Movie Review: INSIDIOUS: Chapter 3

Leave a comment

insidious chapter 3Blumhouse Production

“Loving someone is just delayed pain, isn’t it?”

Third entry in the Insidious horror franchise, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s a prequel. Which means, if you were hoping for a resolution to Elsie’s sudden look of pants-wetting terror before cutting to the end credits, you’re gonna have to wait longer.

Instead, we’re given a story that takes place some time before the events of the first Insidious movie, focusing on Elsie Rainier, who happens to be retired from the whole spiritism thing, and the teenage girl who drags her kicking and screaming back into the ghostbusting business by–you guessed it–getting possessed by a rather nasty demon whose shtick is to lure victims into the Further to feed off their life force. There’s a political joke in there, somewhere.

Here, we find Elise having been retired from speaking with the dead for approximately a year now, since the tragic death of her husband. She’s a bit reluctant to jump right back due to what she perceives as a dark evil presence in the spirit realm that was to kill her. Which is why, when a teenage girl named Quinn stops by wanting to enlist her help in contacting her deceased mother, Elise flat out refuses, and warns Quinn not to try to contract her mother as well. Obviously the kid doesn’t listen–otherwise this would be a rather short movie–and soon she finds herself being stalked by a creepy, shadowy figure in a hospital gown who haunts her when she is recovering from a car accident, and eventually gets possessed by said entity. Elise tries to help free the girl, but freaks out again. But then she enlists the help of a couple of web vlogger demonologists names Specs and Tucker (you may have heard of them) to go back in and inspire Quinn to kick the demon’s butt. Wackiness ensues.

As sequels go, I’m not sure if anyone was clamoring for the origin story of how Elise Rainier got into the exorcism business, but we certainly got one. By now, if you’ve been following the Insidious movies, you know what to expect: some effective use of atmospheric lighting and photography, creepy effects that keeps things in the shadows, and a story that builds the tension steadily to the payoff. Not to mention jump scares, but that’s par for the course. As a matter of fact, at first I was going to deem this entry into the Insidious series as Jump Scares: The Movie. But, after chewing it over a bit, the movie proved itself better than that. I can’t say that this is as good as the first one, or even the second one; as an origin story, though, it’s serviceable. You get a look into Rainier’s past, her particular fears of doing this, and also how she met her two assistants from the other movies. There are also the requisite clues sprinkled in that tie into the other movies, but that’s pretty much par for the course by now.

Overall, Insidious Chapter 3 is a good entry into the series. Not the best, but certainly far better than a lot of other movies that have been coming out recently. Good for a rental, I would say.


Movie Review: A GHOST STORY

Leave a comment

a ghost storyA24

I don’t think they’re coming.

Recently deceased, a white-sheeted ghost returns to his suburban home to console his bereft wife, only to find that in his spectral state, he has become unstuck in time, doomed to watch passively as the life he knew and the woman he loves slowly slip away. Increasingly unmoored, the ghost embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life’s inevitable questions and the enormity of existence.

All things considered, I don’t really consider myself a movie snob. Not that I was ever accused of being one (that I know of); I do have my preferences of genres, but I’ve been known to branch out into other genres and styles. And while I unabashedly revel in the mainstream cheese and B-movie badness, I have no problem with taking in a movie of a higher brow, let’s just say. Call them “artsy”, call them “pretentious”; once in a while you need something with a bit more depth perception to chew over long after the end credits roll.

Which brings us to A Ghost Story. Directed by the same guy who directed the Pete’s Dragon remake the year previous, A Ghost Story reunites the stars from the second movie the guy directed, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints — Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara — as a couple who lives in a small house on a plot of land, where they engage in…well, their lives. They discuss possibly moving, and have their usual disagreements, as couples do. Then, Affleck’s character — unnamed in the movie, but listed as “C” in the credits, while Mara is “M” — is killed in a car accident, and then comes back as a white-sheeted ghost (the classic no-budget costume kind, with eyeholes cut out, Peanuts style) and spends the rest of the movie watching passively his…wife? Partner? It’s not really addressed. Regardless, “C”‘s ghost watches as “M” goes through the stages of grief, then moves out of the house. Somehow, “C” cannot follow, and stays to watch another family move in, then another set of tenants, to the house being long abandoned and dilapidated, then torn down to have a highrise business tower go up. Then, the ghost “C” jumps off of the edge of the building, plummeting to…the 19th Century to begin the cycle of silently observing the passage of time, until he once again witnesses his living self and “M” play at the same situations leading up to this.

Underneath the surface (or sheet, if you want to be pithy about it), A Ghost Story is a very slow-paced–think a snail struggling through a puddle of molasses–look into nihilism and existentialism and the nature of time and space. Also, there’s very little dialogue employed in the movie, which serves to amplify the isolation and bleakness of existence. Which is to say, A Ghost Story is a dark existential drama that utilizes a supernatural angle in a way that could have been silly (bedsheets to represent a ghost) in the execution, but due to the expert use of angles, lighting and pacing, actually works on a deeper level.

