Insidious: Chapter 3

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I’ve gone on the record as saying that Insidious is probably one of my favorite horror movies of the last decade. Sure, it doesn’t really have that much to compete with, but still. Sadly, Insidious 2 shat all over the success of the original in a misguided attempt to wring a few more dollars out of the property. So, here’s Insidious: Chapter 3 to complete the process and turn the franchise into another Final Destination or Friday the 13th or whatever.

Horror icon James Wan steps away from the director’s chair for this entry in the series to be replaced by his long-time writing partner Leigh Whannell. Wan and Whannell have been collaborating for years, and their combined efforts have yielded some modern-day horror paragons like the Saw and Insidious series. However, as I said way back in my Insidious 2 review, the story was well and truly over even after the first film and just continuing to tack on more installments was just blatantly unnecessary.

The first Insidious is a bit of an odd duck for me, because while it really doesn’t do anything new or advance the genre to any great degree, it executes its tight, self contained story so well and with such undeniable style that I didn’t really care. There was such a constant atmosphere of oppression and hopelessness, temped with a beautifully slow-boil kind of tension that built to an emotionally harrowing climax.

While Insidious 2 let itself down on pretty much every one of those points, Insidious 3 at least maintains that methodically building tension, but really missteps when it comes to paying it off. The highlight of the experience for me came around the midpoint when our protagonist, Quinn, lies in her bed with two broken legs, immobile and incapable of defending herself. The monster of the hour appears in a nerve-wracking sequence, and essentially begins toying with Quinn, throwing her out of bed and slowly, methodically moving around the room, closing the curtains, shutting her laptop, and really eliciting the kind of psychological torment that we don’t see enough of these days. I was kind of stunned; the Insidious 3 cash-grab was the last place I expected to find such a beautifully crafted and genuinely frightening sequence. That’s horror, my friends: being absolutely alone and defenseless against something that hates you and is determined to gradually wear away your resolve until you’re little more than a quietly weeping mess. It is not, however, a super-powered granny using a Dragon Ball Z super stomp attack during the film’s climax.

Yes, things really fall apart at the end as the film kicks any notion of a tense and emotionally satisfying climax in the head. You were doing so well, Insidious 3! It turns out that all that tense, atmospheric intrigue that had been building up is pretty much thrown out the window in the final act, in favor of Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainer running around a slightly dark maze and performing the super-stomp on the bad guy at the end. That ain’t my Insidious, I can tell you that.

The recurring “comedy” characters in the series, Tucker and Specks, played by Angus Sampson and Whannell, respectively, also make an appearance, but I find their necessary inclusion kind of misguided. Whenever these jokers show up, the tension automatically dissolves because it’s hard to maintain the proper tone with Laurel and Hardy bumbling around. As far as the plot is concerned, their presence is hardly necessary and it seems like they were just included because that’s what the first Insidious did.

Look, either be a horror film, or be a comedy. When you try to be both at the same time, you end up with a movie that so schizophrenic in tone that it ought to be in a straight jacket. I can appreciate the desire to include some moments of levity to juxtapose with the horror so that the really dark moments are more emotionally impactful, but horror and comedy are such opposites that a major tonal shift half way through the movie is going to undermine everything you’ve been working for up until that point.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is marred right off the bat by being an unnecessary sequel, but if you can manage to look past that, it’s competently paced and builds up to a frightening moment or two around the midpoint. After that though, it’s all down hill. The atmosphere and tension whither away into nothing when Jake and Elwood show up, leaving the film to potter around for another hour before winding up with the incredibly disappointing granny super moves. If you look closely, you can see glimpses of the original winning formula, but the original vision has been exploited for coin twice now, so it’s not entirely surprising that the idea well is running dry.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

 

Insidious: Chapter 2 Review

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Well, I suppose that the beginning of October is as good a time as any to take an in-depth look at Insidious: Chapter 2, although at this point it might as well be a retrospective. With the original Insidious (2011) still firmly maintaining its position in my top horror movie superstar tag-team, expectations were understandably high for the sequel. ‘Prolific’  might be a good word to describe James Wan’s career in 2013, with The Conjuring having been released in July and now Insidious 2 not even a few weeks later. The former, by all accounts being generally decent, may be the superior of the two films, as Wan takes another earnest stab at his hugely popular franchise.

Wan teams up once again with Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, who reprise their roles as the world’s unluckiest suburbanites Josh Lambert and Renai Lambert, respectively. As far as the acting is concerned, we’ve got quite a case of “second verse- same as the first.” If you saw either Insidious or The Conjuring, not a whole lot can really be added apart from the fact that there’s just more of the old “white people acting scared.” I will say that Wilson takes a slightly transformative role in Chapter 2, in that he evolves from the somewhat soft spoken, mild mannered suburban father to a bloodthirsty killer on account of his being possessed- which isn’t really as big a spoiler as it sounds. Strangely, the transformation doesn’t really become him, especially as far as his physique is concerned, and a lot of his possessed posturing and subdued antagonism comes across as more humorous than frightening; granted, it’s possible that Wan might have wanted to play this whole sequence for laughs in order to aid in a little juxtaposition, but it seems like such a jarring shift of the established tone to be of any real value.

