Tag Archives: Patrick Wilson

CAPSULE: INSIDIOUS (2010)

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DIRECTED BY: James Wan

FEATURING: , Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye

PLOT: A young boy falls ill when he moves into a new house; mom is convinced the home is haunted, but when they relocate again, the kid doesn’t get better, and the apparitions get worse.

Still from InsIidious (2010)

COMMENTS:  Having launched the smash hit Saw franchise in 2004, director James Wan was still a somewhat hot name in horror in 2010, despite the fact that his intervening work had not been particularly successful. Producing independently, he once again teamed with scriptwriting partner Leigh Whannell for the haunted house flick Insidious, whose surprising box office receipts were hefty enough to launch a new four-film franchise1 and reignite his career.

Watching the film for the first time a decade after release, it’s difficult to see what the appeal was. It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with Insidious; it’s just not clear why it should succeed where so many interchangeable horrors lie forgotten. The premise is not particularly unique, there’s no breakout villain like Saw‘s Jigsaw, no special effects to speak of, no psychological subtext, nothing to tap into 2010’s zeitgeist, no killer nightmare scene that sticks in the memory. It is, in every aspect, an absolutely middle-of-the-road Hollywood-style spook show.

To its credit, Insidious leaves Saw’s torture and gore formula behind in favor of actual horror. Doors open on their own, there’s mysterious murmuring on the baby monitor, the burglar alarm goes off with no one around, and the frazzled mom sees shadow people lurking outside the window. But each decent directorial decision (a haunting use of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips”) is counterbalanced by a poor one (no explanation for how the family affords a four-bedroom country estate and round-the-clock medical care on a high school teacher’s salary). The lighting drapes the spooky figures in just the right amount of obscuring shadow, and the other technical elements are professional. But the casting is ho-hum: Patrick Wilson is blah; Rose Byrne is fine, but doesn’t look much like a mom of three; is indisputably in the movie; Lin Shaye makes for an OK psychic exorcist, but her character inevitably invites unfavorable comparisons to Poltergeist‘s Zelda Rubinstein (an obvious inspiration.) On the other hand, her two nerdy, squabbling comic-relief assistants worked well (and could have supported their own spin-off comedy film).

As far as weirdness goes, the case for Insidious is slim at best. It’s no stranger than any other ghost movie you’ve seen, and comes complete with the usual deflating supernatural explanations for everything that happens. The trip through the looking glass into the spirit realm (here called “the Further”) is well done and eerie, with damned souls endlessly re-enacting ancient tragedies, deaf and blind to the living walking among them. The big bad boss demon (also the film’s Tiny Tim fan) could have been majorly scary, if not for the fact that his design reminded everyone who saw him of a certain character from The Phantom Menace (thankfully, not Jar-Jar, although that would have been a bold choice). Insidious ends with a twist that surprised absolutely no one (and may have ruined the film for some people who were willing to give it a pass up to that point). None of this, good or bad, rises to the level of weird, in our judgement. It’s ultimately a film to take or leave, to enjoy well enough and forget about as soon as it’s over. At least it’s not torture porn.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“By the time the absurdly deflating finale rolls around, Wan has managed to not only botch his own film, but sully the one cool element of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace as well.”–Nick Schaeger, Lessons of Darkness (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by Rick Yeoman, who asked, “Is Insidious included? Should be. At first the movie’s great, but when it reached the climax, I found it weird. I hate the twists. Not scary anymore. Ended up funny.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

CAPSULE: HARD CANDY (2005)

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DIRECTED BY: David Slade

FEATURING: ,

PLOT: A teenage girl turns the tables on a sexual predator, subjecting him to torture in retribution for his misdeeds.

Still from Hard Candy (2005)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: For regular consumers of torture-based horror, the turnabout of predator and prey in Hard Candy is an interesting surprise. But twist aside, what’s notable about the movie isn’t how strange it is, but how it uses the genre to address heavy questions about guilt, justice, and gender roles.

COMMENTS: In January of this year, confessed serial child molester Larry Nassar was forced to sit quietly while 156 women confronted him about his crimes and the pain they have endured ever since. And Larry Nassar did not like it. This man, whose systematic abuse was aided by America’s top gymnastics coaches, abetted by the country’s gymnastics federation, and protected by Michigan State University, submitted a letter to the judge protesting that having to endure the testimony of his many targets was detrimental to his mental health and asserting that he was a good person who was being unfairly victimized by hateful, hateful women. Suffice it to say, the letter was poorly received.

The reason I bring this up—aside from maybe wanting to add just one more link on Google that reminds the world that Larry Nassar is heinous slimeball—is because Hard Candy does a fantastic job of getting inside the deluded mind of the privileged sex criminal: rejecting the existence of a crime, then mitigating its seriousness, and finally claiming victimhood for himself. The film’s subject, photographer Jeff, uses all these techniques to deceive us into sympathizing with him, even as we watch him go through all the steps of sexual predation: grooming, leading passively, shifting guilt back onto his targets. And he’s good at it, so when the 14-year old girl he’s been expecting to seduce drugs him, ties him up, and proceeds to insult and threaten him, there’s still this lingering sense that he’s a decent guy who has just gotten himself into a real pickle.

The plot evokes memories of Audition, which is appropriate, as Brian Nelson’s screenplay was evidently inspired by news reports of gangs of girls in Japan who lured businessmen into traps online. But where the earlier film hides its intentions behind the tropes of romantic comedy, Hard Candy quickly adopts the conventions of horror, including bondage and body mutilation. The film’s innovation is to flip the script and turn the diminutive (Page is a full foot shorter than her co-star), incautious heroine into the diabolical, unstoppable engine of terror. The result is that she can be read as a violent lunatic, when it is vital to remember that the man she is tormenting is a very bad person.

Movies can be victims of changing times. In 2005, many reviewers called Page’s Hayley a psychopath and lamented the film’s second-half descent into cat-and-mouse thriller. But today, she comes across more as an avenging angel come to force the guilty to acknowledge their sins. It’s noteworthy that the scene that falls the flattest—Page has to sidestep Sandra Oh’s inquisitive neighbor—is the one that tries the hardest to impose the conventions of a thriller onto a battle over the nature of evil. Hard Candy turns out to have been ahead of its time.

Page is truly magnificent, by the way; this was her breakthrough performance, and she has never since had a role that equals it in power. But it’s worth noting that she has a good partner in Wilson, who hits all the right beats for a character who is innately gifted at evading, deflecting, and denying responsibility for his actions. His bland dismissals and patronizing defenses are essential in pushing her forward, validating her anger and justifying her ultimate plan.

The final woman to stand up to Larry Nassar in court was the woman whose testimony triggered his downfall. Rachael Denhollander— whose name also deserves to be remembered—demonstrated unbelievable magnanimity by promising to pray for Nassar, that he find true repentance and forgiveness. And that is probably the most moral and decent response that anyone could hope for under the circumstances. Hard Candy suggests an alternate response, and while it plays more toward wish fulfillment and is by no means appropriate in a civil society, in the face of an evil that is often unspeakable, the movie shows why it still has appeal.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Hard Candy is one sick movie. Sick and horrifying. Sick and mesmerizing. Sick and well-scripted, well-acted, well-directed and well-shot. Sick and comical; sick and suspenseful; sick and surprising; sick and sickening. Maybe if I take another shower, I’ll feel less scummy for enjoying it so much.” – Amy Biancolli, Houston Chronicle (contemporaneous)

(This movie was nominated for review by ralph. Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)