Insidious (2010): A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further. Latest from Saw creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan. An awesomely creepy first half that mostly falls apart at the end, though it still manages to deliver a few more scares.
What I learned: Trying to define or explain the horror in a horror movie’s almost always a mistake. I’m not saying you, as the screenwriter, ought to be in the dark about what’s going on in your own screenplay – just that we, as the audience, will be more frightened if you don’t tell us what’s going on. The unknown’s always more frightening. Look at the two Paranormal Activity movies. In the first, the couple has no idea why this evil spirit’s after them, and neither do we. They uncover a few clues and consult a psychic, except he’s more frightened than they are. Terrifying. In Paranormal Activity 2, we get a convoluted backstory about a grandmother’s deal with a demon in exchange for the souls of her descendants or something, plus a lot of pseudo-mystical mumbo-jumbo about transferring curses and so forth. Still a fun movie, but way less scary. It’s the same in Insidious – in the first half of the movie, when we’re just as baffled as the family about these bizarre events & strange apparitions, we’re totally freaked out. Once a psychic shows up for a long talking heads scene explaining everything, way less scary.