Further Adventures

INSIDIOUS is from James Wan, who made SAW, but we went to see it anyway. We didn’t mind SAW — haven’t seen the sequels — apart from Cary Elwes not being up to the job, and the “poor man’s process” night driving scenes being hilariously/ embarrassingly unconvincing.

This one certainly delivered lots of shocks, and a fair bit of suspense. The screening got off to a bad start with a couple noisily conversing and making out — we moved seats to get out of earshot, but could still hear the jangle of belt buckles, unfastening of velcro, weirdly loud conversation, so we got them thrown out. They were OUTRAGED.

This unsettled us, which was probably ideal for the film, which, once we could concentrate on it, was pleasingly scare-filled, if daft. The early stuff is a little too eager to get in there and freak us out, but once the slender plot was underway, the anxiety of home invasion by non-living entities from beyond was pretty intense.

Wan and regular screenwriter Leigh Whannell nearly screw things up by bringing in some bickering nerd parapsychologists, out of The Big Bang Theory by way of GHOSTBUSTERS. Of course, psychic investigators are great fun, and who can resist the chance to invent goofy ones, but in a movie that’s trying for domestic realism as an environment for supernatural scares, these guys are fatal. The team in POLTERGEIST, which INSIDIOUS is very heavily derived from, are both less sitcom-quirky and more in keeping with that movie’s big-budget elephantine bombast, so they work.

Lin Shaye, as the medium, however, is another matter — a strikingly convincing portrait of a genuinely good woman, and the only character in the film I could imagine actually meeting. So the near disaster is diverted, although what with the psychic gas mask and other peculiar techniques, and guff about the astral domain known as “The Further”, the movie starts to get much closer to being ridiculous.

There’s also a demon, for no pressing narrative reason, whose favourite tune is Tiptoe Through the Tulips as sung by Tiny Tim. And now things get spooky —

The morning before the cinema trip, I was singing Tim Brooke-Taylor’s I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue rendition of the lyrics of Girlfriend in a Coma to the tune of Tiptoe Through the Tulips. The plot of INSIDIOUS involves a comatose child. How weird is that?

If the film is emotionally a good roller-coaster/ghost train, and plotwise a mere string of creepy incidents, how does it fare thematically? Is there anything INTERESTING to take away afterwards? Well, one thing is that it does seem to be the only American film released lately WITHOUT resonance, conscious or otherwise, pertaining to the war in Iraq, or 9/11. If it resonates with anything, it’s the idea of stranger-danger — the plot focuses on sinister persons who want to get into our children. The Tiny Tim reference makes sense because TT probably fits mainstream America’s idea of what a deviated prevert looks like. The play with baby monitors and burglar alarms, frightening in itself, taps into an anxiety about intrusion and assault, a fear that is all over the news (whose chief purpose is to scare us into buying stuff) but generally neglected in fictional forms of mass media, because without the supernatural dressing up, it doesn’t seem very entertaining. The demon, who is entirely surplus to narrative requirements, ties in with the Satanic abuse meme to goose middle America a little more.

Worth seeing if you like jumps: the red devil lurking just over a character’s shoulder in a breakfast table chat is a fantastic out-of-the-blue shocker.

25 Responses to “Further Adventures”

  1. Bad pulic behavior is epidemic. Not surprised they were “outraged” as such people are pigs. SO glad you had them thrown out.

  2. Where I live, that behavior was confined to the cheesier “dollar movie” second-run houses (a couple were rowdy places with much throwing of popcorn), and the couples stayed back in the last rows or if it was an old dump, the balcony.

  3. judydean Says:

    I’ve pretty well stopped going to multiplexes for two reasons – bad behaviour and excessive volume levels. So all those recent advances in technology might as well not have happened.

    My most bizarre experience was two elderly ladies (well, more elderly than me) who, sat right at the front, talked loudly all the way through The Assassination of Jesse James a couple of years back. Surely, I thought, they’ll realise they’ve got the wrong film and will leave any minute now. But no, they kept it up for the full two hours while I, stupidly, fumed and failed to concentrate. Maybe they were Brad Pitt fans.

