SXSW 2011: Insidious

James Wan and Leigh Whannell may be responsible for jumpstarting the most successful horror franchise of the last decade, but the duo has failed to recreate that level of success in anything they’ve made since then. But with the release of “Insidious,” it looks like they’ve finally cracked that nut, because the film is a creepy and atmospheric supernatural horror film that plays a lot like a modern day “Poltergeist” with a decidedly retro aesthetic. Though the film relies a little too often on cheap scares and loud musical cues to terrorize the audience, “Insidious” is a legitimately scary movie that will not only reinvigorate Wan and Whannell’s careers, but the kind of traditional horror films that “Saw” made redundant as well.

Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have just moved their family into a new house when oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) bumps his head while exploring the attic and slips into a coma. The doctors can’t explain what’s wrong with him, so they move Dalton back home to be cared for by his mother. When Renai stars hearing strange noises and seeing frightening visions of ghosts lurking around the house, however, she becomes convinced that the place is haunted. But after they move again only for the angry spirits to remerge, she begs Josh to call in a specialist to investigate – a trio of ghost hunters that informs the couple it isn’t their house that’s haunted, but their son.

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As someone that tries to avoid horror movies whenever possible, it’s difficult to gauge how “Insidious” will play to diehard fans. Though it doesn’t really revolutionize the genre like “Saw” did, it has so many genuine moments of terror that cowards like myself will be on the verge of a panic attack throughout. It’s been a while since a movie has scared me as much as this, and it will likely cause nightmares for others. The film does lose some of its bite in the final act when one of the characters enters an otherworld called the Further that looks like a twisted version of Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, but by that point, Wan practically has you eating out of his hand; the scares are that effective.

He also makes some very daring stylistic choices – from the grainy film texture to the intrusive score – that evokes the horror films of the 70s and 80s. But while the movie looks great (especially considering it was made on a shoestring budget), it’s lacking in a strong central performance from Byrne or Wilson. In fact, they both seem to sleep walking through their roles compared to the lively performances of the film’s supporting cast, including character actor Lin Shaye as the paranormal medium and Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as her clumsy assistants. Their introduction midway through injects a “Ghostbusters”-like playfulness that allows Wan to include some comic beats without lessening the weight of the situation, and it really adds a layer of enjoyment to the experience. After all, horror films are supposed to be fun to watch, and though “Insidious” trips up a bit in the end with a lame and predictable coda, it’s still a highly enjoyable piece of scare-you-shitless cinema that even a non-fan can appreciate.

  

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“Damages” moves to DirecTV

Jan 19, 2010 - New York, New York, USA - Actors TED DANSON, GLENN CLOSE, MARTIN SHORT, ROSE BYRNE and TATE DONAVAN attend the Season Three premiere of FX's 'Damages' held at the AXA Equitable Center. © Red Carpet Pictures

In a deal not completely unlike the satellite’s move to partner with NBC to save “Friday Night Lights,” DirecTV has announced that it is the new home of the FX drama “Damages.”

DIRECTV and Sony Pictures Television will team up to bring the award-winning DAMAGES, starring Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, back with brand new episodes to be produced early next year and debuting exclusively on DIRECTV. Emmy winner Glenn Close, Emmy nominee Rose Byrne and other principal cast members will return for the new episodes.

Unlike DIRECTV’s current deal for Friday Night Lights, whereby the show airs first on DIRECTV and then on NBC, the new episodes of DAMAGES will air only on DIRECTV. Additionally, DIRECTV will have the rights to air previously produced seasons 1 through 3.

“FX was very proud to have developed one of the best scripted series on television, but, in order to have a future, the show needed DIRECTV and we are thrilled they stepped in,” said John Landgraf, President & General Manager, FX Networks, who also heads FX Productions. “Sony Pictures Television is a great production partner and we at FX Productions are excited for these next two seasons.”

The key thing to note here is that, as it stands, “Damages” will never air on cable television again. DirecTV will be the only place that fans can (legally) see new episodes as they are released. It appears that without such a move, there wouldn’t have been a fourth season.

The third season of the critically-acclaimed drama brought five more Emmy nominations to bring the series total to 19.

  

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The 2010 Primetime Emmy nominations are in!

