INSIDIOUS: Chapter 2 (2013)

September 22, 2013

insidious2 1 Greetings again from the darkness. This is a perfect example of why it’s acceptable for writing standards to be lowered (somewhat) for horror films. This isn’t science fiction or history. We are in the theatre for one simple reason … we want to be frightened (to jump in our seats). Two years after the first Insidious, director and co-writer James Wan, screenwriter Leigh Whannell (who also appears as Specs) and producer Oren Peli, re-team for this sequel. It’s also just a few months after Mr. Wan’s very successful and well-made The Conjuring.

I enjoyed the first one.  There was a nice story that borrowed a bit from Poltergeist and some other horror classics. In a rare treat, Wan and Whannel actually tie in the sequel to the story from the first. Sure, some of it is a stretch with all of the parallel dimensions and multiple entities, but for the most part, it works and provides some nice thrills and chills.

insidious2 3 An especially nice surprise is the creative return of Lin Shaye as Elise, who stole all her scenes in the first entry. While the voice-over of her “younger” scenes was distracting, her screen presence helps hold the final act together. Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins and Barbara Hershey are back as the family Lambert … and this time we get more backstory on why the family seems unable to escape the demons.

Wan, Whannell and Peli have done a very nice job of rejuvenating the horror genre, while still including the traditional fun of active closets, abandoned hospitals, creaky doors and musty basements. A certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required, but if you are looking for some scary fun, you could do much worse than the two “Insidious” films.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the horror genre (especially haunted houses and possession) OR you enjoyed Insidious from a couple years ago.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting Oscar-caliber performances or an airtight script

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fBbi4NeebAk


INSIDIOUS

April 9, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ahh, the lost art of horror films. I don’t mean slasher films or gore-fests. I mean real horror films. The Saw series falls into gore-fest and its collaborators, director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannel, team up again for a more traditional horror film … one designed to scare the viewer, rather than just gross out society.  Of course, recommending a horror film is as risky as recommending a comedy.

The film opens as Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne move into a beautiful old house with their two young sons and infant daughter. By beautiful house, of course I mean terribly creepy with nooks and crannies, creaking floorboards, squeaky doors and an  attic designed by Satan. The mom (Byrne) quickly realizes things aren’t just right with this house, and as is customary in horror films, the dad finds some lame excuse (grading test papers??) to work late so the mom and kids can be haunted without him.

There are some bits and pieces from classic horror films like The Exorcist, Poltergeist, Amityville Horror and, yes, Saw (but not the gory stuff). Remarkably, this film is rated PG-13, which means the filmmakers really have to tell a story … and they do … well as much as can be hoped for in a fright film.  There are even touches of humor throughout.

The mom gets so desperate, she begs to move. They do. Guess what? Things aren’t better. So mother-in-law Barbara Hershey (from creepy Black Swan) says she knows someone. Next thing you know, two goof-balls (one is the film’s writer Whannel) who look like they should have their own cable show are in the house confirming something is definitely amiss. So they call in their boss. Unfortunately, the great Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist) passed away, so our expert is played by Lin Shayle. She does an effective job explaining astral projections and the next thing you know all hell has broken loose. Nice work lady.  Surely she requires payment upfront.

What makes the film work are the characters, the setting, the atmosphere and the really nice build-up of suspense and drama. Sure I think there were some details that could have been handled much better. For instance, the “other” brother looks like he is going to be a factor, but instead all of the attention goes to Ty Simpkins as Dalton. Simpkins was seen recently with Russell Crowe in The Next 3 Days. Also, more of the backstory with Hershey and Wilson’s childhood could have provided some twists.

Still, I will say if you are a fan of horror films, this one is worth seeing. If nothing else, you will absolutely love the opening credits with their haunted images and smoky font. It’s a bit of a fun challenge to find the “image” in each of the opening sequences. Just make sure to finish your popcorn before the movie starts. That stuff is too expensive to be tossing across the aisle when you JUMP!!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are always game for a real horror film … one that scares you with characters and atmosphere, rather than splatter.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are expecting the next generation of Saw OR you can’t imagine an effective PG-13 horror film (in other words … you need gore).


