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

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2now playing

bars

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.

bars

BARE BONES: COLD MOON (2016)

MZNJ_bareBones_Marquee

now playing

Humerus-Bone1

COLD MOON (2016)

Supernatural thriller finds pregnant sixteen year-old Margaret Larkin (Sara Catherine Bellamy) murdered, throwing her family and the small town of Babylon, Florida into turmoil. While the killer, Nathan Redfield (Josh Stewart), successfully points blame towards another man, he is haunted by Margaret’s angry spirit. When more bodies start to pile up to cover his tracks, he finds himself surrounded by vengeful specters and a local sheriff (Frank Whaley) closing in.

Silly flick is directed by Griff Furst from a script by he and Jack Snyder from a book by Michael McDowell, who wrote the screenplay for Beetlejuice. Problem here is that subtlety would have worked better on this small town set chiller, yet Furst instead uses some over-the-top haunting sequence that laughably evoke McDowell’s Beetlejuice when it should be chilling to the bone. It’s not a comedy. The director has a nice visual style and when he does dial it down, there are some spooky sequences, but it’s hard to get scared with coffins exploding and giant snakes with old lady heads chasing after a terrified Redfield. Also, our killer is revealed way too soon, obviously, thus ending the mystery element in the first half hour, and the focus then switches to him unraveling and away from the grieving Larkin family. It gets comical as he is pursued by the overused visual of spirits with snakes coming out of their mouths and starts to leave a trail of bodies that gets ridiculous. Sad thing is, there was a spooky little movie in here somewhere drowned in overindulgence. Also stars Candy Clark and Christopher Lloyd and there is an effective score by the director’s brother Nathan.

-MonsterZero NJ

Humerus-Bone1 

bars

MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: DON’T BREATHE and THE NEIGHBOR

MZNJ_SNDF

now playing

 double-feature_db_neighbor

bars

Two thrillers/horrors that I think would make a good pairing for a Saturday night on the couch with your favorite brew. One was a big hit recently and the other deserves more attention than it got and both involve sneaking into someone’s house and the unexpected things you might find there…

now playing

dont breathe

bars

DON’T BREATHE (2016)

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

Don’t Breathe is an intense and very entertaining thriller that turns the home invasion flick on it’s head and proves writer/director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead remake) is the real deal. The story takes place in a rundown suburb of Detroit where house thieves Rocky (Evil Dead’s Jane Levy), Money (It Follows‘ Daniel Zovatto) and Alex (Goosebumps’ Dylan Minnette) hear of a big score. There is an almost deserted street with only one house still occupied, the home of a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang) who supposedly was given a large cash settlement by the family of a rich girl who ran over and killed his daughter. Thinking it easy money, the three break into the man’s home one night. But the man turns out to be far more dangerous than they realize and soon has them trapped inside his house with the intent they never leave.

Co-written with his Evil Dead co-scribe Rodo Sayagues, Alvarez crafts a very suspenseful and intense game of cat and mouse inside the Detroit house that gets started quickly and never gives up till it’s unsettling last moments. Alvarez gives us a claustrophobic and isolated setting by placing the house on a deserted block and making great use of the desolated Detroit setting to give it atmosphere. He then has his ex-soldier seal our three thieves inside, where he knows the layout and they…and we…don’t. Alvarez also uses the character’s blindness to set up nerve-wracking moments, as our thieves try to quietly elude him and then he clever turns off the power to turn the odds in his favor. There are also some moments of brutal violence that really punctuate the intensity of the proceedings, as the director plays with the home invasion formula by turning our intended victim into the monster and the invaders into the victims. This works well due to the way his characters are written. While Money is basically a street thug, Alex has a conscience and a heart, which keeps him likable and Levy’s Rocky is only stealing to get enough money to take her little sister out of Detroit and away from her alcoholic mother. This makes them sympathetic, despite their criminal activity, yet Alvarez still puts them through the ringer for them to truly earn our empathy. If the brutal pursuit through the three floors of the old house isn’t enough, Alvarez has a late reveal that adds a really disturbing angle to a simple theft gone awry story…one that will have you squirming as much as Levy’s Rocky was…and turns the blind soldier into a true fiend. And it works very well. As with Evil DeadAlvarez accents his story with a great visual eye. His settings and shots are captured stylishly by the lens of Pedro Luque and Evil Dead composer Roque Baños returns for an atmospheric score. It all adds up to a suspenseful, intense and very atmospheric thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and squirming in it too!

