HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

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INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2017)

Fourth installment in this franchise is again a prequel, this one taking place just before the events of the first film. First, it opens in 1953 and shows us a young Elise (Ava Kolker) in her childhood home showing her psychic abilities much to the anger of her abusive father (Josh Stewart). We relive a horrifying event and then are taken forward to 2010 where an adult Elise (Lin Shaye) is called by the current occupant of her old childhood house to investigate some paranormal activity. Now Elise must overcome her inner fear and go back to that house and not only relive those awful memories, but find out some horrifying truths as well.

Flick is again written by Leigh Whannell, who also appears as “Specs”, but this time directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan). Robitel brings atmosphere and provides some spooky moments, though the series is starting to show signs of loosing steam. It is interesting to go into Elise’s past and see where this all began, but even so, the backstory isn’t enough to freshen things up completely. The story is well presented and we get the tension between Elise and the estranged brother (Bruce Davison) she left behind when she walked away from her father and that house, but despite the dramatic weight of this being a very personal investigation for Elise, we still feel it could have been stronger. The final showdown in The Further with the house’s reigning specter should have had more intensity. The evil entity lacks weight with being given little to no backstory and is kept on the sidelines till the last act. Still, it is well directed and shows, with a stronger script, Robitel could deliver a spooky and atmospheric film. This flick does have some good moments, including a fairly shocking reveal and there was a purveying sense of dread whenever the action took place inside the house. The film is entertaining, it’s just that it may be time to let this franchise rest in peace, or bring in new blood both creatively and on camera. We are introduced to Elise’s psychic niece Imogen (Caitlin Gerard from Smiley), so maybe such plans are already in place. It’s hard to do much with Elise when they killed her off in the first film, which in hindsight was a big mistake.

Lin Shaye is once again in top form as Elise. She is a great character and the actress gives the role lots of heart. She’s very likable and despite her experiences, she’s still vulnerable and can be scared. She makes the character very endearing which would explain her continual return in prequels. Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell are fine as Tucker and Specs, but it’s Elise’s show and they are wisely kept to side-kick duties. Bruce Davison is a class act and is sympathetic as her emotionally wounded brother, Christian. Josh Stewart is detestable as Elise’s dad and both Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard are likable as Melissa and Imogen, Elise’s nieces. A solid cast.

This was a good effort in many ways, just unfortunately in a franchise running out of gas. They gave us some nice backstory on Elise and made the story more personal, but the adventures in The Further and even it’s Key Face (Javier Botet) demon are routine and showing series wear and tear. Adam Robitel added atmosphere and handles the spookiness well, but Leigh Whannell’s script fails to freshen things up despite a more Elise-centric story. Overall, it was entertaining enough, but not going to win new fans and will have current ones questioning how much longer they are going to stick around for “Further” adventures.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 spooks.

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Series writer and star Leigh Whannell admirably takes over the directing reigns for this third installment. Instead of picking up where the second film left off, this film takes place a few years before the Lambert haunting that was the subject of the first two movies. It starts with a young girl, Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) seeking help from Elise (Lin Shaye) to contact her dead mother (Ele Keats). Elise refuses, as she is not only still grieving over the suicide of her husband, but fearful of an encounter with a very angry spirit who threatens her life. Quinn’s continual attempts to contact her mother gain the attention of another dark spirit (Michael Reid MacKay) and that spirit slowly begins to try to take the girl’s soul. Helpless, Quinn’s dad (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elise to save his daughter from this malevolent force. Elise now must fight her own grief and fear to combat the diabolical entity and gets a little help from two bumbling ghost chasers who join the case, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).

Leigh Whannell actually does a decent job filling in for James Wan who has moved on to other projects. He doesn’t quite have the chops or Wan’s pacing, but does create some atmosphere and some successfully spooky sequences. What holds Chapter 3 back is, Whannell’s script, which lacks a lot of the cleverness of his first two Insidious screenplays. It almost seems as if the writer/director either had too much of a full plate with working behind the camera and in front of it, or simply ran out of ideas. There is certainly fun to be had with this flick and it was amusing to see how Elise met Tucker and Specs, but at it’s core, it’s a routine haunting flick that we’ve seen so many times before. The use of “The Further” is nowhere near as inventive as the first two times around and the villainous “Man Who Can’t Breath” is a rather routine paranormal foe, who pales in comparison to the first film’s demon and the second film’s Parker Crane and mother. He’s nicely rendered and looks creepy, but is otherwise a rather mundane villain…and one whose background is never explored. Again, Whannell does provide some spooky fun and the movie is rarely dull…though some of the exposition scenes are a bit clunky…it’s just surprising the film’s weakest aspect is the part he has most experience with, the script. The Brenner family is also less endearing than the Lamberts, though Quinn is very likable and we do care what happens to her. It also doesn’t feel like an Insidious flick even with the shared characters and similar look and makes one wonder why they chose to go with a prequel which immediately spoils the outcome, as we have already twice seen future events.

Cast are all fine enough. Obviously, Lin Shaye is endearing as Elise. She’s a great character and killing her off in part 1 was a big mistake. It would have been a lot more amusing to have her as a spectral member of Specs and Tuckers team solving cases with them from the other side, but maybe Whannell couldn’t make that direction work. As for Whannell, he and Sampson are fun again as Specs and Tucker and their humorous bits do liven things up in the second act. Stefanie Scott is a very likable teen heroine as Quinn. She gives the girl a heart and is a worthy centerpiece to the story. I wish she had more to do in the final third than be a damsel in distress. Dermot Mulroney gives a half asleep performance as her dad, Sean and you never connect with the character because he doesn’t seem like he wants to be there. When focus switches from Quinn to him, the film definitely loses something, but thankfully Shaye and the guys are there to keep the film’s footing on track.

