Cast your minds back to this time last month. David Cameron welcomed the proposal of 10 year prison sentences for benefit frauds, people all over the country stood in queues for GTA V, and Insidious: Chapter 2 became the number one film at the box office. Conclusion: The people of one month ago were stupid. Thank god they’re gone for ever. The Inshitious movies are everything that’s wrong with current horror cinema – here’s 10 reasons why.
1. The Titling
Let’s start with the names of these films. They seem to belong in one of two categories. The first is titles such as Insidious or Sinister, adjectives which the films inevitably fail to live up to. There’s nothing insidious about Insidious or sinister about Sinister. They should be called Boring and Lazy respectively.
The second is names such as The Conjuring or The Happening, words preceded by a definite article which shouldn’t be. In the Insidious films there’s another dimension called The Further. They might as well call it The Purple.
2. Why So Serious?
There seems to be an idea that horror films can not and must not be funny. The result is tediously sincere horror films such as Insidious and The Conjuring. Where’s the joy? Instead we get embarrassing claims about these being the scariest films ever, which would be funny were it not for the genuine worry that James Wan actually believes them. In fairness, the Insidious films do have a comic relief pair of characters but they’re more laughable than funny.
3. Déjà Boo
These films are all the same; Insidious, Sinister, The Conjuring, Insidious 2… Basically, Patrick Wilson/Ethan Hawke moves into a house with their family, when strange things start to happen. These invariably include children drawing on the walls in crayon, birds flying into windows and rocking horses moving of their own accord. One of the couple gets freaked out while the other is stupidly nonchalant about it, saying things like: “I know we both saw an evil demon playing Jenga with our child, but it’s probably just the house settling.”
Then their favourite child gets possessed. They never explicitly say it’s their favourite child but it’s heavily implied and their other children play no further part in the movie. So who are they gonna call? Some boring prick! They arrive in the house (or just turn up on Skype as in Sinister) and say things like: “I’ve never felt such a strong demonic presence in all my years as a con artist. I mean paranormal investigator.” They then spout utter bullshit for a while, which the couple accept for no good reason. Then there’s a seance, then an exorcism, then it ends. I’ve just saved you a lot of expensive trips to the cinema, you’re welcome.
4. Oh My Goth
Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, Freddy Krueger… what do they have in common? They’re scary characters! We spend time with them and they creep us out. But scary characters apparently don’t belong in horror films anymore. They’ve been replaced by CGI demons and goths in facepaint, about whom we learn nothing and ultimately have no desire to.
5. I See Red People
Maybe the reliance on these demons would be acceptable if they looked remotely scary, or at least like any effort had gone into their creation. The demon from Insidious (above – not Patrick Wilson) looks like Darth Maul had sex with a monkey. Then there’s the Slipknot reject from Sinister, or this bit in Insidious where Michael Jackson and the Hamburglar are hanging out in a cupboard.
All these films I’ve mentioned are rated 15, in order to make as much money as possible. This gives these movies a sheen of respectability and sanitisation, and there is no place for that in horror. That sense of security ruins genre films; it means that when Patrick Wilson tries to kill his son in Insidious 2, we know he won’t succeed because it’s a 15, draining the sequence of any tension or dread. In an 18 certificate, they could get away with that – in fact the summer’s only good horror film was Adam Wingard’s 18 rated You’re Next because it felt like a proper horror film in a way that these 15 certificates don’t. To James Wan’s credit, he made Saw which has a brilliantly grimy feel to it, which is totally lost in his glossy Hollywood efforts.
7. Playing Catch-up
It’s a problem in any film when the audience have to wait for the characters to catch up with them. Maybe we’ve watched the trailer, read a synopsis or are just smarter than the characters. They spend half the film working out what we already know. This is a particular problem in the Insidious films. It’s always an hour before they go “maybe it’s demons.” In the sequel, it takes half the film for them to work out something that was made plain at the end of the first film. It’s as if a reset button has been pushed in their brains, as they go through the entire first movie all over again, apparently forgetting that IT WAS DEMONS. I don’t even mind when characters go into the woods by themselves without a torch, that’s just generic convention. What I mind is characters behaving without any sense of consistency.
8. Loud Noises
Nigel Floyd recently coined the term “cattle-prod cinema” – this growing trend in horror films to simply shout “boo!” to get a response. Brick Tamland cinema, if you prefer. The only tool in James Wan and Oren Peli’s bag o’ tricks is making it all go very quiet and then making a LOUD NOISE! Of course I’m going to jump, you just yelled in my ear. Where’s the skill? Where’s the atmosphere? Mute the film and it plays out like an incredibly boring montage of Patrick Wilson walking into rooms and the occasional Darth Maul monkey. To quote the late Roger Ebert, “surprises don’t make sounds.” In real life when someone appears in a doorway, it doesn’t go BANG. Learn a new trick please, this one’s getting BOO!
9. Dumb and Dumber
Perhaps worst of all, is just that these movies are so incredibly stupid. The characters are stupid, the premises are stupid, the dialogue is stupid. There’s a character in Insidious 2 who contacts the dead by asking questions and then dropping what are essentially Scrabble tiles on the floor to spell out an answer. He says: “This isn’t an exact science.”
Really? Are you sure? You mean dropping Scrabble tiles on the floor and then reading them as messages from the dead isn’t an exact science? Is it just an inexact science then? Does this science work with Alphabetti Spaghetti? What about when you ask a yes or no question and it spells out “QUIJIBO”? Is that really not an exact science?
Or there’s the first conversation of Insidious, in which the mother tells her son to guess her age. “Probably at least 21,” he guesses, to which she laughs and replies: “I wish you were right.” But he is right, presumably you are at least 21 you dumb broad. That’s how stupid these films are, they can’t even count.
10. Chapter Poo
The ridiculous Chapter 2 subtitle (slightly less stupid than the above) of the Insidious sequel implies that there will be more to come, and both films end by setting up a sequel. Indeed, Chapter 3 has been confirmed, which is good news for no one except Patrick Wilson who will be in work for years to come. These days every horror film has to be a potential franchise, again for financial reasons – they can’t just tell a story. Well, they can’t even tell a story. James Wan will not be returning to Insidious, however, recently announcing that he’s done with the horror genre. I actually thought he’d given up on making scary films after Saw, but there you go.
James Wan’s moving on from horror is good news for the genre if you ask me. He’s certainly good at making money but he clearly only had one good idea and that was Saw. Now there’s this notion that he’s ushered in a return to classic, thoughtful horror cinema – an idea that’s as nonsensical as one of his movies. He just made the same, boring, stupid movie three times, and now hopefully we can see some other talent come through (Adam Wingard?) with new ideas. Or just some ideas.