While I can see how the deliberately slow pacing can turn off a lot of watchers–believe me, I found myself frustrated at times–but if you stick it out, the reward is great. Highly recommended.

Movie Review: INSIDIOUS: The Last Key

Leave a comment

insidious the last keyUniversal Pictures

So, then. Here we are, with the fourth movie in what became the Insidious franchise of supernatural horror movies. With this release, though, there are rumors that Insidious: The Last Key is going to serve as the last chapter in the series. If it is, it’s not a bad place to leave off, really.

Insidious: The Last Key (eschewing the “Chapter” subtitle with this one, seems an odd thing to do, but whatever) is the first Insidious movie that I not only watched in the theater, but on the same weekend it was released. Which, incidentally, was the first week in January, a month that’s usually reserved for Hollywood junk pile releases. However, the past couple of years have yielded a handful of gems within the bottom of the film barrel, so I didn’t really lower my expectations that far down. Although, there was the stigma of this being the fourth in the series, and traditionally with horror movie franchises like this, by the time it gets to the fourth installment, the quality normally is terrible. And while the Insidious movies were of a better quality than a lot of the horror movies being released this past decade, you could still tell a bit of a lessening quality where the story came in with each successive movie. So, I took in an Early Bird showing, where I didn’t have to pay too much, in case Insidious: The Last Key wasn’t that great.

The story revolves around long-time character Elise Rainier returning to her childhood home to deal with some ghosts from her past, both literal and figurative. After a flashback showing Elise’s traumatic childhood with an abusive father, we return to 2010 (when this is set…this is technically a sequel to the prequel that was the third movie), where she gets a phone call from someone who has bought the house she grew up in, a house that he just discovered is haunted by not only the tortured souls that died at the nearby penitentiary, but something else much more sinister, something that Elise inadvertently set loose as a child. She’s reluctant at first, but then agrees to travel back to her house, with her two assistants in tow. There, she must face down not only the evil in the house, but also the evil that dwells in regular non-possessed humans as well, and survive so she can go on to be in the first movie that takes place chronologically after this one. Hooray for non-linear movie sequels.

In terms of quality, Insidious: The Last Key still manages to maintain a higher standard with the execution. The very dark atmospherics mixed with the mystery of the story as it unfolds worked very well. Fortunately, this movie didn’t decide to just rely on jump scares; although there are some in there, they don’t overpower the scare ratio. No, that is handled nicely by the dark atmosphere and claustrophobic dread that saturates the film style. The story itself unfolds into a rather intriguing mystery that goes beyond the standard haunted house fare. There was a point midway where I thought maybe they were wrapping things up a bit earlier than normal. No, fortunately the mystery went deeper than the standard one here, resulting in a rather satisfying conclusion. And as always, the actors are great in this. I absolutely love Lin Shaye, and she caries the part very well. Her two associates…okay, sidekicks are adorable as the alleged comedy relief. The Big Bad in this worked the best when he/she/it kept to the shadows; the showdown at the end, though, while effective with the look, was maybe used too much. But, not enough to ruin things. Personally, I think that the metaphor to take away here is that, when you finally face your biggest fear, when it’s finally exposed to the light for all to see, it doesn’t seem as big and scary as your mind made it out to be. Then again, I seem to be overthinking a horror movie, here, so I digress.

Overall, Insidious: The Last Key was a pretty good horror flick. It wasn’t the best, no, but it also didn’t slough off as far as quality goes. So much so that, it probably didn’t deserve to be released in the first week of January. We could have waited for a more appropriate month, like say, I don’t know, just spitballing, here…October, maybe? They used to release horror movies in October. Anyway, it’s worth a matinee showing some afternoon, or a rental if you’re patient.

Movie Review: ANNABELLE: Creation

Leave a comment

annabelle creationNew Line Cinema

“Forgive me, Father, for I am about to sin.”

Several years after the tragic death of their little girl, a dollmaker and his wife welcome a nun and several girls from a shuttered orphanage into their home, soon becoming the target of the dollmaker’s possessed creation, Annabelle.

I remember watching the first Annabelle in the theaters when it came out. I also remember being quite underwhelmed with it, not finding it very effective as a horror movie, despite my aversion to dolls. Yeah, that’s a thing for me, and something that my sister gleefully uses for evil every chance she gets. I would expect nothing less from my sibling. Anyway, it was this rather lukewarm reception of the original spinoff of the otherwise fantastic The Conjuring series that made me wait until this sequel was released on DVD for a rental to watch. No way I was spending monies to watch this in the theater, and I completely missed my chance to catch it in the second-run theater when it made a very brief appearance there. But, rent and watch this prequel to a prequel I did. And the result is maybe slightly better than what I experienced with the first Annabelle movie.