Alvarez has assembled a small but very effective cast for his sophomore film for Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. Evil Dead leading lady Jane Levy is very strong as the street smart Rocky. She is convincing in that she is stealing only out of love for her little sister and she moves from thief to anti-hero to heroine very well. Her Rocky is really put through Hell, just as her Mia was in the 2013 horror remake and she really provides us again with a strong character to root for, even if she, like Mia, isn’t the sweet girl next door. Levy has a unique way of combining an intensity with a sensitivity that deserves more spotlight roles. Daniel Zovatto, who was the kindly Greg in It Follows, plays basically a street thug and does play him well. He has his charisma, but is not a good guy and the one we least feel sorry for when the poop hits the fan. Dylan Minnette’s Alex seems almost too nice to be part of this group, but it is made known he crushes on Rocky and is betraying his security company father most likely to be close to her. It succeeds in keeping him likable and he proves once again he is a charming actor with an appealing screen persona. This would not work if our blind ex-soldier, whose name is never given, wasn’t convincing as a monster and Stephen Lang once again is a strong bad guy. He is sympathetic at first, then let’s us know that this man is still lethally dangerous, even with his war injury handicap and then becomes a full blown fiend once the movie progresses. His soldier is filled with menace and threat and once we get the full picture, any feelings that this guy is just protecting what’s his, go out the window and it works thanks to an intense performance from a skilled actor.

I really liked this movie and it proves to me Fede Alvarez is a filmmaker to keep a close eye on. I really enjoyed his remake of Sam Raimi’s horror classic and certainly enjoyed the results now of a film entirely his own. This is an intense, brutally violent and sometimes twisted thriller that turns a home invasion into a house of horrors with a strong cast to back up the director’s vision and story. A solid thriller and one of the few films to live up to early word in the summer of 2016 movie season.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 turkey basters…you’ll have to see the movie!

dont breathe rating

plus

neighbor

bars

THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

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

Intense crime drama tells the story of John (Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and Tales Of Halloween) who live in the rural town of Cutter, Mississippi and work for drug runners. They plan to do one more job and when they collect their money, they plan to make a run for Mexico and an early retirement. When John returns after a job and finds Rosie missing, he suspects his odd neighbor Troy (comedian Bill Engvall) who seemed to be quite taken with his pretty girlfriend. When John sneaks into Troy’s house, he discovers his neighbor has been engaging in far worse activities than he could ever have imagined…and he may not get back out alive.

Writer/director Marcus Dunstan (the Saw series, the Collector movies) crafts a lean and mean thriller about bad people going up against far worse people in a small backwoods town in rural Mississippi. It does share some similarities with the recent Don’t Breathe, but is it’s own movie and aside from criminal types, who are looking to make a better life for themselves, being trapped in a house by psychotics, that’s where the similarities end. Dunstan gets his story started quite quickly, but not too quick that we don’t get to know John and Rosie a bit, and keeps the intensity cranked till the very last frames. We find ourselves rooting for John, even though he is not a good person, because Dunstan is able to make Troy and his boys a lot creepier. Add in a corrupt cop (Jaqueline Fleming) who already has it in for John and you have solid reasons to get behind our anti-hero couple. There is some graphic violence, but unlike his torture heavy Collector and Saw films, Dunstan uses it sparingly, so it is vicious and effective when it happens. The director does have a good visual eye and stages the action fast and furious with some nice suspense in-between the bullets and beatings. The tension is thick at times and while the climax may conveniently wrap things up, it is quite satisfying. There is some crisp cinematography from Eric Leach and a really cool score by Charlie Clouser.

Dunstan also gets good work from a good cast. Despite being a criminal who works for a sleazy drug lord, Josh Stewart makes his John quite likable and embues him with a bit of a heart underneath his criminal activities. His work reminded me of Jane Levy’s Rocky from Don’t Breathe, an anti-hero to root for. I have been a fan of Alex Essoe since her stunning work in Starry Eyes and she is solid again here. She does spend part of the flick as a damsel in distress, but gets to really turn it up in the last act and show another side to a versatile actress we want to keep seeing more of. Her Rosie is a badass when provoked. Bill Engvall makes for a very creepy villain. He gives you chills without going over the top and his subtle yet unnerving Troy is all the more effective because he doesn’t overdo it. A very creepy villain that makes you forget John and Rosie are criminals of a different kind. Jaqueline Fleming is also good as a cop with her own agenda and Luke Edwards and Ronnie Gene Blevins are solid as Troy’s equally creepy sons, Cooper and Harley. Melissa Bolona is also effective as another of Troy and company’s “guests.” 

