HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)

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DON’T KNOCK TWICE (2016)

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Flick is a perfect example of how a skilled filmmaker can take familiar story elements and tropes and use them effectively. Story has artist Jess (Oculus‘ Katee Sackhoff) trying to re-establish a relationship with her daughter Chloe (Lucy Boynton), whom she walked away from nine years earlier. Chloe however has run afoul of a local urban legend. It’s said that if you go to the abandoned house of suspected witch Mary Aminov (Ania Marson) and knock twice, it will summon the demon within and thus it’s minion…in this case Mary…will be sent to collect you. That’s exactly what Chloe and friend Danny (Jordan Bolger) do in jest one night and now Danny has vanished and something malevolent is following Chloe. Can Jess save her daughter from an unnatural fate?…a daughter who has nothing but contempt for her?

Horror flick is written by Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler with an all too familiar a story, these days, of a youth crossing paths with a malevolent spirit. Under the guidance of The Machine director Caradog James, however, this is still a spooky and atmospheric flick despite having seen it all before. James gets some chills out of the haunting scenario that is the trend right now and serves up some really creepy imagery, even if the skeletal specter with long hair is a common visual in today’s horror. He also gives the film a dramatic intensity with it’s underlying story of a mother trying to fix the hurt she caused by abandoning her child and learning to love that child now selflessly. The familiarity unfortunately keeps this movie from really grabbing us and the abrupt ending is a bit jarring, but it is still far more effective than one might expect considering we have been deluged with similar films for the past few years. This was spooky and enjoyable, but it’s time for the next horror trend. The haunting/malevolent entity flick has played itself out and good ones are few and far between. This was entertaining, spooky and well made, but not quite unique enough to make it stand out too far from the pack like we wished it would.

Our leading ladies do help make this work well. Katee Sackhoff does some nice strong work as a women who selfishly abandoned her daughter nine years earlier and now wants her back. Not only does her Jess have to battle nine years of built up resentment, but also a demonic entity that wants to take her daughter from her. Sackhoff gives the role some depth and we do come to sympathize with her. Lucy Boynton (The Blackcoat’s Daughter) is equally good as the young girl who has a lot of bitterness towards her mother, but has no one else to turn to when she is targeted by something no one believes her exists. She gives us an emotionally scarred but strong young woman and she and Sackhoff have a nice chemistry as we watch their relationship heal and build under extreme duress.

In conclusion, this was an entertaining and spooky flick, despite having a very familiar story. Director Caradog James gave it some chills and some cool visuals and his lead cast helped give their familiar characters some depth. While we wait for the next horror trend to give the tired haunting sub-genre a rest, at least this particular flick had some talent behind and in front of the camera to keep it from being mundane.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 creepy door knockers you should knock twice!

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REVIEW: INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)

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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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