Thursday, October 31, 2013

Brief Film Reviews - 2013 Horror Edition

Just in time for Halloween, here are some 2013 films that explore the genre of horror:

Insidious: Chapter 2

Oh my, what a near catastrophe this almost ended up as. Spoilers ahead, since it literally begins at the ending of chapter one: Rosa Byrne is unsure if her hubby Patrick Wilson really killed the friendly ghost hunter and/or is possessed by a being that has haunted his entire life. After some off-screen investigation, the cops reassure her that he's in the clear, despite the fact that we saw the strangulation in the first film. Well, never mind complaining about it because he is possessed and it is up to the rest of the family, the two remaining paranormal investigators, and Wilson's specter locked in "The Further" to stop it from causing any further harm. CHAPTER 2 has absolutely no good surprises like the original. Guess what? If you watched the special features on the INSIDIOUS DVD, surveyed the cast listing, or trust your gut, you will solve the mystery behind the black veiled ghost faster than all of the cast. The creature's history should be creepily interesting but instead it pilfers from Robert Bloch and Joan Crawford. Worst, the plot eventually turns into a time travel adventure, ruining a great moment from the first film by explaining what really happened. The film continues to fall apart, both plot-wise and direction-wise, until ending with a stinger for a spin-off that really no one wants to see. The only thing that barely saves this from the trash-heap is Patrick Wilson's dual performance. He brings the two major factors that made the first INSIDIOUS work wonderfully: family warmth and cold terror. Don't bother seeing this sequel, not even once it hits video; don't let this ruin the legacy of one of the few great horror films to come out of Hollywood.



A new sci-fi feature from BATTLEFIELD EARTH director Roger Christian. No surprise that it sucks harder than an air lock. Four astronauts on a moon base are locked in with a fungi embedded on a meteorite, which spreads around the crew in order to rip-off every aspect of ALIEN. The low budget nature of the film gets far dire than the casting of Christian Slater in the lead; all of the plot-dumping video journals and communicative conferences are delivered through a scientific device that is literally an ordinary book light. Also, all of the moon surface scenes show off the chintzy model work that would have been laughed off the set of a Japanese kaiju movie. Director Christian doesn't return to his signature overabundance of dutch angles, though one shot does pop up during a medical check. Instead, he wanted to cloak the frame entirely in darkness, evaporating any chance to engage in the action. The story is a just vicious cycle of people running in and out of the medical bay. To make it more egregious, the main protagonist is the female scientist, because Ripley was also a chick. This despite the fact that she's the one who started the whole mess, acts like a complete psycho, tries to kill her colleagues at several times, and somehow has the strength to move around despite birthing an alien creature in short notice. Syfy original films at least have more inventive elements than sci-fi horror trash like this.


The Lords of Salem

Rob Zombie's intended magnum opus ends up being a misfire of massively confusing proportions. A night owl radio host in Salem, MA receives a vinyl record from a band called "The Lords", which causes an odd mental calling to the women in the city and provokes the protagonist to slowly unravel until she can be the perfect tool for some ancient witches. Visually, this movie is often impressive, even with all of the J. J. Abrams approved lens-flaring. The concluding sequences are exquisite nightmare fueled fever dreams, sure to appease the fans and followers of the late director Ken Russell. But all of the pizzazz and references to Commander Cody and Georges Méliès can't mask the grim results of Rob Zombie himself. Though this is more subtle and foreboding than his previous works, nothing he devises can produce a scare or even a shiver. Sometimes, laughs are in order, particularly one moment where the main character rumbles with the appendages of a little chicken-winged demon. Bless Sherri Moon Zombie for giving a good try as the lead girl Heidi but she's not very compelling nor is her character; there's no real empathy for her plight at all. The story is very predictable, offering nothing different in the structure beyond thankfully not killing off the dog. The biggest low light of the picture, both in writing and directing, is when a witch investigator searches Heidi's background and explicitly exclaims all of the clues likes his name is Fred Jones. Actually, I'll take one of my claims back; Mr. Zombie does gives us something "unique" and "interesting". It's the ballsy yet perplexing finale which doesn't answer any of the numerous questions it raises or any of the events preceding it. This is certifiably divisive but many looking for spooks or compelling terror here will instead have three letters for it: WTF.


The Conjuring

Supposedly based on an actual event, THE CONJURING follows a paranormal investigation done by Ed and Lorraine Warren, who many will note for their work on another case that would later be turned into THE AMITYVILLE HORROR. Here, the two enter and explore the domicile of the Perrons, a large family who all have individually been terrorized by a collection of ghouls. Don't believe the R rating; you can safely take your kids to this movie because there are no swear words and the violence is PG-13 level. The only remaining factor is if they can handle a good old spook-fest. Director James Wan delivers some mighty scares, often playing with the staging of scenes and shots to freak the viewer out. He even has a fright where you can't even see the creeping terror within the darkness. If any of the ghostly delights don't get you, he also has a brief side diversion with a disturbing wooden doll. The biggest problem with the movie, however, is its preference of matching previous horror classics, most notably THE EXORCIST. As in the 1973 film, the Warrens need to have proof of demonic possession in order to get the Catholic Church's approval of an exorcism. There's also the timing of the feature, with it being released after a recent wave of non-exemplary exorcism movies. Still, you can't go wrong with this startling tale.


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