Thursday, December 8, 2011

Movie Review: Insidious

I'm traveling a bit this week, so being kid-free means I can catch a few long overdue horror movies through netflix streaming.  First one up - Insidious.

The first act does a fine job building tension and dread without any gore.  The basic premise is that a kid falls off a ladder and enters a long term coma, and is returned home for hospice care.  Meanwhile, the family is terrorized by progressively more disturbing haunting sequences until they feel forced to change houses.  When the haunting recurs in the new house, they start reaching out to psychics and paranormal investigators - and learn the epicenter of the haunting is the child himself, as a demon seeks to take over his vacant body.  It slides into the surreal when we learn the spirit of the boy is trapped deep in the astral plane, and this is the reason for the unexplainable coma.  And then one of the characters goes on an astral journey to bring him back.

The theme of a disembodied child stuck in a spiritual realm is reminiscent of Poltergeist, but in this one, we get to see the other side, what the psychic calls "The Further"... and see what inhabits it.

Gaming Inspiration
There are moments late in the movie that don't live up to the film's early promise, but the final act is where Insidious is really great for gaming inspiration.  I can't think of much media that involves other planar experiences (unless you count old Doctor Strange comics).  The scenes in the astral plane are inky and dark, claustrophobic, in haunted landscapes with ghostly phantoms reliving moments of horror through stop motion tableaus.  There's a sequence in the lair of a demon that's creepy and evocative in a fun-house sort of way - I loved it.

In D&D terms, "The Further"  is closest to the ethereal plane (rather than the D&D astral plane).  It's a place where ghosts and apparitions roam, and demons from more distant places come closer to the lands of the living seeking victims.  If I ever incorporate ethereal travel into a game, I'll revisit Insidious for inspiration on presenting the ethereal realm as a nightscape of bodiless haunts.  Definitely worth a viewing.


  1. Because I started thinking about it when you mentioned it, some media that involve other-planar activity:

    "Little Girl Lost" (Twilight Zone episode)
    The Invisibles (comic book)
    The Haunted Mesa (Louis L'Amour novel)
    Prince of Darkness (though very briefly)
    Robert Holdstock's "Mythago Wood" books, especially Lavondyss
    2001: A Space Odyssey
    C.J. Cherryh's two "Arafel" books (The Dreamstone and The Tree of Swords and Jewels, published together as Arafel's Saga or The Dreaming Tree)
    Dark Seed (old computer game)

    That's all I can think of offhand. I'll probably think of more just as soon as I post this.

  2. See, it's hard to think of good "planar experiences" in other material, especially movies. Time travel, alternate realities, and worm-holes are well covered.

    There are some depictions of Hell and the afterlife - Spawn had one, and so did Constantine. What Dreams May Come would probably count too. I'm having a hard time thinking about my favorite depiction of "heaven", though.

    My son and I are watching the old 1950's Twilight Zones on netflix, I'll keep my eyes open for Little Girl Lost.

  3. Don't forget the scenes of the aftermath of the battle in Heaven in The Prophecy!

    There was an episode of Battlestar Galactica (the original) in which Starbuck (I think) was brought onboard an "alien ship" that was pretty much a stand-in for Heaven. I mean, his clothes changed color and whatnot, not something you'd expect to happen just stepping onto a spaceship.

    Would Time Bandits count? The Evil One's castle past the Time Of Legends would seem to fill the bill.

    The anime series Bleach is all about the planar travel.

    Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber is also all about the planar travel, to a fault, but you might dismiss it as "alternate realities".

    I'd argue that the worm-hole in 2001: A Space Odyssey leads to another plane when it gets to the "switching station" (in the film, this is perhaps the scene shown in negative flying over Lake Powell; in the book the "switching station" is notable for having a negative sky, white with black stars).