Skip to main content

Your dead soul is killing his living skin.

Insidious: Chapter 2
(2013)

(SPOILERS) James Wan was quite busy last year, what with having two fright flicks released and crossing over to the action genre to begin shooting Fast & Furious 7 (only recently completed due to Paul Walker’s untimely demise). That he made two horror pictures in a fairly short space of time (this and The Conjuring) speaks volumes about his precise, methodical approach. Insidious: Chapter 2 is a well made but cookie cutter affair, so formulaic and calculated it’s difficult to get remotely worked up by it’s made-to-order shock tactics.


Everyone’s back, pretty much, including at least one dead person (Lin Shaye as paranormal investigator Elise Rainier) and events pick up directly after the first instalment, with Lorraine (Rose Byrne) being interviewed by police about Elise’s murder. If that scene looks as if it might send the picture in a less obvious direction (law enforcement and spooks), it proves not to be. It’s clear that Josh (Patrick Wilson) is under suspicion, not just from the police but also from Lorraine. But Wan and screenwriter (also playing nerdy investigator Specs) Leigh Whannell promptly drop what could be an interesting tack. The police investigations rule out Josh (somehow, the marks on the corpse don’t match Josh’s hands) and Lorraine enters a state of self-denial about what has happened to her hubby. Both developments are disappointing; the pushing of the police to the periphery stains credulity, while Byrne is very badly served with a character who spends most of the movie wandering about her mother-in-law’s house all on edge and not seeing the bleeding obvious.


Most of the Lambert family plot is treading water while investigators Specs and Tucker (Angus Sampson), now accompanied by old friend of Elise Carl (Steve Coulter), trace the background of whatever it is that has been haunting Josh. Wan and Whannell dig deep into their bag of tricks, which include Dutch angles, repeated (and increasingly tiresome) instances of characters not seeing what another character sees (the old “There’s someone standing behind you” line), variants on the same (oblivious Dalton – Ty Simpkins – doesn’t realise he is not talking to his brother down the tin can telephone, even though its blatantly obvious to us), quiet punctuated by sudden noise, nursery rhymes used to sinister effect, children’s toys (this time a play walker) turning themselves off and moving of their own accord. Horror movies work to a great extent on the basis of tried-and-tested scares and devices, but they don’t have to be quite so relentlessly blatant and undemanding. The picture has Josh being super sinister and slowly decomposing (“Your dead soul is killing his living skin”) and Lorraine terribly useless, until eventually the investigators show up.


There is an occasional nice idea, in amongst the clockwork plotting. The opening scene is set in 1986, and places a mystery (who is young Josh speaking to on the video playback) that has an effective WTF? pay off. The ability of Josh to time travel in The Further is just about the only interesting aspect of this other realm, which Wan seems to recognise has limited shelf life; he doesn’t spend nearly as long there this time out. Discovering that the haunter is your common-or-garden serial killer with a Norman Bates mommy fixation is distinctly underwhelming (mommy bears a passing resemblance to the operatic one from Shakespear's Sister, but with Siobhan's make-up). Naturally, there are bodies stacked up in a hidden room. It isn’t clear why the mother of Parker Crane (the killer) should lead them to her son’s house, masquerading as the non-corporeal Eloise. Apart from to give Wan an obvious but effective reveal (“I’m not who you thought I was”; see also the telephone cans above), that is. The device of shaking word-dice to communicate with the dead is quite neat, however, even if it leads to some rather daft scenes (“What is Parker Crane holding behind his back?”; er, now let me take a wild guess).


In fact, much of the third act is rather awkward. The Further must be visited, and it’s nice to see Eloise again, but the threat in the corporeal house is rote, as Josh goes all Jack Torrance on his family. It makes no sense that he wouldn’t kill Carl, Specs and Tucker as he’s intent on murdering his own family. I guess it means the trio of investigators can return for Chapter 3, however. Which is out next year, sans the Lambert family (it’s slightly surprising that, after all this hassle, their arch nemesis can be despatched by beating her with a chair), and has Whannell making his directorial debut. He’s writing again, of course, which means there will be lousy lines like Josh’s, as he discusses how good it is to feel pain again; “I miss it, but not as much as I miss inflicting it on others”. Whannell isn’t going to win a Best Original Screenplay Oscar any time soon.


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

If this is not a place for a priest, Miles, then this is exactly where the Lord wants me.

Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes a movie comes along where you instantly know you’re safe in the hands of a master of the craft, someone who knows exactly the story they want to tell and precisely how to achieve it. All you have to do is sit back and exult in the joyful dexterity on display. Bad Times at the El Royale is such a movie, and Drew Goddard has outdone himself. From the first scene, set ten years prior to the main action, he has constructed a dizzyingly deft piece of work, stuffed with indelible characters portrayed by perfectly chosen performers, delirious twists and game-changing flashbacks, the package sealed by an accompanying frequently diegetic soundtrack, playing in as it does to the essential plot beats of the whole. If there's a better movie this year, it will be a pretty damn good one.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

Prepare the Heathen’s Stand! By order of purification!

Apostle (2018)
(SPOILERS) Another week, another undercooked Netflix flick from an undeniably talented director. What’s up with their quality control? Do they have any? Are they so set on attracting an embarrassment of creatives, they give them carte blanche, to hell with whether the results are any good or not? Apostle's an ungainly folk-horror mashup of The Wicker Man (most obviously, but without the remotest trace of that screenplay's finesse) and any cult-centric Brit horror movie you’d care to think of (including Ben Wheatley's, himself an exponent of similar influences-on-sleeve filmmaking with Kill List), taking in tropes from Hammer, torture porn, and pagan lore but revealing nothing much that's different or original beyond them.

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…