Bright and early this morning…by which we mean 8:40 AM EST / 5:40 AM PST…the nominees for the 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards were announced by Joel McHale (“Community,” “The Soup”) and Sofia Vergara (“Modern Family”). It ended up being a worthwhile gig for one of them, at least, with Vergara pulling in a Supporting Actress nod for “Modern Family.” Maybe that’s why McHale seemed so stone-faced. (Seriously, did someone tell McHale that he wasn’t getting paid if he didn’t keep his smart-assery in line ’til after the nominees were read? The only time he cracked anything approaching a joke was when he preempted Vergara’s mangling of Mariska Hargitay’s last name.) Anyway, here’s a list of who got the glory…and, in the case of Best Actress in a Drama, who got the shaft.

Outstanding Comedy Series:

* Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
* Glee (Fox)
* Modern Family (ABC)
* Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
* The Office (NBC)
* 30 Rock (NBC)

My Pick: “Modern Family.” There’s no question that “Glee” is award-worthy, but not necessarily as a comedy, which is also where “Nurse Jackie” falters in this category. I feel like “The Office” and “30 Rock” coasted in on their past merits this year, but “Curb” got a huge boost from the “Seinfeld” storyline, so it’s the only real competition here. Still, the buzz on “Modern Family” is all over the place. I can’t imagine it won’t bring home the glory.

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The pimp and the hippie

Since “Get Him to the Greek” has been on our mind lately, and if you haven’t read my mammoth press day interview thingy with cast members Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne, and writer-director Nicholas Stoller you may do so now, or at your leisure. I’m also happy to report that, whatever the recently returned Nikki Finke is saying, it’s doing somewhat better than expected and defeating the really horrid looking (and, not surprisingly, horribly reviewed) “Killers” as of this moment at the Box Office.

Be that as it may, inspired by a fun piece over at the Playlist on fake bands from movies, along the lines of Aldous Snow’s Infant Sorrow from “Greek.” This weekend, I’ll be presenting some great moments with great fictional cinema bands. I’ll lead with one of the best moments from 2004’s “Hustle and Flow.” I think this was the moment I realized what I was watching was going to be a little more like “The Commitments” and a little less like “Superfly” when I saw it cold at Sundance. (Did I really declare it “the sweetest pimp movie of all time”? Oh, I was young and foolish then.) Since this is a rap tune created by an actual, fictional, pimp played by Terrence Howard, all the usual work-related provisos apply. Also, I wonder about those subtitles on the video. Just how do you translate “Whoop That Trick” into Greek? For that matter, how do you translate it into English?

And now for something completely different. A lot of you are probably familiar with the gay Hitler from the musical version of “The Producers” but fewer of you may know the hippie Hitler played to insane perfection by Dick Shawn in Mel Brooks 1968 original comedy cult-classic. Here, Lorenzo St. Dubois, call him “LSD” for short, sings “Love Power” and grabs the Broadway glass ring with the help of his all-female back-up band.

  

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Met Them at the Greek — a press day chat with Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, Rose Byrne and Nicholas Stoller of “Get Him to the Greek”

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If you saw “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” — and I hope you have as its one of the stronger comedies to be made over the last several years — you’ll likely have noticed the strong comic chemistry between British comedy sensation Russell Brand as three-quarters insane, recovering addict rock star Aldous Snow and Jonah Hill (“Superbad“) as a resort waiter and somewhat overly devoted fan of Snow’s. Well, you’re not the only one, and so we have the somewhat slapdash, sometimes brilliant, and ultimately winning new comedy, “Get Him to the Greek,” which once again brings us Brand as Aldous Snow, who, since the events of “Sarah Marshall” has suffered a failed marriage to rocker Jackie Q (Rose Byrne), had a seven-year old son, and removed the “recovering” from his addiction — kind of impressive since “Sarah Marshall” was only two years ago.

Nevertheless, having fallen headlong off the wagon, Snow needs help arriving on-time and semi-cognizant for an important TV appearance, a sound check, and a special comeback performance at L.A.’s Greek Theater. The task falls to ambitious young record company assistant Aaron Green (Hill, playing a different character than in “Sarah Marshall”), a huge fan of Snow’s in a sweet but rocky relationship with his improbably adorable doctor girlfriend (Elizabeth Moss of “Mad Men“). Frequently vomit-stained hijinks ensue as Green and Snow barely survive a number of unfortunate events, including a nearly apocalyptic visit to the set of “The Today Show,” one of the most truly mad Las Vegas sequences in film history, and the kind of freaky three-ways that would make most porn producers blanch. It’s all wrapped up with the sort of good-hearted traditional morality which reminds us that the producer is the Walt Disney of male-centric, R-rated comedies, Judd Apatow.

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