Instead of wrapping up a trilogy, writer-turned-director Leigh Whannell launches a new horror franchise with a movie that's scary even if it's not particularly original. Its trump card is a strong central performance from the wonderful Lin Shaye, who plays out a sort of origin story (although they could still go back further) for her memorable character from the first two movies.
She's Elise, a medium in touch with the spirits of the dead, and as this story starts she's closed down her practice for good. Then the bright teenager Quinn (Sophie Scott) shows up, desperate to speak to her recently deceased mother while she makes important decisions as high school comes to an end. But Quinn has inadvertently made contact with a much more malevolent spirit in her apartment building, and when her father (Dermot Mulroney) realises that her life is in danger, he convinces Elise to help. Meanwhile, Quinn's little brother Alex (Tate Berney) gets in touch with Spectral Sightings internet ghostbusters Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Whannell), who are about to see their first real ghost.
The film looks terrific, from the everyday creep-outs in the creeky old houses and apartments to the much darker atmosphere of "the further", which Elise has to enter in order to rescue Quinn from "the man who can't breathe" (Michael Reid MacKay), a seriously gruesome spirit who isn't content just haunting the living: he wants them to join him. Shaye delivers a performance that's unusually complex for this genre, as Elise struggles to balance her past and present with a flood of emotions, a reluctant determination to help and a generous sense of prickly humour. Mulroney also adds some weight as a concerned single dad at the end of his tether. And Scott has a promising charisma in the opening scenes, less so when the plot reduces her to a scream queen.
Continue reading: Insidious: Chapter 3 Review
After his assuredly traditional The Conjuring, director James Wan bounces back with a more playful horror movie that subverts cliches rather than revelling in them. Like 2011's Chapter 1, this sequel allows Wan and screenwriter Whannell to merrily reinterpret the story with events that take place before, after and even right in the middle of that first film. And they are clearly having a lot of fun in the process, which keeps us both entertained and frightened.
It picks up right where we left off: with their son Dalton (Simpkins) rescued, Josh and Renai (Wilson and Byrne) take their three kids and flee to stay with Josh's mother Lorraine (Hershey). But of course, the ghostly nastiness follows them, and extremely creepy things start happening all over again. Now Lorraine realises that this has something to do with an event from Josh's childhood, so she calls in an old family friend (Coulter) to help. But ace ghostbuster Elise (Shaye) isn't readily available this time, so they have to make due with her always-distracted sidekicks (Whannell and Sampson).
As before, Wan deploys every standard haunted house gimmick in the book, filling the screen with freak-out apparitions, scary noises, slamming doors and screaming babies. He also uses plenty of movie trickery to disorient us, including a jarring musical score and suggestive visuals. Meanwhile, Whannell is digging around in the original movie's plot for things he can play with, redefining events with clever revelations while adding a whole new underlying story to the saga. And the film continually shifts tonally, so we never know what to expect in the next scene.
Continue reading: Insidious: Chapter 2 Review
Rob Zombie has matured as a filmmaker, as witnessed by this well-structured horror shocker, which plays with both historical events and familiar movie imagery to keep us unnerved even if it's ultimately rather silly. Best of all is the way he remembers the value of schlock both to entertain and to gross us out. And it's his old-style touches that make the film much scarier than the usual shock-and-go horror movies.
The story draws on the 17th century Salem Witch Trials, at which women were brutally executed for suspicion of witchcraft. In present day Salem, free-spirited DJ Heidi (Moon Zombie) receives a mysterious record from an unknown band called The Lords, and when she plays it people start behaving strangely. Historical expert Francis (Davison) takes an interest in the record due to its odd tones, but he begins to worry that something nasty might be afoot. Indeed, Heidi starts having freaky dreams and visions. And it becomes apparent that she's the fulfilment of a dark prophesy involving the spawn of Satan himself.
Moon Zombie is terrific as the confused heroine who thinks what's happening is related to her recent decision to give up hard drugs. But of course, we know better. And we also know that she certainly should not trust the three cackling sisters (Geeson, Quinn and Wallace) who live downstairs. In addition, we see flashback scenes from 1696 in which a preacher takes on a coven of naked witches who dance around a bonfire led by their witchy leader (Foster). Yes, Zombie packs the movie with nutty ceremonies, grisly apparitions and naked, blood-soaked women.
Continue reading: The Lords Of Salem Review
Josh and Renai (Wilson and Byrne) have just moved into their new home when strange things start happening. They can explain away bizarre sounds and eerie events, but doctors are baffled when their son Dalton (Simpkins) inexplicably lapses into a perpetual coma. Soon the noises and visions so freak out Renai that she begs Josh to move again. But things get even more terrifying in the new house. So Josh's understanding mother (Hershey) suggests they contact a team of ghostbusters (Shay, Whannell and Sampson), as crazy as that sounds.
Continue reading: Insidious Review
Katie and Micah have been hearing odd noises in the night, so Micah buys a video camera to record things while they're sleeping. These eerie experiences have haunted Katie all her life, so they consult a psychic (Fredrichs) who tells them it sounds like a demon rather than a ghost. Over the next three weeks, there's an increasing amount of night-time activity, starting with loud bumps and swaying light fixtures, then escalating to sleepwalking, sinister footsteps and freaky physical attacks.
Continue reading: Paranormal Activity Review