Monday, April 24, 2017
Insane (2010) is a wonderment. It borrows a lot from Psycho, but not like other films that have done the same thing. It uses the template of Psycho with almost comical boldness; I imagined a bunch of teenagers sitting around a table, yelling out, "And then we'll have the girl's sister come in, just like in Psycho." And another would respond, "Yeah, and the killer will have had a tortured childhood, just like in Psycho." Granted, I've sat through a number of Psycho knockoffs, and a few were amusing. But I've never flat out enjoyed one as much as Insane. Part of the reason is that the filmmakers were simply unabashedly making their own version of Psycho, sort of like children putting on their parents' shoes and walking around the house, pretending to be adults, or holding their fork the way daddy does. It's as if the people behind Insane simply wanted to know how it felt to make Psycho. Once they decided to do it, off they went! I actually started looking forward to each little scene that might resemble Alfred Hitchcock's old thriller. When a chubby detective shows up at the hotel to investigate some missing persons, just like Martin Balsam in Psycho, I practically cheered.
The mystery to me is this: How do some movies borrow riffs and execute them so smoothly, while others just feel like stupid rip offs? Most would dismiss Insane for being too derivative, but I didn't mind. It's just like when I don't mind when Led Zeppelin riffjacks Willie Dixon. There is something mysterious about creativity, for as much as Insane borrows and steals from Psycho - and also from 1980s slasher movies - I consider it a very creative and idiosyncratic piece of work. This could be because of the way it will subtly veer from its influences. The detective, for instance, is not quite as sly as Balsam's character. In fact, he's a bit of a pig, stuffing his face with sweets. He also seems too dumb to solve any crimes, whereas Balsam seemed smart and cagey.
And where Norman Bates was working in a cheap roadside motel, the villain of this film is working in a rather glitzy old hotel, something a notch below the hotel in The Shining. Unlike Psycho, there's no mystery about what's going on. We know he's a killer. Especially if we've seen Psycho. A pretty young woman arrives, he befriends her, and though she's not killed in a shower - which is just about the only thing the filmmakers didn't lift from Psycho - she's gutted with something that looks like a samurai sword.
Then, just like in Psycho, her sister comes to investigate. Unlike Psycho, the killer is ready. It's as if the filmmakers had always wished Norman Bates had killed everybody and wasn't carted away to an asylum.
Lars Bethke plays David, the hotel keeper. When in the killing mode, he wears what appears to be a rubber trench coat and a gas mask. The mask is because he usually knocks his victims out with gas from a grenade. Why he needs to do this isn't clear, because he also appears to have superhuman strength. At various times we see him leaping over things, and lifting his victims in the air with one hand. The longer the movie goes on, he seems less like Norman Bates and more like Jason Voorhees.
There's a strangely fetishistic tone to the movie, which isn't unusual in slasher films. Along with David's rubber gear, we see lots of scantily clad women running barefoot, while David usually brings his victims to an underground lair where he chains them up in positions that will appeal to bondage enthusiasts. Anders Jacobsson, who co-directed, co-produced, had a hand in the screenplay, and served as the cinematographer, is probably the closest the film has to an auteur. I will say one thing: the movie looks tremendous, shiny and slick as a Wurlitzer jukebox. The hotel is impressive, too, a sort of acrylic dreamland.
Am I really praising this movie? Yes, I liked it. Insane may have shamelessly borrowed its story, but it has a look and an energy of its own. At the same time, I'm aware of how derivative it is, and I know I may have enjoyed it for reasons most would find unfathomable.
For instance, I'm fascinated that it was made in Sweden. Does that matter? No, but I like the idea that a bunch of Swedes are imitating Americans, and the Americans they've chosen to imitate are from American horror movies.
Somehow, even as David tore the jawbone out of one of his victims, I took it all as a sort of compliment.