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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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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Uncle-Buck

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…