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Shadowvision: “INSIDIOUS”

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Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.

Having previously featured James Wan films in this column for both THE CONJURING and DEAD SILENCE, it’s surprising that this writer had yet to give INSIDIOUS a try in black and white. After all, the film incorporates stylized haunts of ’80s, Italian and Gothic horror influence, which would offer an incredibly unique look in black and white. Furthermore, the nightmarish and dreamlike atmosphere that hits in INSIDIOUS would certainly benefit from black and white on an aesthetic level, allowing both the slow-burn and jump scares to literally pop out of the shadows. In fact, even the look of most of the ghosts with exaggerated pale faces and caked-on make-up would be genuinely creepier when removed of color, posing figures closer to the likes of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu.

Perhaps the reason it has taken so long to address INSIDIOUS in Shadowvision may be the film’s relationship to color, considering the green and blue filters that help create a very specific color palate in which the story is told. Though some may not know it, color is incredibly important to the tone of INSIDIOUS, and helps keep a consistently unnatural aura to the imagery that keeps the film from becoming too grounded and serious. Color also helps the film maximize the amount of visceral terror in the film without relying on blood and gore, punctuating the supernatural moments with an extra layer of visual tension. And the more fantastical sequences of the film, including the segment in the Lipstick-faced Demon’s lair, are as extravagant in their flamboyance as they are in structural design.

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Technically speaking, this is another title whose effectiveness in black and white is going to rely on your personal set up. High Definition set-ups which naturally accommodate a specific kind of contrast will need little to no adjustment, using the natural brightness of the set and the resolution to bring an impressive monochrome presentations. Standard definition sets, however, will likely need an increase in contrast; likely nothing too substantial, but a couple notches should do the trick to provide an authentic black and white look to INSIDIOUS.

Luckily, INSIDIOUS works for the most part in black and white, providing an equally creepy experience while building upon the Gothic and classically informed elements within the narrative. Surprisingly enough, the black and white presentation offers a fair bit of continuity, as the removal of the color palate creates a seamless universe that feels deeper and darker. And the film’s minimalist approach to terror definitely benefits from the black and white cinematography, feeling incredibly evocative of films like THIRTEEN GHOSTS and THE HAUNTING.

However, there’s no sequence from INSIDIOUS that benefits from black and white better than the third act’s descent into The Further. From the production design to the characters to the perpetual fog surrounding the set piece, The Further feels much more like a realized dimension in black and white. It’s also scarier experience altogether with both the suspenseful moments with the crying girl and the more in-your-face sensory scares resonating on a much more visceral level. And when the worlds begin to blend together in the chilling climax, the darkness of INSIDIOUS carries an all-the-more unpredictable and frightening aesthetic.

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However, the parts of INSIDIOUS that do not work in black and white stick out like a sore thumb. The black and white aesthetics definitely suffer when paired with certain modern sequences, such as the scene featuring the ghostly “home invasion” on the backdrop of a wailing home security system. Ditto goes for the majority of the sequences with Lipstick-Faced Demon, who is more monstrous in black and white but ultimately less terrifying without its color. And Joe Bishara’s score, while absolutely phenomenal and horrifying, never quite supports the black and white translations, unless you want to deconstruct the sequences further in a way akin to certain surrealist experimental films.

It’s also interesting to see how the black and white seems to accommodate James Wan’s visual style, with a perpetually moving camera that feels even spookier and voyeuristic without color. In that sense, the sweeping outside shots of brightly lit houses feel even more ominous, while sequences such as the particularly engrossing “gas mask” scene feels less dizzying and more outright chaotic. And Wan’s use of slow reveals, including the first reveal of the demon next to Dalton, benefit from the increased darkness, as if to provide a significantly more dread-inducing aura.

While INSIDIOUS is certainly effective in black and white, the dynamic of the film and its use of color is too significant to be written off as anything less than superior. Both experiences have value, and the monochrome presentation becomes especially key in the last act, but the film itself is definitely stronger in James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s intended form. However, the black and white experience can definitely be more effective in the cover of complete darkness, so this Shadowvision experience is best left at the discretion of the viewer.

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Recommended for Black and White Consumption?: Maybe.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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