A lot of the commentary on “Insidious” discusses the film as a grab-bag of recent horror tropes – and the good ones, like FT’s own by Mark Bell, don’t condemn the film for it. The film throws out shocks that many filmmakers would be wary of, such as an edit revealing a haunt’s appearance for a fast, shameless jolt. Of course, horror makers often fear pushing things too far, a rule even horror master Stuart Gordon has many times said he followed during “Re-Animator’s” iconic “giving head” scene. “Insidious’s” shock images, on their own, are downright goofy, but the speed of their appearance makes them into horror that’s fun and, somehow, innocent.
For me, the haunted house-styled ending is the film’s cleverest move. This climax scene takes place in a realm called The Further, The Beyond, or The Unknown – it hardly matters. When the father looking for his lost-therein son finds souls in still-life, as if in a wax museum, the film comments on horror’s artificiality without demeaning it. We fans who love thinking about the genre as much as experiencing it must revel in a sentiment from kindred spirits. And even better, we still feel death about to creep upon us.
At this point, “Insidious” still works on the surface of horror by tossing clichés in a well orchestrated attack. But the film grows most powerful when leaving the topical and reaching to the mythical roots of the genre: when the film arrives to the inner-most cave. There the otherworld-journeying father finds his son a captive of a Dark Lord who works merrily at the images we’ve been delighted with. But the film reaches down inside our fears when the boy warns dad about the monster just above them, and then says, “He’s looking!”
Of course, the moment reaches back to the universal fear of not getting caught– in youth, running past the darkness to make it safe to bed, lest the unknown threat consume you. In a universally mythical horror, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” del Toro masterfully weaves the trope into the chilling Pale Man sequence, in which the horrifying rears its head in the form of the haunt bringing his palm-borne eyes to his face. In basic film language, the moment is a ticking clock, the plot constructing a chase to drive the tension. Though the deep rooted fear brings more to the proceeds. Such a moment is in kind with “Labyrinth,” but what a fine surprise it was to find the same trope in the giddy “Insidious,” used to the same effect. It’s a case of tribute working to the top of its game. It’s horror film trickery that immerses us, once again.