Insidious (2011) | Review by Mark Leidner
Insidious is like terrorism. Intermittently frightening, but 99% of the time a cheap narrative slapped down onto a bleakly stupid vision of the human condition. It slips between boring, intentionally funny, unintentionally funny, not scary, and genuinely scary. The story is about a generic American family whose shame about their private, imaginative visions of the world prevent them from sharing those visions with each other. This unsung longing—for freedom, sexual gratification, omnipotence, life—clogs the channels of intimacy and forgiveness that might otherwise characterize the practical, day-to-day operation of the family, cutting every interaction with a many-bladed, nameless edge. Psychic tension percolates, traversing even generations, as the gulf between private and familial meaning widens like a torture rack cranked steadily by the grim, star-knuckled hand of time. Conversations become surreally polite, or purposely apocryphal, and sublimated urges grind and undulate into grotesque clouds bulging and banging against the wafery veil of social order until they tear—with eloquence in art and violence in war—through us like their doorways into the world.
A perpendicular gulf: There is great pleasure in watching great actors grapple with roles far, far below them. Think Nic Cage in Con Air or Don Cheadle in Drunk History. But if the difference between good actor and bad movie and movie is not an abyss, matrices of dramatic flaccidity, like Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson as the unhappy couple, or Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, arise. This of course the point of a movie like Insidious, and of a war like the one on terror. The characters are supposed to just competently be there, like the inoffensive suites of wallpaper that come with each new version of Windows. The point is not to look at it, but to click on other things. I saw Insidious alone in a theater full of drunk and stoned and very happy undergraduates. It made me jealous of when I was that thoughtless. Of when I too was possessed with an insidious innocence. The movie is unevenly enjoyable. A vacation through our collective domestic nightmare, glancing some humorous side-characters, and fleetingly inventive frights, with a long layover in the astral plain. Perfect for a date or a group of beloved friends with low standards, happily bored by their own political and existential terror. Click, click, click.