor was hired help. The old lady was very determined. so how could you say that this movie is bad? this blog is dumb. so ha. the jumpy music and what not is just for funsies. people like to be scared. it’s not cheating. it’s to experience the thrill of being terrified without any real threat. like a roller-coaster.

  • 18. Alicia Goodall  |  February 23rd, 2013 at 9:00 am

    Also, I’d like to think that the wife used to be a somewhat successful musician and she is now retired, thanks to the three children she’s popped out. So how she is the cause for the low birth rate in the country, I don’t know. The movie gives hints into the fact that the dad is mildly possessed by an old lady by showing him plucking out grey hairs and applying anti aging creme. the demon is only inside of him partially, due to the medium hypnotizing him. she lies only in his subconscious, not allowing pictures of her to be taken. fucking complex shit man.

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