Our story begins in the 1940s, where a toymaker and his family are hit with a sudden tragedy (I swear that wasn’t an intentional pun) when his young daughter, Annabelle, is hit by a truck and killed. Fast forward to the mid-1950s, and the Toymaker and his now-invalid wife open up their house to six orphan girls and the Nun in charge of them, due to their orphanage being closed for…reasons. One of the girls — Janice — was crippled by polio, but can go upstairs and downstairs due to a nifty electric chair lift installed some time earlier. Anyway, all the rooms are available for the girls, except for two: The master bedroom where the wife has been laid up in, and the bedroom of the deceased daughter, which has been locked for a long time. Of course, faster than you can say “Why is everyone drawn to my Forbidden Closet of Mystery?”, little Janice manages to go inside the heretofore locked daughter’s room, finds a key, and unlocks the closet to reveal that creepy freaking doll that is the gleeful, soulless mascot of this prequel series. Pretty much immediately, weird creepy things begin happening, which results in little Janice to become possessed by the entity that was originally possessing the doll, an entity that the Toymaker and his wife reveal they summoned because, in their grief of losing their little Annabelle, they thought they were getting access to the girl’s ghost, but instead got a rather nasty demon instead.

See, this is what happens when you start messing around with the occult, people. I digress…

Anyway, after an evening of battling supernatural evil shenanigans (which result in the Toymaker and his wife dying at the hands of the demon, of which I have been referring to as “Skippy” while watching), they manage to trap Janice and the doll back in that closet, of which doesn’t please Skippy. But then the house is cleansed by a priest, but Janice seems to have escaped. Of course, Janice winds up at another orphanage, is now going by Annabelle, and is adopted by the family that will lead into the beginning of the first Annabelle. The end.

Overall, there were a lot of factors that made Annabelle: Creation more enjoyable than the first Annabelle. Better use of suspense and atmosphere, the characters having much more depth and texture, and it seems to hit the right balance between slow-burn horror and guerilla style shock scare horror to make this entry in the Conjuring franchise one of the best ones in there.

Annabelle: Creation is far from the perfect modern horror movie, but it hits all the right notes and what we end up with is a far more effective horror movie than the original that came before. Worth checking out.

Movie Review: The AWAKENING

Leave a comment

the awakeningCohen Media Group

“It’s never darker than when we close our eyes, and yet we keep them shut. Why is that?”

The year is 1921, and author Florence Cathcart is a famous debunker of supernatural tomfoolery and the bane of charlatans in England. She’s contacted by a teacher from a boys’ boarding school, where there have been sightings of a ghost of a young boy at the school, which may have contributed to the death of one of the living boys. He wants her to investigate, to which she initially refuses…but, then she gets all soft-hearted because she, too, was an orphan once, and all that. So, she arrives at the school, and sets up her various equipment she uses to prove whether or not there’s a haunting. Doing her best detective work, she deduces the real culprit in the death of the young boy…and it’s not a ghost. Surprise, surprise. But, even though her job is done and she’s about to leave, something happens that causes Florence to question her sanity and remain at the school a bit longer during the holiday break. She’s beginning to see things, things that may tie back to her past. And also question whether or not there really is a ghost that wanders the halls of the school.

Overall, I found The Awakening to be an interesting old school style Gothic ghost story that has the same slow-burning feel of The Others and The Woman In Black, has a very creepy atmosphere and heavy bit of tension, and unravels as a pretty good supernatural mystery. Rebecca Hall is mesmerizing as the skeptic with a sad past, and I may have developed a bit of a fanboy crush. It tends to happen. I do admit that the way the story unraveled was a bit on the predictable side, adhering to the early 20th Century ghost story formula, but that’s kind of par for the course. The Awakening was a good movie, a decent way to kill a rainy Autumn afternoon (for effect).

Movie Review: INSIDIOUS: Chapter 2

Leave a comment

insidious chapter 2Blumhouse Productions

“In my line of work things tend to happen when it gets dark.”

I have to admit, I was a bit slow on the uptake to watch the sequel to one of the better horror flicks to come out in the 21st Century. I was kind of on a strictly limited budget at the time, which was mostly focused on the marriage that ultimately never happened. Obviously I spaced out on this and the third entry in James Wan’s Insidious franchise. But, with the upcoming fourth entry coming up in January 2018, I figured now would be a good time to play catch-up.

