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 was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

So long, sky trash!

Star Wars The Saga Ranked
This is an update of my 2018 ranking, with the addition of highly-acclaimed The Rise of Skywalker along with revisits to the two preceding parts of the trilogy. If you want to be generous and call it that, since the term it makes it sound a whole lot more coherent than it plays.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…

Man, that’s one big bitch cockroach.

Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
Everyone loves Bruce Campbell. He’s eminently lovable; self-depracating, a natural wit, enthusiastic about his “art” and interactive with his fans. It’s easy to be seduced into cutting anything he shows up in some slack, just by virtue of his mighty Bruce-ness. I know, I’ve done it. Unfortunately, not everything he does has the crazy, slapstick energy of his most famous role. Most of it doesn’t. Don Cascarelli’s Elvis versus Mummy movie has a considerable cult following, based as much on the cult of Don as the cult of Bruce, but its charms are erratic ones. As usual, however, Campbell is the breezy highlight.

The blames rests with Cascarelli, since he adapted Joe R. Lansdale’s short story. The premise is a great high concept mash-up; Elvis Presley, a nursing home resident in declining health, must fight off an ancient Egyptian mummy. Is he really Elvis, or Elvis impersonator Sebastian Haff? Or both, as the King claims to have switched places with the real Haff so as t…

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

That Freud stuff’s a bunch of hooey.

Spellbound (1945)
Spellbound is something of a stumbling follow-up to Rebecca, producer David O Selznick’s previous collaboration with Hitchcock. Selznick was a devotee of psychoanalysis, and the idea of basing a film on the subject was already in the mind of the director. To that end, the producer’s own therapist, May Romm, was brought in as a technical advisor (resulting in Hitchcock’s famous response when she pointed out an inaccuracy, “My dear, it’s only a movie”).