Unfriendly ghosts

A solid ghost story on a smaller-than-normal budget

Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated PG-13.
Rated 3.0

As directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell (the duo with the dubious distinction of creating the Saw franchise and setting off the torture-porn movement) and produced by the wunderkind of the micro-budgeted Paranormal Activity, this marriage of twisted minds is by no means a fresh new take on the creaky old haunted-house genre. But coming in on a less-than-million-dollar budget, the movie is a refreshingly entertaining example of how lo-tech can actually cultivate creativity—and look just as good as its better-funded brethren.

The story is pretty basic: A family moves into an old dark house and almost immediately begins witnessing things that go bump in the night. Mamma (Rose Byrne) wants to get out … as in, now. But she’s no ghostbuster. Unfortunately, somewhere between unpacking and repacking, Sonny (some kid actor) takes a tumble and falls into a three-month coma that opens his vacant shell to some paranormal activity. Which means it’s time for Team Poltergeist (Lin Shaye and a pair of bickering sidekicks) to roll in and start pointing out the scary.

Granted, The Scary is subjective. Here, there are a few good chills and a couple of jumps, but I just couldn’t roll with what Team Insidious thinks is scary … but that’s pretty much me. Even though I’m a voracious horror fan, I’ve never seen a ghost story that sold me. Not my bag; sort of like how some folks just can’t take a zombie flick seriously.

So my lizard brain wasn’t all that impressed by what is essentially Poltergeist strained through Paranormal Activity. There’s an abrupt tonal change the minute Team Poltergeist rolls in that left me unsure how much was supposed to be taken seriously. What the filmmakers think is creepy (laughing marionettes, Darth Maul, fixed Enzyte grins and all) was just eye-roll bait to me. I know they were playing around with the tropes and whatnot, but the tropes are so creaky that you can’t help but laugh when they’re trotted out.

But then, that’s me being a picky-assed film critic. The filmmakers obviously were having fun, and it’s insidiously contagious. If nothing else, Insidious is much more entertaining than the mega-million-dollar Shinola that typically gets flushed through the multiplex. Solid date-movie material.