  4. Jenny Eardley Says:

    I’d be surprised if mainstream America has any idea what Jacques Prevert looks like, deviated or otherwise. Ha! Yes, I made a funny out of one mis-placed letter.

  5. La Faustin Says:

    Just to sweeten the mixture: at a screening of the 1938 Yiddish musical MAMELE about ten years ago, most of the very elderly audience sang softly along with Molly Picon.

  6. The prevert line is copyright Terry Southern for his Dr Strangelove screenplay.

    Mamele sounds like a sublime movie experience! If the audience had sung along to Tiny Tim it’d have been great.

    This movie had excess volume too, but as the scene involved a burglar alarm the deafening, piercing sound could be fully justified on grounds of realism — which is probably a first for modern overamplified cinema. It really worked to make the scene as stressful for the audience as for the characters.

  7. …reminds me of a few posts back; crunching grass, etc. Belt buckles, velcro… you can just take it from there, pots and pans, squeaking bedsprings and the doppler effect of a train going into a tunnel.
    Unfastening velcro reminds me of a favorite line from a drag performance ” A-h-h, the roar of the velcro!”
    Squeaking bedsprings; of Strick’s Ulysses.

    Is this off-topic?

  8. Definitely off topic. An exhibit of Jack Smith at Barbara Gladstone Gallery in NY. It includes drawings, photography, slideshows, and film. On Saturdays showing 16mm prints of the films. Went last Saturday, and they are showing the films in a light filled room.
    Although the art world likes to ape Smith, they have no real respect for what he did. This is just an example. The title for the exhibit is called “Thank You For Explaining Me”. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.

  9. Nothing is off-topic!

    The art world is just clueless about film exhibition: attended a show of Saul Bass work at the Design Museum in London (magnificent location near Tower Bridge: everyone should go) where the poster art and ad work was lovingly displayed under glass, but little monitors showed the movie title sequences in every variety of incorrect aspect ratio including pan-and-scanned.

  10. Yes, they were probably thinking, “oh, we’re just interested in the lettering, who cares about that empty space around it”.

    I guess film and video hasn’t entered into museums all that long ago, and conceptually, museums are stuck in a pinning butterflies to board mode, that doesn’t work for film and video- they flutter about.

  11. “The play with baby monitors and burglar alarms, frightening in itself, taps into an anxiety about intrusion and assault, a fear that is all over the news (whose chief purpose is to scare us into buying stuff) but generally neglected in fictional forms of mass media, because without the supernatural dressing up, it doesn’t seem very entertaining.”

    That makes me think of two 1990s films which beautifully used home surveillance equipment (video cameras, baby monitors, home video) as tools of menace and intrusion, turning family members against each other: Lost Highway and Raising Cain!

  12. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Yes, for the same reason it made me think of the Spanish film “The Baby’s Room” from a few years ago.

  13. Christopher Says:

    …lol..velcro and belt buckles…….hey!..did you bring enough sex for everybody?

  14. I understand where David & David are coming from. It’s one reason I quit going to college parties in the late ’80s. Something about semi-public sex acts done by young alcoholics (I say semi-public because literally anyone could walk into these parties) soured me, and one particular debauch was the limit – even a good friend of mine pinned a less-than-willing young woman to a wall for a kiss and dry hump. He remembered nothing of the incident the next day. Other scenes were equally funny and pathetic. I watched that party in stoned bemusement (I had the sense to get stoned since I knew it was going to be one of those parties and was pretty sure I was not going to like anyone there). I switched to going to parties by the city’s art/theater crowd, who at least had the taste to go somewhere private for their assignations. Those parties were considerably more fun, anyway. No undercurrent of hostility for one thing.

    For all I wrote, the situation is worse now. How much worse I don’t know, but people have seemed to get more aggressively offensive around here.

  15. There’s that very fine Louis Theroux show where he attends a swingers’ party and the discomfort of the normally calm and composed, if awkward, presenter is something to behold. Public sex for the non-participant just violates some unwritten code of good manners, I think.

