Film Review: Insidious: The Last Key (dir by Adam Robitel)


Traditionally, good films are not released in January.

With most filmgoers more interested in catching up with the probable Oscar nominees and no one wanting to spend too much money after Christmas, January has become the month when the studios release all of the low-budget films that they’re hoping they can make a few bucks off before everyone forgets about them.  January is the month that sees sequels to the franchises that have a small but loyal fan base.  Just as last January saw the release of a new Underworld and a new Resident Evil, this January sees the release of Insidious: The Last Key.

Though it would subsequently be overshadowed by The Conjuring and its sequel, the Insidious franchise got off to a good start with the first film in the series.  Released in 2010, the first Insidious was a genuinely scary movie, one that can still give your nightmares if you watch it on a stormy night.  There are so many moments from that film that have stuck with me: the dancing ghost, the red demon suddenly appearing over Patrick Wilson’s shoulder, and the franchise’s first trip to the Further.  Of course, the thing that really elevated Insidious was the performance of Lin Shaye, in the role of demonologist Elise Rainier.  Lin Shaye played Elise with a combination of eccentricity and quiet authority and, from the minute she first showed up, you wanted to know more about Elise’s paranormal career.  Elise was the most popular character in the movie, which made it unfortunate that she was dead by the end of it.

Despite Elise’s death, she’s continued to be at the center of the Insidious franchise.  The first sequel dealt with her death by having her appear as a spirit, leading the hero through the Further.  The third film in the franchise was actually a prequel, dealing with one of Elise’s earlier investigations and showing how she first met her two comedy relief assistants, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).  The Last Key is another prequel, revealing the details of Elise’s childhood and following her all the way through 2010.  The Last Key ends with a call back to the first Insidious movie, suggesting that the franchise has now come full circle.

The Last Key is another haunted house movie.  This time, the house in question is the one where Elise and her brother (played, as an adult, by Bruce Davison) grew up with their horribly abusive (and possibly demon-possessed) father.  In 2010, the house has been purchased by Ted (Kirk Acevedo).  No sooner has Ted bought the place then it becomes obvious that it’s haunted.  However, Ted can’t just abandon the place because he’s sunk all of his money into this house, which he was hoping to be able to then sell to someone else.  Apparently, you can’t get much money for a haunted house.

(Well, whatever.  I’d pay good money to buy a haunted house and then I would open it to the paying public every October.  I would make a fortune, assuming everyone didn’t get killed.)

Anyway, it all pretty much leads to everything you would expect to happen in an Insidious movie.  Doors open and close.  Malevolent beings appear in the shadows.  Everyone goes to the Further.  Lin Shaye gives another entertaining and fully committed performance, obviously enjoying the chance to be the star of the film.  Nothing about the film is particularly surprising but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t often effective.  Watching this film is a lot like listening to a skilled storyteller tell the story about the girl, her boyfriend, and the escaped mental patient who has a hook for a hand.  You know exactly what’s going to happen.  You know that it none of it really happened.  You know the story is borderline ludicrous.  But you still find yourself jumping at every unexpected sound.  You still find yourself staring into the shadows, wondering if you really saw something moving or if it was just your imagination.

Needless to say, The Last Key is never as effective or as scary as the first Insidious or either of The Conjuring films.  There were a few moments — mostly dealing with Elise’s childhood — where The Last Key showed the potential to be something a little deeper than what I was expecting but those moments were rarely followed up on.  In the end The Last Key is a rather modest and workmanlike horror film, the type that makes you jump while you’re watching it but which you will also probably end up forgetting about a day or two after seeing it. However, for a January horror film, it’s good enough.

Horror Film Review: The Mummy (dir by Alex Kurtzman)


Oh, where to start?

The Mummy was promoted as being the first entry in Universal’s new Dark Universe, a shared cinematic universe that would supposedly do for the classic monsters what the MCU did for super heroes.  (Of course, horror fans with a good memory remember that Dracula Untold was originally supposed to be the first part of the Dark Universe franchise but, after that film bombed with both critics and audiences, Universal announced, “We were just kidding.  The Dark Universe starts with The Mummy.”)  The Mummy was released in June and it got absolutely decimated by critics.  That wasn’t too surprising.  One could tell from the commercials that, even with 2017 being a good year from horror, The Mummy was not going to be a critical favorite.  But then, audiences rejected it as well, throwing the whole future of the Dark Universe franchise into limbo.

To be honest, I think The Mummy could have been a fun little movie if it had only been 90 minutes long and hadn’t gotten bogged down with all that Dark Universe nonsense.  There are a few moments that actually do work, though they are few and far between.  The film stars Tom Cruise, who is a veteran at handling nonsense and who gives a somewhat lighter version of his standard Mission Impossible performance.  Jake Johnson shows up as a talking corpse and he has a way with a sarcastic line.  Some of the special effects are effective, though The Mummy is often far too dependent upon them.

