'Source Code' And 'Insidious': Two Twisty Thrillers

In James Wan's terrifying thriller Insidious, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play the parents of a child who may have been possessed by evil spirits.

In James Wan's terrifying thriller Insidious, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play the parents of a child who may have been possessed by evil spirits. John Darko/FilmDistrict hide caption

itoggle caption John Darko/FilmDistrict

Insidious

  • Director: James Wan
  • Genre: Horror
  • Running Time: 102 minutes

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language

With: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne

As a critic, I've been accused of giving away plot turns, which I try not to do: I know how much fun it is to be surprised by where a movie goes, which is why I refuse to watch coming attractions. But sometimes even spelling out the premise of a movie is a kind of spoiler. The less you know about two new popcorn movies, Source Code and Insidious, the better: Some of the air goes out when at last you get your bearings.

Source Code is a thriller — that you know from the poster — and it's shot and edited for maximum discombobulation. The protagonist, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is as disoriented as we are. He wakes up from a nap on what appears to be a Chicago commuter train and is either a yuppie named Sean or an Afghan-based soldier named Colter. He's sitting opposite a lovely stranger played by Michelle Monaghan who appears to know him.

Director Duncan Jones made a sci-fi picture called Moon that was both twisty and poignant, and the tone is similar in Source Code. Both films seem inspired by Philip K. Dick's time-bending, mind-bending paranoid thrillers, in which the government has the means to take away your memories or give you false ones — to put your very identity in doubt. There's a touch here, too, of the great Bill Murray comedy Groundhog Day, in which a man experiences over and over a fixed segment of time, gathering new information with each loop.

Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal play two strangers who sit across from each other on what appears to be a Chicago commuter train in Source Code. i i

Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal play two strangers who sit across from each other on what appears to be a Chicago commuter train in Source Code. Jonathan Wenk/Summit Entertainment hide caption

itoggle caption Jonathan Wenk/Summit Entertainment
Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal play two strangers who sit across from each other on what appears to be a Chicago commuter train in Source Code.

Michelle Monaghan and Jake Gyllenhaal play two strangers who sit across from each other on what appears to be a Chicago commuter train in Source Code.

Jonathan Wenk/Summit Entertainment

Source Code

  • Director: Duncan Jones
  • Genre: Science Fiction
  • Running Time: 94 minutes

Rated PG-13 for some violence including disturbing images, and for language

With: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright

Eventually, Gyllenhaal's Sean-or-maybe-Colter trusts the woman sitting opposite him enough to take her into his confidence. And Gyllenhaal and Monaghan have wonderful chemistry — he with his huge unblinking baby blues and she with her irrepressible glow. You really want them to be together, even if they've only just met.

When the revelations eventually come, they're preposterous, and the denouement is both cornball and a cheat — but Source Code is so dazzlingly staged and shot and has so much emotional heft that it never loses that exhilarating jitter.

The chiller Insidious, alas, does lose a lot in the final half hour, but until then it's very unnerving. It's the work of the director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, who gave the world the torture-porn Saw franchise and have now joined forces with the producers of the low-tech haunted-house Paranormal Activity franchise.

In Insidious, they're going for that Paranormal Activity feel — a lot of bumps and thumps and entities half-glimpsed — but with glossier production values and louder music. Early on, a couple played by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne hears the cries of their little boy, Dalton, who has wandered into the attic of their new old house. They run up the stairs, finding Dalton sitting dazed on the floor — with a cut on his head and a ladder next to him.

That's one of the scariest scenes in Insidious: We don't know what happened to Dalton in that attic. And when he suddenly goes into a coma, we don't know if he's possessed or if his spirit is now far away in some nightmarish other realm.

I'm a sucker for those bumps in the night and flickering lights and simple, no-effects scenes like the one in which Byrne locks the front door, checks another room and returns to see that front door wide open. But then a trio of ghost hunters arrives and with them an explanation for what's happening, and then come the splashy special effects reminiscent of Poltergeist and a feeling of deja vu: been-there-been-bombarded-by-that.

People complain about critics giving spoilers — but what about movies that tell you too much too soon and spoil themselves?

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