Friday, April 8, 2011

How Dragon Age is like... Insidious?

If you're looking for a horror movie to see this weekend, you could do worse than Insidious. I saw it last weekend and walked away impressed, not to mention a little shaken. It's sitting at 61% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is very solid given the anti-horror bias among professional critics (by comparison, 61% for a costume drama would indicate complete suckitude).

The thing that seems to divide positive and negative reviews is the point in the movie where it starts to explain the strange happenings of the first act using some pretty convoluted parapsychology mumbo-jumbo. Admittedly, the explanations are pretty goofy, and if someone in real life started telling me this stuff, I would be backing away slowly. But c'mon, this is a horror movie. If you can't deal with outlandish revelations, you're probably just not a fan of the genre.

I am a fan of the genre, obviously, but I also have personal reasons that made it easy for me to suspend disbelief. One, I used to be into parapsychology when I was 13, and while I now know that all those books I read were junk science, it's still easy for me to slip back into "believer" mode for 90 minutes or so. And two, as a fantasy fan, I'm interested in fictional models of supernatural powers and phenomenon. In other words, the very thing that turned a lot of critics off was a positive for me.

And now I'm finally going to climb back on topic to discuss an interesting parallel between Insidious and the world of Dragon Age. But unfortunately, I have to get into some Insidious spoilers to do it. I won't reveal much more than you can find by reading reviews, but for many people, that's still too much. So if you're thinking about seeing the movie, you are excused.

The Dragon Age setting, as you probably know, features a place called The Fade. It's a dream realm - literally, as all humans and elves visit it when they sleep - and like a dream, it acts as a funhouse mirror turned toward reality. It's home to spirits, the lost souls of the dead, and most significantly for the Dragon Age games, demons.

The Fade is also where evil optometrists go for their eternal damnation.
Meanwhile, the plot of Insidious centers around a place called The Further. Besides having a similarly doomy sounding "F" name, it shares a number of other traits with The Fade. The characters who visit it during the movie do so by dreaming or going under hypnosis. It also serves as a warped version of reality. And like The Fade, it's the dominion of spirits, lost souls, and most significant to the plot, demons.

In Dragon Age, mages are people who are born with a special connection to The Fade, which is the source of their power. In Insidious, certain characters have a natural ability to use astral projection, a sort of voluntary out of body experience which allows their soul to fly around and do some serious sight-seeing. The Further isn't the source of this power, but if you don't know what you're doing you can wander in and get yourself trapped there while your body lies in a coma-like state.

In both cases, there's also a possession angle (natch). In Dragon Age, mages are inherently prone to possession due to their connection to The Fade, and can become even more vulnerable by using dangerous blood magic. In Insidious, the astral projectionist can become possessed by leaving his or her body vacant for too long, which attracts loads of otherworldly squatters with ambitions of taking up permanent residence.

"TALK ABOUT A ROOMMATE FROM HELL! BWAHAHA, I WILL CAUSE SUFFERING WITH MY CRYPTKEEPER-INSPIRED HUMOR!"
The big difference is that The Further is, not surprisingly, a more frightening place. If the mages of Dragon Age had to visit The Further instead of The Fade, they'd probably all be lining up for the Rite of Tranquility. While The Fade is dreamlike, The Further is nightmarish.

Actually, scratch that. In terms of visuals, I think The Fade resembles a memory more than a dream. It's done up in the dull brown faded colors you would expect to find in an antique store. And its area design isn't so much surreal as it is sloppy (albeit intentionally). Remember your first day of Kindergarten? Quick, how was the place decorated? Since you don't remember such details, let's just fill in with some random pieces of furniture, and make it all blurry. It's like that.

You also won't find as much weirdness in The Fade, which is the real shame. For a realm crafted by alien spirits peering into the dreams of mortals, it's surprisingly normal - or at least it has been in the first two games. If Dragon Age gets another sequel, my hope is that Bioware gets their Weird on and turns The Fade into something truly bizarre. If they're scouting for ideas, they could do worse than take a look at Insidious.

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