The truth is, many sincere, devout,
well-meaning Christians, who think of themselves as post-Enlightenment,
consider the devil to be a concept in scripture that needs interpreting in
its cultural context. In other words,
they don’t really believe in demons, especially the fiery red caricatures
with horns and a tail which are typical of medieval art.
But the irony is that there are horror/exorcism films, like
“Insidious,” that take the devil very seriously, indeed, and perhaps not
just as supernatural fodder for a creative script.
Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his
pretty wife Renai (Rose Byrne) have three cute little children, two boys and
a baby girl. He’s a school teacher,
and she’s home with the kids, while trying to do a little songwriting on
the side. They’ve just moved to a
cozy house in the suburbs, and Renai is busy unpacking the boxes, but she
begins to notice that things aren’t where she thought they were, or not
where she left them, or missing entirely. At
first, she thinks her boys are playing pranks on her, but then she starts
seeing, out of the corner of her eye, shadowy figures suddenly appear and
disappear. Then her older boy,
(Ty Simpkins) doesn’t wake up one morning.
He’s not dead, and he’s not in a coma, he just----doesn’t
respond. The doctors are baffled, and
so is the family, but they bring Dalton back to his room and hire home
health nurses to look in on him, hoping he will suddenly snap out of it.
Here’s where Director James Wan expertly weaves in those
nerve-tingling moments. Their younger
son says that he sees
walking around after everyone’s asleep. The
baby wakes up in the middle of the night screaming for no apparent reason.
Doors slam closed, floorboards creak, frightening apparitions appear
as reflections in windows----this film expertly produces some creepy,
Oftentimes, this is where the horror
genre breaks down. As soon as the
monster is fully revealed, he becomes less threatening, and sometimes even
unintentionally comic, because he is such an unvarnished caricature.
What “Insidious” does at this point is break out into a little
Greek mythology, a little supernatural dimension-hopping, and somehow throw
in a tribute to “Ghostbusters” while they’re at it.
When Renai starts seeing devil images, she calls a priest, a
seemingly nice guy who has no idea what to do.
(So much for the usefulness of parish clergy.)
Help finally arrives from an unlikely source:
(Barbara Hershey) has been hiding some significant information---when Josh
was a little boy, there were some translucent, Sheol-like underworld figures
trailing him, which only became visible in photographs.
Josh, as an adult, only remembers that he doesn’t like having his
picture taken. But now
shows Renai the disturbing photos, and tells her that there is a certain
team of channelers experienced in “The Further” realm.
When they arrive at the haunted Lambert house, there are a couple of
young techno-nerds who provide just a little comic relief, and then this
overly-friendly grandma medium, Elise (Lin Shaye), who immediately declares
that it isn’t the house that’s haunted, it’s their son.
We Biblicists who wonder how a demon
possession actually takes place are interested in this explanation of how
the “spirit” or “soul” of a person gets displaced, somehow, and
wanders off into another realm, which leaves the living body vacant, and
available for possession. Is this
what Jesus meant when he talked about how an exorcized demon could then
wander the desert wastelands and bring back seven other demons worse than
himself? (Luke 11:24-26)
Or how about when the demons named Legion asked Jesus to let them
inhabit the herd of pigs, which then promptly ran down the hill and drowned
in the sea? (Mark 5:1-20)
The shadowy figures in the netherworld presented here are reminiscent
both of the séance of Samuel (I Samuel 28), and a live exhibit in a wax
museum. But in the end, even the
exorcized devil still has to end up somewhere.
Ah, so much supernatural mystery, and
this film bravely seeks to enter a darkly spiritual realm where few rational
filmmakers dare to tread. Sure, there
are holes in the logic, and probably defects in the theology, as well, at
least from an orthodox Christian point of view.
However, “Insidious” is both a creepy/crawly viewing experience,
and an conceptual challenge to everyone’s assumptions about the reality of
the unseen in the midst of the seen, and the invisible hovering around the
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Co-Pastor,
United Presbyterian Church,