This little flick took me by surprise. I am not a big fan of the Collector films and never watched Dunstan’s Saw movies, as I was done with that series by then, but this high octane thriller took me a bit by surprise. Sure there are some familiar story elements, but Dunstan uses those elements well and really cranks up the suspense and tension in the last hour, peppering it with moments of brutal violence that don’t overstay their welcome and are very effective because of it. A good cast helps the filmmaker out and overall, cast and crew deliver a solid and engrossing thriller.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

raid rating
bars

HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

MZNJ_New_HYMHM_2

now playing

neighbor

bars

THE NEIGHBOR (2016)

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

Intense crime drama tells the story of John (Josh Stewart) and Rosie (Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes and Tales Of Halloween) who live in the rural town of Cutter, Mississippi and work for drug runners. They plan to do one more job and when they collect their money, they plan to make a run for Mexico and an early retirement. When John returns after a job and finds Rosie missing, he suspects his odd neighbor Troy (comedian Bill Engvall) who seemed to be quite taken with his pretty girlfriend. When John sneaks into Troy’s house, he discovers his neighbor has been engaging in far worse activities than he could ever have imagined…and he may not get back out alive.

Writer/director Marcus Dunstan (the Saw series, the Collector movies) crafts a lean and mean thriller about bad people going up against far worse people in a small backwoods town in rural Mississippi. It does share some similarities with the recent Don’t Breathe, but is it’s own movie and aside from criminal types, who are looking to make a better life for themselves, being trapped in a house by psychotics, that’s where the similarities end. Dunstan gets his story started quite quickly, but not too quick that we don’t get to know John and Rosie a bit, and keeps the intensity cranked till the very last frames. We find ourselves rooting for John, even though he is not a good person, because Dunstan is able to make Troy and his boys a lot creepier. Add in a corrupt cop (Jaqueline Fleming) who already has it in for John and you have solid reasons to get behind our anti-hero couple. There is some graphic violence, but unlike his torture heavy Collector and Saw films, Dunstan uses it sparingly, so it is vicious and effective when it happens. The director does have a good visual eye and stages the action fast and furious with some nice suspense in-between the bullets and beatings. The tension is thick at times and while the climax may conveniently wrap things up, it is quite satisfying. There is some crisp cinematography from Eric Leach and a really cool score by Charlie Clouser.

Dunstan also gets good work from a good cast. Despite being a criminal who works for a sleazy drug lord, Josh Stewart makes his John quite likable and embues him with a bit of a heart underneath his criminal activities. His work reminded me of Jane Levy’s Rocky from Don’t Breathe, an anti-hero to root for. I have been a fan of Alex Essoe since her stunning work in Starry Eyes and she is solid again here. She does spend part of the flick as a damsel in distress, but gets to really turn it up in the last act and show another side to a versatile actress we want to keep seeing more of. Her Rosie is a badass when provoked. Bill Engvall makes for a very creepy villain. He gives you chills without going over the top and his subtle yet unnerving Troy is all the more effective because he doesn’t overdo it. A very creepy villain that makes you forget John and Rosie are criminals of a different kind. Jaqueline Fleming is also good as a cop with her own agenda and Luke Edwards and Ronnie Gene Blevins are solid as Troy’s equally creepy sons, Cooper and Harley. Melissa Bolona is also effective as another of Troy and company’s “guests.” 

This little flick took me by surprise. I am not a big fan of the Collector films and never watched Dunstan’s Saw movies, as I was done with that series by then, but this high octane thriller took me a bit by surprise. Sure there are some familiar story elements, but Dunstan uses those elements well and really cranks up the suspense and tension in the last hour, peppering it with moments of brutal violence that don’t overstay their welcome and are very effective because of it. A good cast helps the filmmaker out and overall, cast and crew deliver a solid and engrossing thriller.

MonsterZero NJ Double Feature Tip: Don’t Breathe, which would make a great co-feature, is down the road on home media, so I’d pair this up with Bound To Vengeance for a night of vicious and suspenseful crime thrillers.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 bullets.

raid rating

 

bars