Friday, 11 October 2013

Insidious Chapter Two

For those that, like me, did not know the meaning of the word insidious before the film debut (which is shameful for an English graduate to confess), the definition translates to a slow burning, gradual unravelling that builds to a harmful conclusion. Modern day audiences are primarily familiar with ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am’ horror that sidesteps the subtleties and nuances of evoking a genuine sense of suspense, dread, chill and finally, pure terror. So much is disposable, forgettable, what does a film need to do to endure? The idea of such films is to deliver gore, horror and violence in abundance (amusement for the eyes) whilst deviating from fully captivating the heart, mind and soul. If you manage to ensnare both, (the physical senses and the internal connection) you leave audiences with a tumble into a world both uncomfortably familiar and disarmingly unusual.
The original film proved to be a roaring commercial success with its mixture of traditional, old fashioned scares and a very modern, almost whimsical take on the idea of a haunted boy, rather than a haunted house. The demons, the dolls, the barren household were all evocative of familiar fear, but yet many of the jumps were rare, pushing the boundaries just slightly further than expected, whilst the story, slightly farcical, was also intricately woven. The concept of domestic terror rather than communal always feels more intimate. It resonates with the idea that what we fear is within us; it is our own potential, our own capacities, limits and failings that frighten us most. This movie expresses this though Dalton’s inherited ability to travel in his dreams to a rather amusingly named place, ‘The Further’. Although the father is a literal place, it also represents our internal, inner world, the horrors that reside within us.

The sequel forces the connection between father and son. Dalton has inherited his abilities from his father Josh (Patrick Wilson is amazing in this role purely because he merges a generically jock-like physicality with an eerie, menacing appeal). Unfortunately, the ghosts haunting the family have not departed. If anything, the insidious build is reaching a more feverish crescendo, becoming more visible, more physical, more intense. If the father is traditionally the protector of the family unit, what happens if he becomes unhinged, unreliable, damaged? What happens if he becomes the attacker rather than the guardian?
Although the film has its flaws, namely, it’s partially hammy, forced dialogue, bizarre inserts of comic relief that occasionally jar and a story that veers somewhat beyond the accepted conventions fans may be prepared to stomach, I can sidestep the flaws simply because I find the premise of the film so engaging and alive. It doesn’t feel like a ‘hollow’ experience. There is passion and intensity in the creation of this series. It feels like someone lovingly sat time aside to conjure this family and their predicament. 
A perfect merge between ‘Saw’ and ‘The Shining’, fans of the ‘Saw’ series will recognise the unique story telling style so vibrant and charismatic to horror; a way of interconnecting characters, time spans and occurrences to link together a cohesive story. What I adored about the ‘Saw’ series was not its garish, barbaric use of visual torture, but the humanity pulsing at its core and the clever ways in which the creators pieced together in a jigsaw like narrative, a story that had clearly been born from a lot of forethought. ‘Insidious Chapter 2’ is much the same. The span of the back-story is clearly massive and what threw me off guard was the way in which the second chapter deviated so dramatically from the first. There is so much from ‘Saw’ recognisable in this in the style, the drama and the psychology, that it moved beyond merely being a horror for me, but also a character study. What connects horror to audiences are characters. If you cannot care about the characters, the horror itself is a desensitizing, out of body experience. To care about the characters is to vicariously experience the harrowing onslaught they are navigating.

Horror works when it not only physically ‘spooks’ you. It’s not just about the jumping in the chair and the hiding of the eyes. It’s about the ‘feeling’. The sense that this is unfamiliar territory and you do not know how it will end. It’s the sense of unravelling a mystery, uncovering a secret, which is so at the heart of human desire. The satisfaction of watching something piece together in a slightly different manner to how you might have envisioned it. What is so powerful is that the creators of this film understand the visuals of horror so well; the red faced demons, the eerie dolls - the traditional embodiments of our worst fears are beautifully brought to life.

Now ‘The Shining’ is an altogether different beast that definitely understood the meaning of slowly building to a rush of insanity. Such a mesmerizing, captivating story about the slow assertion to madness and the devastating impact it can have upon the family was bound to influence the work of horror fans Leigh Whannell and James Wan. The homage is subtle as a sledgehammer, with Patrick definitely veering into Jack Nicholson territory as he channels the empty eyed, unshaven, manic vacuous deadness of a father turned upon his family. The ability of Patrick to literally transform from loving, earthy father to manic, dejected imposter is what much of the story hinges on.

Rose Byrne has a beautiful, doe-eyed vulnerability that makes her particularly likeable as Renai, the wife desperately attempting to keep her family together. Ty Simpkins is adorable Dalton who you could argue, becomes a man rather than a boy in this film. Lin Shaye is most certainly unique and angelic as medium Elise (although much of the hammy dialogue unfortunately falls to her) and Barbara Hershey is perhaps my favourite with her haunting but stoic presence.

It also reinforces the importance of the traditional nuclear family. In a culture/society that embraces the live fast die young mentality, acknowledging independence over collectively, promiscuity over relationships and fragmentation rather than stability, this story is refreshingly old school in that despite the destabilising influences upon their marriage, Josh and Renai remain a loving and believable couple just trying to raise a family and there is something sweetly touching in the fact that no horror, no ghost, no trauma can destabilise the innocence and endurance of real love. It is part of what makes the family so endearing.
This film won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It most definitely has faults. Some parts will leave you cringing and sighing with slight disillusion, but nonetheless, it will make you jump, make you think and it will give you a story. James and Leigh definitely have a way of telling a story that encompasses fear, drama and heart. I think they might just be the new masters of horror, if only they can maintain their originality and unique appeal and avoid derailing and becoming too mainstream. These guys are clever, and they should be weary not to dumb themselves down too much or too often.