Wednesday, September 15, 2010

TIFF 2010 reviews: Insidious

As the Midnight Madness program this year seems, to my mind, to be a huge improvement over the ’09 fest, I upped the number of flicks from that section in my selections this year...and then suffered through Vanishing on 7th Street. Still, it had been nagging at me that despite the dozen or more MM movies I’ve seen at TIFF over the past few years, I’d still come up short on the full-on Ryerson-at-the-witching-hour experience, and with one more day off in my holiday, I decided to check out one of the premieres. And perhaps Insidious wouldn’t have been my first choice out of the ten, but that’s what was on at 11:59PM Tuesday night. I figured if nothing else it would be an experience. And it was, in a ganja-smelling, beachball-flying, 300-lb biker chicks in spandex kind of way. It was also one of the best horror film experiences I’ve had in a theatre in ages, from an unlikely source.

Toronto is where, as the story goes, a flick called Saw made its first big audience impression. It wasn’t the first torture porn movie, you can trace the theme back to the late fifties with Hershell Gordon Lewis and I remember seeing more than a few video sleeves at Suspect back in the day of European PAL dubs with cover art depicting some hapless soul strapped to a chair while a masked figure prepared to go to work on them with something burning or stabby. But Saw, sadly, kicked off the trend in horror that’s fortunately running on fumes these days, inspiring a franchise that few of even the hardcore followers give a crap about any more. Of all the TP movies that have been pinched out since 2004, I’ll stand by only the Hostels as genuinely solid movies. Still not actually scary in any way other than inspiring unease over violations of the flesh, but at least well-made and acted. So last night was a homecoming of sorts, as Leigh Whannell and James Wan arrived to the reception usually accorded, I dunno, writers and directors who don’t sound like overgrown and hypercaffeinated Australian frat boys, or rock stars, by an audience that probably 50% of whom had been in the very same room at that Saw premiere six years ago. This program does inspire loyalty; and it’s definitely a different crowd from any other screening at TIFF, despite the occasional “oh, people have been getting serious all day, then they unwind with something wild at midnight” claims that I’ve seen flogged.

I can lay a fair bit of blame on the Wan/Whannell team for what they started (and, seriously, I don’t think I’d ever want to hold a conversation with either of them) but I will say that Insidious is an utterly merciless scare ride. Which no doubt has plenty to do with a receptive audience: I’m sure if I saw this on some sunny afternoon at the Silvercity Eglinton in a half-empty theatre it wouldn’t have been a tenth as effective as it was in a packed, eager and (let’s face it) mildly toasted Ryerson auditorium. I haven’t heard screams like that in there since It Might Get Loud, and yes, they were earned. Insidious is one creepy-assed haunted house movie...sort of. It neatly veers off from the standard haunted house tropes so to say anymore would risk too many spoilers, but it’s definitely a white-knuckle ride. (***1/2)

Finally got to bed around 3:30, and I’ll fully admit that I was worried about being creeped out alone in my apartment, but general ingrained scepticism serves me well. I got maybe four hours of sleep: I had a last-minute early-morning dentist appointment and had to get up at an unfortunately reasonable hour. One more tonight on my last day off, then nothing until the weekend (hopefully I’ll be able to make one more ticket trade).

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