  16. I thought this was, judged by any reasonable cineaste’s standards, a mediocre piece of cinema… that still scared the hell out of me and made me sleep with a light on. Scrolling down through your post and hitting that last still made me jump again and completely renewed the effect. Damn you, Cairns, you sadistic bastard! Amazing how this stuff can slip past our critical faculties.

    The baby monitor bit was probably the smartest and most M.R. James-creepy scene, though not the most viscerally frightening. Tiptoe Through the Tulips was inspired… the goofy ghosthunters, decidedly not. The scenes in The Further were kinda dopey in the standard modern horror way (too noisy and literal-minded), though still with their clapping-hands-over-eyes moments.

    I actually loved the psychic gas mask for the seance – it added an extra touch of weirdly unnerving “je ne sais quoi” to the genre trope.

    Ditto a lot of the comments on the multiplex experience – I was close to walking out for the first third of the movie, due mainly to the quite-audible rumbling of some action flick’s score in the next theater, but also due to the constant whispered and muttered conversations of the dullards around me. Another reason I stick mainly to the arthouses – although things are pretty bad there as well, they’re not nearly so.

  17. We should remember that not all ghosts are evil though. Just most of them. This programme gives some valuable tips for dealing with them:

  18. Heh.

    I think the film is shrewdly made on a technical level, which accounts for its scares, but rather naive on the human level, which leaves it feeling lightweight. It’s possible that Wan and company will get deeper with time — this is already an advance on their previous work.

    The Further, with its dry ice and candles, should’ve been intolerable tacky, but it didn’t bug me too much at all: the sound design made up for a lot.

  19. Has anyone seen Wan’s previous non-Saw horror film – the puppet film Dead Silence? I gave it a wide berth since it is already a subgenre crowded with masterpieces – Dead of Night, Magic, Devil Doll, even that one section of Asylum – and I didn’t think they would be able to compete, but perhaps I might have to track it down, as it seems as if the filmmakers are systematically working their way through various well known horror/thriller tropes.

    I suppose at least they are creating their own highly derivative films rather than simply remaking a previous classic (the gobsmacking trailer for the recent Straw Dogs remake makes it look like a companion to the Last House On The Left remake!). Although that might be damning with very faint praise.

  20. Haven’t seen Dead Silence, but I like a good puppet so I may have to.

    What’s needed if they’re going to go further is a genuine engagement with ideas or themes — now I put on my lecturer hat as I’ve been marking all week. Saw has a sort of “moral”, but it’s so preposterous they can’t possibly believe it. If Wan and Whannell made a film about something they were actually interested in, all that technical skill would find a purpose and the derivative genre tropes would scarcely be an issue.

  21. I agree with MPW – nothing special, derivative and schlocky but- y’know – it’s damned effective. There seemed to be a number of moments where the camera panned across what should be a fairly ordinary expanse of room but subliminally revealed SOMETHING in the shadows that shouldn’t be there. Visually, it seemed to me to be the cinematic inheritor of this particular and wonderfully disturbing urban myth: http://www.snopes.com/movies/films/3menbaby.asp

  22. It’s a great myth. There’s so much STUFF in every film, it’s surprising there aren’t more yarns like this. And strange that the dangling legs in Sullivan’s Travels haven’t inspired a good myth of their own.

  23. Please excuse the delving back into the archives but I like to revisit your opinions on a film after I’ve seen it for myself.

    As usual you’re on the money of course. I do like a subtle scare but pine for something as effective as the great M.R James and Woman in Black adaptations where the fear is more of a slow-burn. The scariest moment for me was the half-seen child in the kitchen facing the corner as Rose Byrne walks through oblivious.

    There seems to be a cohesive movement coalescing in Hollywood (and elsewhere) of domestic horror and ghost stories. I’m thoroughly enjoying American Horror Story on TV currently which plays with the conventions but mostly avoids the cliches of the genre while maintaining a cinematic feel. It’s the feel bad hit of the year.

  24. Britain seems to be getting in on the act too, but our ghost stories are still mainly period: The Awakening and the remake of Woman in Black. Fiona has written a contemporary which, Satan willing, should shoot next year.

  25. […] also repeats the most shocking shock from INSIDIOUS, by having the ghost/demon suddenly seen over somebody’s shoulder during a daylit […]

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