After a bit of a flashback to a young Josh Lambert getting an exorcism by a young Elise Rainer, Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up right when the first movie ended, with the younger son of Josh’s family saved from The Further, but resulting in the death of Elise. After a police investigation, the family moves in with Josh’s mother, hoping to try and put the events from the previous movie behind them. Soon, though, the bad dreams begin coming back, Josh’s wife Renai keeps hearing the piano playing by itself and begins to see a mysterious woman in white going after the baby, and Josh seems to be…not himself as of late. Meanwhile, Specs and Tucker–Elise’s assistance from the first film–stumble upon the videotape of Josh’s exorcism from the flashback in the beginning, and they, along with Elise’s long-time friend Carl, begin piecing together the truth: Josh wasn’t the one who came back from The Further, but the spirit of a deceased serial killer called The Bride in Black. Also, the real Josh has been trying to send messages to his loved ones from The Further. Soon, there’s a showdown between the possessed Josh in the real world, as well as the spirits in The Further. Do they succeed in putting things back to where it once was? Will the movie end with another booga-booga-booga shock take? Does Jason Voorhees love his hockey mask / machete fashion combo?

When I decided to watch Insidious Chapter 2, it was the first night of my annual self-imposed seclusion trip, wherein I spend an extended weekend in my aunt and uncle’s camper out by their pond. It was storming, lots of lightning, thunder, howling winds and torrents of rain beating down on my cozy dwelling. In other words, the ambiance was perfect for watching horror movies. And the whole thing helped in the amplification of my enjoyment of Insidious Chapter 2 greatly. Because, otherwise, and I’m rather sad for saying this, but I don’t think that Chapter 2 would have been as effective a horror movie as the first one was. Mind you, the story is a good one, the atmosphere builds up the tension nicely, and the effects were very good. Overall, a well-made ghost story with serious teeth. That doesn’t stop the nagging feeling that I’ve been there, done that already. Still, very much worth a rental some night. In the same kind of weather conditions I managed to watch this in. Trust me, it works.

Movie Review: ELOISE

Leave a comment

Movie Review ELOISEVertical Entertainment

Four friends break into Eloise, an abandoned insane asylum, in search of a death certificate which will grant one of them a large inheritance. Unbeknownst to these four trespassers, what begins as an in-and-out adventure will evolve into their darkest nightmare in a place haunted by evil doctors, tortured spirits and unspeakable memories.

Here we are with yet another Abandoned Haunted Medical Facility type movie, this one featuring the likes of Elza Dushku and Robert Patrick as actors. My track record with movies like this one is rather dismal, and I only end up watching them more out of morbid curiosity, almost daring the movie to do something different–some kind of creative twist to a tired movie trope–to make me like it even a little bit. Does Eloise manage to do this? In a word…nope.

So, the movie involves a young, 20-something blue collar man who just learns of the death of his father. While at the insurance office following up, he’s then made aware of a long-forgotten aunt who was interred at the Eloise insane asylum decades prior, and has bequeathed a large sum of money to him. Though she’s been presumed long dead, the kid (sorry, I’m in my 40s, so 20-somethings are looking like kids to me) needs to get the official death certificate to prove her to be dead-dead, so he can get the money awaiting him. And the certificate is located in one of the abandoned buildings of Eloise, naturally. So, he enlists the help of an old friend of his, a bartender he met the night prior, and the bartender’s brother, who happens to be a fount of information on Eloise, to break into the abandoned facility and try and find the death certificate. The inside of this place is creepy enough as it is, especially in the dead of night; but soon the standard set of supernatural shenanigans begin happening, progressing predictably to what you would expect in something labeled as a “horror movie”.

Well, now…this was an unsurprisingly boring movie to sit through. Most independently shot horror flicks involving haunted asylums or hospitals of some sort usually are, as they all seem to go the route story-wise. You know the drill: bunch of young adults break into the abandoned structure for whatever reason, said abandoned structure turns out to be haunted for realsies, wackiness ensues. Usually off screen. Nothing new to see here, folks. Move along, move along.

Mind you, there are several things going for the movie’s favor, like being shot on location at the defunct Eloise mental institution outside of Detroit, Michigan, and capitalizing well with the eerie atmosphere of the interiors of said building. The history behind the facility also lends to the atmosphere and amps up the dread when they’re inside the place. This being director Robert Legato’s first film–a guy who is better known as a long time VFX specialist for several well-known Hollywood directors, as well as helming a few Star Trek episodes in the 90s–he did a very good job shooing and editing the movie itself. And the story does start off with a promising premise. But, once they finally get inside the titular building, it goes the route every modern haunted asylum movie has gone before, and not very memorably I should hasten to add. The actors were all adequate in their respective rolls, with Eliza Dushku being the default standout of the bunch. The worst part is about two-thirds of the way in, when the movie introduces the dimensional time-shift aspect to the plot, in an attempt to answer the mystery behind the evil of the…

Ah, forget it. I give up trying to explain things about this movie. Eloise has flashes of good ideas, but ultimately falls flat. So far, the only good abandoned asylum movie in existence is Session 9, and you would do well to watch that one again instead.

Older Entries