Insidious & Source Code

Two reviews for you this week.  First is a supernatural thriller I didn’t have much hope for when I first heard about it, followed by an action flick tinged with sci-fi.  One had a budget of less than $2-million, while the other was made for just over $30-million.  One has little-known actors while the other has A-list stars.  Oddly enough, they’re both equally good.

A young family moves into a new home.  Josh (Patrick Wilson) is a teacher and his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) is a musician and songwriter.  She stays home and takes care of their three young children.  Soon after moving into the house, odd things begin to happen.  There are unexplained noises and voices, items are moved and their home security system goes off for no apparent reason.  Things get serious when their oldest child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) falls into a coma-like state that doctors cannot explain or reverse.  The odd instances increase and become more and more frightening with people appearing out of thin air, menacing Renai then quickly disappearing.  The combination of Dalton’s condition and the bizarre occurrences puts a strain on Josh and Renai’s relationship with Josh spending more and more time hiding out at his school so he doesn’t have to deal with it.  Josh’s mom Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) tells the couple about a dream she had where she was walking through their house late at night and entered Dalton’s room.  She sees a strange figure in the corner staring at Dalton.  When she asks it wants, it just points at the boy.  Convinced there’s something otherworldly going on, Lorraine calls in her old friend Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye).  Elise is a spiritualist who tells Josh, Renai and Lorraine that the house isn’t haunted, Dalton is.

I wasn’t sure about “Insidious” when I entered the theatre.  From the TV commercials, the movie looked about as scary as a bowl of oatmeal.  I was wrong.  This bowl of oatmeal is full of broken glass, barbed wire and an arm that reaches out and grabs you by the throat.  I mean all of that in a good way.

“Insidious” looks in many ways like supernatural films from the 1970’s.  Many of the better examples of those films never showed what was causing the bumps in the night, probably due to budget and technological constraints.  Still, many of those films are filled with dread and suspense to the point where you don’t need to see the monster but you believe it’s there.  While we do get a look at the various ghosts and goblins responsible for menacing this family, it is done in a way that maximizes the tension, building slowly from a normal day in suburbia to an abnormal night in Hell.

The film isn’t all creepiness as we are treated to a bit of comedy from out of left field.  The support team for the spiritualist is a “Mutt & Jeff” pair who looks like their last job was with the Geek Squad and they kept the uniform.  As these two investigate the house, we are treated to petty bickering, inflated egos and jealous turf guarding.  It’s a nice break from what’s come before and makes what occurs after that much more intense.

“Insidious” is rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language.  There are a few fights and some instances when people get thrown around by forces seen and unseen.  The main creature of the film is shown in a way that heightens his scary potential.  There is only a tiny amount of blood shown and no gore.  Foul language is very widely scattered.

Created by those responsible for both the “Saw” series and the two “Paranormal Activity” films, “Insidious” shares some stylistic touches with both (there may even be a drawing of Jigsaw on a blackboard in one scene) but easily stands alone as a unique creation.  See it with a big group of friends and enjoy everyone’s reaction as they jump in fright.

“Insidious” gets five guitars.

Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal), a military helicopter pilot on duty in Afghanistan, wakes up on a train sitting across from an attractive young woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan).  He doesn’t know how he got on the train or who Christina is and why she keeps calling him Sean.  Needing to splash some water on his face, he goes in the bathroom on the train.  Looking in the mirror, he sees someone else looking back.  He’s confused and bewildered by all this and then a bomb explodes, destroying the train and killing everyone on board.  Colter wakes up with a start inside a dark capsule of some kind, strapped into chair surrounded by control panels and display screens.  A face on one of those screens is talking to him, trying to get him to focus.  He is told her name is Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) and a bomb blew up a passenger train earlier in that day and is the first of a wave of attacks aimed at Chicago.  Colter doesn’t understand what’s been happening and is asking many questions when another face appears on the screen, that of Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright).  Rutledge explains that Colter is in something called the Source Code which allows a person’s consciousness to be inserted into the last eight minutes of another person’s life.  Colter has been inserted into Sean’s final eight minutes on a mission to find out who planted the bomb so the next attack can be stopped.  Goodwin tells him he must pay very close attention to everyone on the train and determine who the bomber is.  Everything else is a waste of his eight minutes.  Colter is sent back to the train at the same point as before but things are slightly different.  As he makes several trips back, he tries different methods of tracking down the bomber.  He’s also beginning to develop feelings for Christina.

“Source Code” will give you a headache if you try to wrap your head around the pseudo-scientific explanation of how it works.  Just buy in and enjoy the ride because this is a very entertaining film that masquerades as science-fiction, but is really just an action/suspense/thriller with a little nerd thrown in for flavor.

Jake Gyllenhaal is terrific as the military man having multiple out of body experiences, giving Colter a depth and seriousness that is required for the film to work.  He also will break your heart as his full story slowly comes out.  Michelle Monaghan makes Christina the kind of woman any man would get repeatedly blown up for.  She has a playful sexiness that draws you in but she’s also very centered and caring.  They make a very believable pair in an unbelievable situation.  Vera Farmiga’s Goodwin is very businesslike at first, but soon begins to feel for Colter in his bizarre situation.  Jeffrey Wright’s Dr. Rutledge is a stereotypical bureaucratic villain with the added twist that he’s also a nerd.  There are several other minor characters who round out the cast.  Some are seen for just a few moments but are pivotal to the story.  All these parts are played well.

“Source Code” is rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language.  There are several fist fights and a couple of shootings in the film.  During one section where Colter’s trips back to the train are compressed into something like a montage, we get a couple of rather graphic shots of Christina being ripped apart by the explosion in slow motion.  Foul language is fairly limited.

The combination of time travel and supernatural aspects make “Source Code” unique among sci-fi/fantasy films.  Rarely are two varied concepts tied together so skillfully; but that really shouldn’t be a surprise as the director of the film, Duncan Jones, is also the man behind a brilliant little concept mash-up movie called “Moon.”  Add in that he’s the son of art rock legend David Bowie, and you begin to understand how he’s able to skillfully fold together wildly varying topics into a consistent and entertaining film.

“Source Code” gets another five guitars.

Five very different films vie for your attention and money this week.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.

Arthur—Russell Brand is an irresponsible charmer who must choose between an arranged marriage or an uncertain future with his true love.

Born to be Wild—A documentary following orphaned orangutans and elephants and the extraordinary people who rescue and raise them.

Hanna—Saoirse Ronan is a teenager raised in isolation by her father to be the perfect assassin who is sent into the world on a deadly mission.

Soul Surfer—The inspiring story of teen surfer and shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton, who lost her arm and returned to competitive surfing.

Your Highness—Danny McBride, James Franco and Natalie Portman embark on a slacker fantasy quest to save the kingdom from evil.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Questions?  Send them to  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.