The thing about Insidious: Chapter 2 is that I’m not entirely sure it needs to exist at all. I was under the impression that The Conjuring was essentially the spiritual successor to Insidious’s legacy, especially because Insidious had a strong ending the wrapped protagonist’s respective stories. Clever folks might remember that the very end of Insidious had a certain amount of ambiguity to it, which added mightily to the unnerving quality of the narrative and the film’s overall effectiveness. The audience was free to come to their own conclusions as to what became of the individual characters, although the overarching plot of that film had decidedly been wrapped up. Insidious 2, therefore, stumbles at the first hurdle by necessarily having to contrive a new reason for the story to continue. Furthermore, and this is really just the due to the nature of the genre rather than an attempt to discredit the writing, the characters simply aren’t interesting or dynamic enough to cary two distinct movies, and I think the sequel suffers for it.

The other main issue I have with the film is the overall concept of the antagonist. Here’s a screenwriting master class for you: the antagonist always remains more mysterious and dangerous the less you see of it. That, in large part, is what made the original Insidious so successful. Throughout the film, it wasn’t entirely clear what kind of hell-spawn was pursuing the protagonist, and indeed, all the audience really sees of the antagonist are two extremely brief glimpses- both of which are obscured. You see, the audience will always, always be more successful at scaring itself than the filmmaker will ever hope to be, for the simple reason that no one knows what scares the viewer better than the viewer himself. Now, in Insidious 2, instead of allowing the audience to imagine what satanic malevolence has clawed its way out of the blackest recesses of the stygian pit to devour every mortal soul, the writer explains precisely who and what the baddie is, while Wan fills the screen with copious lingering shots of the aforementioned baddie, to allay any vestige of interest or engagement we may have managed to retain.

So, with an uninteresting antagonist and a contrived story, I guess the real question that we have to ask of a horror movie is “does it scare me?” Sadly, the answer is no. I really wanted Insidious 2 to be great, and while it has it’s moments here and there, I kind of feel like James Wan has lost his way a little. Wan’s directorial style, while usually very effective, is nothing if not formulaic. As a fan of nearly all of his movies to date, including Saw, Dead Silence (controversially), Insidious, and The Conjuring, I’ve certainly started to pick up some patters. I suppose that when you get right down to it, Insidious 2 is just kind of predictable, which is really a first for Wan.

As far as horror movies go, Wan remains a master of the craft, despite Insidious 2 being a bit of a miss. However, I, personally speaking, will be waiting with baited breath for Wan’s next film… Fast & Furious 7. I kid you not. FAST & FURIOUS 7. What a time to be alive.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

 

The Collection Review

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My local theater likes to poll people as they leave their movie. They hand you a checklist and ask whether or not you enjoyed your film, among other things. As I left The Collection, I overheard an indignant middle aged man proclaiming to the heavens as though daring someone to disagree with him, that it was unequivocally the worst movie he had ever seen. The way in which he expressed his disgust with the film implied that anyone who did enjoy it was essentially uncultured swine. If that man’s condemnation is to be taken seriously, then throw me in the pen and pour me some slops because The Collection was the dog’s bollocks, as the English might say.

Carrying on the glorious tradition of 1970’s grindhouse cinema, The Collection, directed by Marcus Dunstan and starring a bunch of people you’ve probably never heard of, picks up after the events of The Collector, released in 2009. At its heart, The Collection is a fun, visceral example of 21st century exploitation, which fans of the Saw franchise will appreciate, and no doubt find familiar, as Dunstan also had a hand in Saws  IV through VI as well as Saw 3D.

Buckets of blood and inventive death traps provide the main attraction, while more cerebral viewers might enjoy using their imagination to piece together the antagonist’s backstory. I’m the kind of person who enjoys the occasional ambiguous plot element, such as the savage zombie-things in the basement and the origins thereof. Spoiler alert, by the way: there are savage zombie-things in the basement. The unexplained aspects kind of accentuate the fact that the antagonist (I would call him ‘The Collector’, but since that’s the name of a completely different film, things might get confusing) is a man we know nothing about and whose brutality undoubtedly exceeds what we observe in the film.

The cast does the best it can with the material it’s given, but you don’t go to an exploitation film to see an Oscar-worthy performance, so adjust your expectations accordingly. The same principal applies to the cinematography, and that’s certainly not to say that either are bad or jarringly flawed, it’s just that they’re both kind of white noise in the background, so to speak. Let me give you an example. At the end of the film when the credits rolled, I tried to guess the names of the characters (as the actor’s name appeared first) and frankly, I couldn’t remember the name of a single one. The fact that they were all about as shallow as a teaspoon and just as emotionally complex probably had something to do with that too, but in reality all of these people were, as Lana Del Rey might assert, just born to die anyway.

You may notice that this review is slightly shorter than normal, and that’s because there’s really not much else to the film. It’s really just an enjoyable splatter fest that slings its gore with the best of ‘em. At the end of the day, I suppose The Collector caters to a specific audience and isn’t for everyone. If you’re like me and thought that House of 1000 Corpses and Hobo With a Shotgun were cinematic joyrides, then you’ll likely enjoy this one as well. If you’re like that old man in the theater, however, and haven’t had a day of fun in your life, then you might wan’t to give The Collector a pass. I enjoyed it though, and if you’re willing to indulge the vile and twisted part of you for an hour and a half, then so might you.