BLACK SWAN (2010)

December 4, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Normally, I watch a movie, organize my thoughts and write my comments. Not surprisingly, this film has me all tangled up in thoughts, opinions and analysis. Though I won’t, I could easily write 10 pages on this mesmerizing work from visionary director Darren Aronofsky. It’s best if this film is allowed to work it’s (black) magic on each individual viewer.

What I can tell you is that similar to Christopher Nolan‘s Inception, there will be a definite line of demarcation between those who like and those who don’t. And just like with Nolan’s exceptional film, among those who “like” this one, there will still be much debate and discussion about themes, meanings, presentation, performances and message. In my opinion, that’s a pretty good report card for both films.

Be forewarned … this is a very dark, risky and edgy film. Know that it steps even farther out than Mr. Aronofsky’s previous work in The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream and Pi. In other words, he works very hard on the presentation so that the viewer can be whisked away in many different directions emotionally.

The multi-faceted story has many angles, any of which could be construed as the lead. Natalie Portman (Nina) stars as a mid-20’s member of a struggling New York ballet company. Barbara Hershey is Nina’s smothering mother, who gives all dance mom’s a bad name with her attempts to live vicariously through her daughter, while also stifling her growth into adulthood (the pink bedroom looks as if an 8 year old girl would be in heaven). Wynona Ryder (Beth) plays the “aging” prima ballerina who is forced into retirement, and Mila Kundis (Lily) is the mysterious newcomer who may or may not have an agenda. The powerful Vincent Cassel (Thomas) is the company director and plays the role full bore.

Thomas announces that the company will be performing “Swan Lake” and, almost knowing the dancers will hiss at the re-tread, he quickly adds that it’s never been done his way … the same dancer playing both the White and Black Swan. He knows that Nina is the perfect choice as the White Swan but isn’t sure she can dig deep enough for the dark side. Lily is her polar opposite … mirror image … as the emotionally free, with a comfortable level of darkness and evil. I mention mirrors because they play a key role throughout the film.

When Nina is chosen for the role, a twisted friendship with Lily emerges. This draws Nina further inside herself exposing thoughts and actions she never before imagined. On top of this, Thomas is the predatory authoritarian who constantly challenges her, leading to even more self-doubt.

 As Nina slowly transforms from little girl into womanhood, we witness what looks like a slow slide towards madness. Has she gone too far? Will she snap out? Much of what we see is a clash between reality and her delusional mind. The viewer must decipher where the line is … often multiple times within a single scene! We are left wondering if Lily is stealing Nina’s identity or is it the other way around?

The other topic we cover is the constant battle that dancers face. The cutthroat competition, backstage battles, increasing pain and injuries, the fear of failure – both physically and emotionally, and the immense dedication and skill required for this short-lived profession. There is a drive for perfection in these dancers, just like in the best athletes, musicians, actors, etc. Of course, perfection as a goal leads to disappointment in result.

As for similar type movies, I really can’t name one.  What I can do is tell you there are bits and pieces of The Red Shoes (1948), All About Eve (1950) and some early Polanski (Repulsion, The Tenant).  I can’t rave enough about the script from Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin.  Camera work is ground-breaking during the actual performance.  We are weaving in and out of the stage with the dancers.  Breathtaking! The musical score combined with the familiar songs topped with amazingly subtle (and some not so subtle) effects makes this best described as an artsy horror film meshed with a crackling psychological thriller held together by nightmarish melodrama. Hopefully you are intrigued and this one is just “perfect” for you!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have no idea what I mean when I say “artsy horror film”, but you are intrigued by the thought.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: the mere mention of “artsy horror film” has you reaching for a Julia Roberts DVD