What do you get when you mix Paranormal Activity with Saw? A subtle, spooky ghost story where everyone falls into a wood chipper at the end!
No, actually, you get Insidious, which The Boy pronounces “a really good horror movie” after pointing out that most horror movies suck. I reminded him of Sturgeon’s Law but I think he figures horror movies beat the average for suckiness. (I can’t argue, and they were way worse when I was his age.)
This is a marvel of a film, really. It combines the chills and tension of the Paranormal movies with the grit and suspense of Saw—and it’s PG-13. It’s also gore-free, which tells you something about the PG-13. The Boy has a bit of an aversion to PG-13 as a rating (but I don’t really check).
I’m not going to talk about the story because there are some nice twists you don’t usually see.
Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, Hard Candy) plays the feckless dad, Rose Byrne the mom. (We’ve seen Byrne three times in the past two weeks, with the other two being Bridesmaids and X-Men: First Class.) Barbara Hershey, who’s had her own problems with the supernatural in the past (i.e., repeatedly raped by a ghost in The Entity) looks both remarkably well-preserved and slightly odd in a way that to me detracted from her actual acting.
Fundamentally, this is an “old, dark house” movie, a lower-budget and much lower key Poltergeist. The effects (not special effects, just horror effects) build quickly and keep coming, with only a few clunky points. A few conventions are subverted and the audience—a typical summer horror movie audience full of obnoxious teens—was a little more shrieky and even subdued at (a few) moments than with your average horror.
Where the movie is weakest is in the dialog about what exactly is going on. As cheesy as Poltergeist was, it dealt in familiar terms of lost souls and the afterlife—though it did substitute cheesy pseudo-science for religion (as does Insidious). This movie deals in terms of astral projection, which is okay, but refuses to say “Hell” when it clearly means Hell.
The actual main boogen is weak, too, though it’s really only on screen for a few frames, it bears a remarkable resemblance to a villain in a late vintage science-fiction franchise.
Overall, a very successful outing made for a paltry $1.5M, which says something about something.
This hits the sweet spot for audience appeal, too, I’d say: If you like the Paranormal and Saw franchises, you’ll like this. If you liked Saw but not Paranormal, you’ll probably like this (unless you were just there for the torture). If you like Paranormal but not Saw, I’d say it’s almost certain you’ll like this.