Film Review: Insidious

People in horror movies never actually seem to watch horror movies themselves. Otherwise, they would know to scarper at the first sign of danger, unlike the protagonists in Insidious.

Josh, Renai and their three children move into a new home. Before they have finished unpacking, strange things start to occur. When the couple find their oldest son Dalton in an unexplained comatose state, they decide to pack up ad leave. Moving into a new home, the family find that whatever was previously haunting them has followed…

Insidious is a good schlock horror that provides a decent amount of frights for those who buy into it. Some elements are unsurprisingly silly; seemingly a prerequisite of the modern horror film. Nevertheless, Insidious is an effective possession movie overall.

Much is made in the film’s publicity of the fact that the makers of Saw and Paranormal Activity are at the helm. Creator of Saw James Wan directs and Leigh Whannell writes, while Paranormal Activity creator Oren Peli is one of the film’s producers. Given the success of these two recent franchises, it is easy to see why they have been played up in the advertising for the film. Although it is most comparable to Paranormal Activity of the two, thankfully Insidious is its own movie. The film does not draw too heavily on previous haunting films, despite the inevitable comparisons to The Haunting in Connecticut and The Amityville Horror among others.

One of the best things about Insidious is that the film injects a healthy dose of humour into proceedings. The appearance of Specs and Tucker lighten the atmosphere at the right time. They relieve some of the tension and sombreness that had hitherto been building. Whilst Insidious is unlikely to rank alongside cult classic Evil Dead II with this mix of horror and comedy, this aspect does distinguish the film from being just another generic possession movie.

Certain scenes in the film evoke Ridley Scott’s Legend, with their polemical imagery and use of colour. The booming score is pivotal in enhancing the sense of apprehension. The use of a recurring vintage tune is reminiscent of the Halloween series and Jeepers Creepers in giving an innocuous song a more menacing turn. Effects are good, although there is one particular use of CGI that cheapens the look of the film.

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne are aptly cast as protagonists Josh and Renai. Ty Simpkins is believable as young Dalton, while Barbara Hershey is underused as Lorraine.

With its nods to numerous horror films, Insidious is a well-crafted movie that effectively delivers the scares. It’s not The Haunting, but should prove to be popular amongst horror aficionados.

Film Review: Black Swan

Psychological thriller Black Swan is an aural and visual feast. Despite the tension generated, the film is let down by the lack of depth, thematically speaking.

Ballet dancer Nina hopes to get the lead role in a new production of Swan Lake. She faces competition from new dancer Lilly, as well as the reservations of director Thomas. As she gets deeper into character, Nina starts to lose control…

Black Swan is at times a psychological thriller and at times a horror movie. Director Darren Aronofsky plays with audience perception; the state of Nina’s mind remains ambiguous, and we can never entirely trust what we are shown. Black Swan stops at this, however. There is no deeper exploration into Nina’s madness (real or perceived), and the overriding theme is simply the juxtaposing of opposites.

Black Swan is preoccupied with the idea of doubles. The production has the two versions of the swan; the white and black. Similarly, Nina and Lilly are rivals, but are incredibly similar in terms of looks. The primary focus of the film seems to be exhibiting striking contrast between light and dark, and what happens when these two adversaries collide.

Although this thematic preoccupation isn’t particularly groundbreaking, the film nevertheless is successful in generating a reaction from its audience. Black Swan is effective in provoking tension, and some of the graphic imagery can only be described as abject.

Aronofsky’s direction is flawless. Particularly striking is his use of hand-held camera in the dance scenes. Weaving through the dancers on stage, viewers are catapulted right into the action. The choreography is excellent, and coupled with the fluid camera the film parades a real sense of movement.

Black Swan promotes a highly stylised aesthetic. Some of the costumes are amazing, and the film exhibits a fantastic use of colour. For example, the dance rehearsal scenes are strikingly contrasted by the club scene; naturalistic colour and the emphasis on black and white are replaced by the vibrant flashing lights of the dance floor. Clint Mansell’s score combines well with the music from Swan Lake to accentuate the tension perfectly.

Natalie Portman gives a solid performance as Nina. Her disposition contrasts effectively with Mila Kunis’ Lilly. Vincent Cassel is well cast as Thomas, appearing sleazy but motivated in his work. Barbara Hershey is excellent as Nina’s controlling mother, while casting Winona Ryder as aging prima ballerina Beth was a stroke of genius.

Although the film looks and sounds fantastic, it is let down by a lack of sophistication in the narrative. Nevertheless, Black Swan is one of the most memorable films of the year.

Black Swan is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.