DID YOU READ

“Insidious,” Reviewed

“Insidious,” Reviewed (photo)

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A version of this review originally ran as part of our coverage of South By Southwest 2011.

Jump scares are like horror movie fast food: cheap, easy, and incredibly artificial. They satisfy you, but they also leave you feeling kind of guilty for indulging too. But not all jump scares — or fast food — are created equal. I would argue that the ones in “Insidious” are the In-N-Out Burger of jump scares: still fast food but fresher, juicier, and more skillfully prepared than a meal at a lesser chain (or, say, your run of the mill “Friday the 13th” sequel). It’s not exactly good for you, but hey — once in a while we all deserve a delicious treat.

“Insidious” begins like a haunted house story in the classic mold. A wholesome American family moves in to a beautiful new home: father Josh (Patrick Wilson), mother Renai (Rose Byrne), and three adorable kids. When their oldest, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) investigates his new attic you know he’s in for some trouble because the place is spooky and dark and you have to climb a precarious half-broken ladder just to turn on the light switch. Sure enough, little Dalton falls and smacks his noggin; when he comes to he sees… something. The next morning Josh can’t wake Dalton up. There’s nothing physically wrong with him, he’s just in this mysterious, unexplainable coma. And that’s when Josh and Renai start seeing things themselves. Doors open on their own. Threatening voices crackle through the family baby monitor. Footsteps pound through the house where no one’s around. Before you can say “Dude, just go to a motel already,” we’ve got a full-on haunting on our hands. To make matters worse, Josh and Renai’s marriage wasn’t all that smooth to begin with. You try opening up the lines of communication with your distant spouse while being hounded by the lost souls of eternal damnation. Not easy.

This makes an ideal set-up for director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, the creators of the “Saw” franchise and guys who know a thing or two about putting characters (not to mention audiences) through the ringer. Here they prove themselves to be masters of building tension out of literatlly nothing — scenes of total silence and stillness are absolutely horrifying because we as viewers interpret them as the precursors to doom. Stepping outside myself for a moment during one of the several intensely scary sequences, I found myself wondering: does a horror director have to be a bit of a sadist to be good at his job? You have to kind of enjoy effing with people. And by extension, does that make a horror movie fan a masochist?

A question for another time. “Saw” has a bad reputation as the film that inspired the so-called “torture porn” movement, but the first film was a lot less gruesome and a lot more morally interesting than the bloodthirsty sequels that followed (and which Wan and Whannell had less to do with). These guys are smart, talented filmmakers and their work has a precision to it; the dominant visual motif of “Insidious” is the image of a grandfather clock which ominously ticks away the seconds until the next ghost attack but also represents the film’s tightly wound plot mechanics. Wan and Whannell use jump scares, but not “cheap” jump scares, and by that I mean the moments in bad horror films that aren’t intrinsically scary at all but are made scary through the use of loud music or jittery editing. For example: a young woman is waiting for her best friend to pick her up from school. It’s dark and she’s alone. Suddenly — SHRIEK! on the soundtrack — someone’s behind her! Oh but it’s just her friend, there to pick her up. For some reason, she decided to sneak up behind our heroine and surprise her. What a bud.

There’s no cheating like that in “Insidious.” Josh and Renai have good reason to be scared of the things they find in that house. I sure was. Wan even finds a thematic reason for the loud, jarring music on the soundtrack, atonal piano banging that mirrors Renai’s frustration that she can’t seem to rekindle her career as a pianist thanks to her distracted husband and those pesky ghosts in her attic.

This is a solid horror movie. It is creepy as hell. I figured out the big twists and the ending before the characters did, but I know what I’m getting ahead of time at In-N-Out too. Doesn’t mean I don’t love the burger.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.