Overall, It’s not a bad movie, but it’s far from anything special and is definitely the weakest installment of this series, so far. Leigh Whannell does a pretty good job of picking up after James Wan (who has an amusing cameo) in the director’s chair, but sadly disappoints us in the area he’s best renown for, his script. The story is fairly routine and while it is not without some cleverness, it is far less inventive than the first two films. He manages some nice atmosphere, there are some legitimately spooky bits and the film even has a nice look that fits the other films in the franchise. It’s just that, at heart, it’s just another routine haunting flick and if the Insidious series has anything that can be said about it, it’s that it gave the haunting scenario some refreshing twists to keep if from the routine. I’d say it’s still worth a rental or bargain matinee if you are a fan of this series, but keep expectations moderate at best and you’ll probably have some fun with it.

-MonsterZero NJ

  2 and 1/2 spooks.

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013)

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013)

Insidious: Chapter 2 starts up almost right after the original Insidious ended with Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Renai (Rose Byrne) Lambert reunited with their son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) after his spirit was held prisoner by a demon in an afterlife dimension called ‘The Further’. But as we saw in the final frames, something else was now inhabiting Josh’s body and it had strangled paranormal investigator Elise (Lin Shaye) to death. We pick up as the unsuspecting family, including older son Foster (Andrew Astor) and their infant daughter Kali, have moved in with Josh’s mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) while police investigate Elise’s mysterious death in their house. They are barely moved in when supernatural occurrences start to begin again with objects moving, spectral voices, apparitions appearing and dear old dad acting very strange. While Renai tries to deal with the fact that supernatural forces are still with them, Josh tries to convince her all is well and Lorraine decides to team up with Elise’s former assistants paranormal investigators Specs (Leigh Whannell who also wrote the screenplay) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) along with one of the original investigators from Josh’s childhood haunting, Carl (Steve Coulter) to get down to the bottom of these haunted hi-jinx once and for all.

And that is all I will say about the story as, despite some familiar trappings, James Wan (The Conjuring) takes this installment in some clever directions and once again uses the familiar elements very well. We get to know the story behind the evil woman in black seen in the last film and even revisit The Further, though this time it is inventively linked to events in the first film. The pace is a bit slower and more methodical this time around, but since this film is a bit of a mystery as well as haunting, it takes it’s time to let the story unfold and secrets be revealed. We still get some spooky scenes, but it is refreshingly mixed in with Lorraine and company’s equally goose-bump inducing investigation. And what they find is deviously fun. The film is not quite as lively as Insidious part one, but I liked the mystery element and the film earned points with me for making it’s return to ‘The Further’ a bit more clever and less silly then last time. That is the point where the first film lost it’s grip on me and here I liked how it was done and was with this supernatural chiller up to the spooky end.

Wan is a good director and he takes what could have been a ho-hum retread and makes it a fun follow-up. He gets good performances out of all his cast and while I found Patrick Wilson to be bland in both Insidious and The Conjuring, he gets a far more lively performance out of him here. He gets to ham it up a bit and it suits him. The film has some beautiful and creepy visuals, as is Wan’s trademark, and Joseph Bishara’s score adds some nice atmosphere, too.

So in conclusion, while the story elements are more familiar; we’ve seen some of it before and the pace a bit slower, Wan does give us a spooky mystery to add to the paranormal activity and makes much more clever use of his otherworldly ‘Further’. He also gives us some clever answers to the questions left by his first Insidious and that all adds up to a spooky fun time at the movies. Also stars House Of The Devil‘s Joceline Donahue as young Lorraine in some equally clever flashback sequences that tie into the rest of the film in a fun way.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 spooks!

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS (2011)

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INSIDIOUS (2011)

Having just seen The Conjuring, I thought I’d take a look back at James Wan’s Insidious and find the reviews are very similar…

Insidious is a fun, spooky and sometimes intensely scary flick, but does it live up to the internet hype that preceded it’s release? Not quite. The first hour of Insidious does deliver the goods. It’s basically non-stop scares and chills as early word promised, but it’s in it’s final act when it loses it’s grip somewhat.

Insidious tells the familiar story of a husband and wife (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) moving into a house with their children and strange things start to occur. Soon their one son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) is in a coma and moving away does nothing to stop the appearance of specters and strange sights and sounds. When they bring in paranormal investigator, Elise (Lin Shaye) she tells them, to their horror, that their son has the ability to leave his body in his sleep and has lost his way back. Now a vicious demonic entity has their son and wants his soulless body to use as a vessel to enter the world of the living. Can they fend off this dark spirit and save their child?

Once Director James Wan brings in the paranormal investigators and they start to explain things, the film takes a bit of a change in direction and things get a bit hokey. What follows is still spooky and there still are some good scares, but nothing close to the first hour. The design of what we see is creepy and Wan’s directing skills don’t falter, but the problem is we see things that are better left to the imagination as our minds can imagine far worse then anything Wan can present us. Some of the before mentioned explanations sound silly and hinder the atmosphere Wan has worked hard to set up and seeing his spooks, specters and demon out in the open and in plain sight, does not help it either. Things were far more effective when left in shadow, in glimpses and with a little mystery. The cast are fine though Wilson is a bit bland and Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson are a little too goofy as Elise’s fellow paranormal investigators.

All in all, Insidious is far better than some of the endless sequels and remakes that pass as horror flicks today, but it’s not a classic by any stretch. Much like an amusement park ride, it’s fun while your on it, but after it’s over the effect fades quickly.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 spooks!

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