Insidious (2010): Tiptoe Through the Terror

Insidious (film)

Directed by James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence) and starring Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy and recently Prometheus) and Rose Byrne (28 Weeks Later, Get Him to the Greek) with a cameo by Barbara Hershey (playing another mother, are they trying to tell her something?) and Lin Shaye (as the eccentric “ghost buster”) Insidious starts out by screaming in the audiences face only to whimper out at the end.

I do have to digress for a moment to talk about Lin Shaye. I first became aware of this actor when she played the mother in the horror film Dead End (this film also had the iconic Ray Wise, wow). I have since watched out for her in other films as I just adore what this woman does. 

The film starts with the Lambart family moving into their new home. Through the mad scramble that is moving, things get lost and the house looks a shambles. As they start to settle, things are getting very strange and scary in their new home. Literally minutes after the family bed down for the night, the strange and scary things up the tempo.

Soon after, their son, Dalton goes exploring in the attic and falls off a ladder. In the morning he does not wake up. The parents take Dalton to the hospital, where they can find no reason for him to be in a coma.  After a couple more scary nights,  not made any better by brother Foster’s claim that the comatose Dalton is walking the halls and  it is frightening him,  Ranai (Rose Byrne) convinces hubby Josh (Patrick Wilson) that they need to move.

They move into a bungalow style house. While they are moving into their new home Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) tells Ranai that Josh used to walk in his sleep. Ranai is taking out some of the rubbish when she spies someone in their house. Through the open windows we can hear Tiny Tim singing Tiptoe Through the Tulips coming from the record player. Ranai rushes back into the house to get the crap scared out of her.

Lorraine contacts a medium friend Elise Reiner (Lin Shaye) to come and cleanse the house.

The first three quarters of the film scares the crap out of you. I watched this in the cinema with my daughter and our butts left the seat of our chairs multiple times. It had the same effect when we watched the DVD at home. The whole first part of the film is brilliantly written and expertly woven to provide the maximum amount of scares per frame of film.

Then in the last quarter of the film it did something strange, in a kind of weird metamorphosis it turned into Poltergeist. I’m not kidding here, the last quarter of the film was straight from the Poltergeist film plot. All that was missing was the short tubby little medium who called everybody “Pumpkin.”

I remember sitting in the theatre in a daze. “What just happened?” I asked my daughter, who at that point had not seen Poltergeist. “I don’t know,” she shrugged, “It’s like it became two separate films.” She has said that the first of the film, you could see was done by the same folks who did Paranormal Activity, and the second half of the film was the Saw input.

I just feel like they spent all their time setting up the scares in the first of the film, only to run out of gas for the ending. Insidious is a damn scary film, in the first three quarters anyway, but the rest of the film is a tremendous disappointment.

I will close by saying that this film almost gave me a heart attack in the first five minutes of the film. I can also say that the acting talents exhibited by the cast was top notch and made you really care about what was happening to them. It is just a shame that the script kept this from becoming an iconic masterpiece in the horror genre.

Black Swan (2010): Repulsion in a Tutu

Directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie PortmanMila Kunis and Vincent Cassel with knock out performances in smaller supporting roles by Barbara Hershey (as Mum) and Winona Ryder (as Last Years Girl) Black Swan  grabbed you by your metaphorical lapels and shook the hell out of you.

When I watched this film, I instantly thought two things. Firstly, that Black Swan made me think of Roman Polanski‘s    Repulsionand secondly that this was a “coming of age” film. Although at twenty-eight Portman’s character was a little too old to be reaching ‘self awareness’, but after watching her relationship with her mother, you can see why it has taken so long.

The plot in a nutshell is this: Girl is in a ballet company. The company decides their next performance will be of the Black Swan. Girl auditions for the lead in Black Swan. The director pushes the girl to explore her ‘dark’ side as the lead for Black Swan must be Apollonian and Dionysian in turns. In other words the lead must be both the white swan and the black swan. Girl experiences a lot of mental problems in her pursuit of self awareness. Girl gets the lead role. Girl performs.

The plot sound pretty innocuous but it packs a mean punch. Like Polanski’s Repulsion, Black Swan shows us the mental deterioration that is occurring in Portman’s character ( Nina Sayers) in her quest for the darkness in her soul.

Nina is obsessed with giving the perfect performance, period. She spends all her energy on getting everything technically perfect and as the White Swan she is just that, perfect. But the director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) tries to explain to Nina that perfection is not enough, that she needs passion and abandonment for the dual role. He shows her Lily (Mila Kunis) a new member of the ballet company. Lily’s performance shows fire and passion and reckless abandonment. This, he tells Nina, is what she must achieve.

Where this film excels is in showing us why Nina is so repressed.  Her mother, played brilliantly by Barbara Hershey, is scarily obsessed with her daughter and her career. Mother has controlled Nina’s life with the goal of Nina succeeding where mum failed. Mother is constantly reminding Nina that it was her birth that destroyed her career. Little wonder then, that at twenty-eight, Nina is obviously still a virgin.

Nina begins hanging around with the Dionysian Lily in the hope that she can find her own passion. After a night out on the town, the two girls wind up having lesbian sex in Nina’s bedroom. Or do they? As the film progresses, we begin to question what is real and what is imagined by Nina. Some scene we know are real.

The scene where Nina, after being told by her director to go home and “touch” herself, wakes up in the morning and begins to masturbate. As she comes closer to a climax, she twists her head and see’s her mother sitting in a chair by her bed, asleep. Nina’s reaction is one of horrifying embarrassment. Her passion is gone as if she’d been dowsed in ice water and the fact that her mother could have caught her masturbating is mortifying.  This scene we know is all too real and we cringe at the notion of Nina’s almost being caught by mum.

Other scenes cannot be real, Nina’s fixation with last years Black Swan,  Beth Macintyre  (played brilliantly by Winona Ryder) with the resultant effect of Nina seeing Beth in her house and during her lesbian sex session with Lily. These sightings can only be in Nina’s mind.

As a psychological horror film, Black Swan hits the nail so firmly on the head, that I was “creeped out” for three days after I watched it. I also took showers for the next three days, I was a bit leery of the bathtub after seeing the movie.

This is a “must-see” film. Set in the world of Ballet, it is about losing yourself and your mind. About what is real and what is not. It’s also about disturbing you and getting under your skin.

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