The plot is damn near incoherent and it didn’t take long for me to give up on trying to follow it.  The film started with a bunch of crusaders moving in slow motion and then it jumped forward to modern-day Iraq, where Sgt. Nick (Cruise) and Cpl. Chris (Johnson) uncovered an ancient tomb.  Apparently, opening the tomb unleashes Princess Ahmanet (Sofia Boutella), who is thousands of years old and is still alive because she was cursed to be both immortal and buried alive.  So, now, she’s free and apparently, she wants Nick to merge with Set, the Egyptian god of all things evil.  But Nick doesn’t want to be evil.  He just wants to save the lives of Chris and Jenny (Annabelle Wallis), an archeologist who basically has the same role that Natalie Portman had in the first Thor film.

Meanwhile, Russell Crowe is wandering around as Dr. Jekyll.  This is where the whole Dark Universe things kicks.  Dr. Jekyll is in charge of this secret organization that keeps tabs on all the paranormal stuff that’s happening in the world.  However, if Dr. Jekyll doesn’t regularly get his injection, he turns into evil Mr. Hyde.  In this movie, that means that Crowe suddenly starts talking with a cockney accent.  I’m assuming that, much like Samuel L. Jackson did for the MCU, Russell Crowe is meant to link all of the Dark Universe films together.  Of course, the difference is that the early MCU films usually only had Jackson show up at the end of the movie, often in a post-credits scene.  Crowe, on the other hand, pops up out of nowhere, takes over a huge chunk of the film, and then vanishes.  I was already having enough trouble trying to keep up with the Mummy’s schemes without having to deal with a random Mr. Hyde sighting.

The Mummy is a mess.  When it starts, it’s a likable mess, with Cruise and Johnson exchanging silly lines.  But then the movie gets caught up in trying to launch a franchise and it all goes downhill from there.  There’s even a scene where Ahmanet stands in the middle of a London streets and starts throwing cars around.  It’s such an MCU scene that I was surprised Robert Downey, Jr. didn’t come flying by.  If The Mummy had just been a content to be a silly monster movie, it could have been fun.  But instead, The Mummy tried to launch an entire universe and it just wasn’t up to the task.

Film Review: The Conjuring 2 (dir by James Wan)


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The Conjuring 2 will scare the Hell out of you.

Seriously, I’ve seen a lot of horror films, including the first Conjuring (which I absolutely loved).  I’ve seen ghosts, vampires, demons, werewolves, psycho killers, and threats in the shadows.  I’ve seen cats jump out of closets.  I’ve seen ghostly faces suddenly appear in the darkness.  I’ve heard screams and chants and howls.  I’ve seen limbs severed in every possible way.  I’ve seen a lot of cinematic horror and, as a result, I tend to feel that there is nothing that can scare me.

Well, it turns out that’s not true because The Conjuring 2 scared the Hell out of me.

In many ways, The Conjuring 2 tells a familiar story.  Once again, the film begins with an opening crawl that informs us that what we’re about to see is based on a true story.  Once again, a loving but chaotic family is being haunted by evil spirits and the Church has asked paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to investigate.

The setup may sound familiar but director James Wan manages to keep the scares compelling.  Over the past few years, Wan has emerged as one of our greatest genre filmmakers.  Whether he’s directing an Insidious film or the latest Fast & Furious installment, James Wan knows how to hold an audience’s attention and how to make the potentially predictable compelling.  In The Conjuring 2, Wan creates and maintains such an atmosphere of dread that even the expected scares (bumps in the dark, voices in the shadows, slamming doors, and faces suddenly appearing in the background) take on an ominous intensity.  From the very first shot, Wan leaves the audience with a profound feeling of unease.  I was not alone in covering my eyes during a few scenes.  I was also not alone is occasionally looking around the darkened theater, just to make sure that there weren’t any ghosts creeping up on me.

That said, we all already know that James Wan is a master of horror.  We know that he can tell a ghost story and, from the minute we saw the first trailer, we all knew that The Conjuring 2 was going to be scary.  What sets The Conjuring 2 apart is the same thing that made the first Conjuring so special.  (For that matter, it’s the same thing that made Wan’s Furious 7 so special.)  Wan fills the screen with horror and spectacle but he also finds the time to celebrate his character’s humanity.

There’s a scene that occurs about 90 minutes into The Conjuring 2.  Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) are visiting with the haunted family.  The family has been shaken by both the supernatural and the fact that so many people refuse to believe that they are actually being haunted.  Ed spies a guitar sitting in the corner of the room.  He grabs it and, with the haunted children gathered around them, he launches into a surprisingly good Elvis impersonation.  He sings I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You, all the while glancing over at Lorraine standing in the doorway.

(What makes this especially touching is that Lorraine has been having premonitions of Ed’s violent death and is terrified that she’s going to lose him before they finish investigating this case.)

It’s a totally unexpected scene and yet it works perfectly.  Some of it is because Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have this great chemistry that makes you believe that they actually have been married for years.  But it’s also because the scene reminds us that The Conjuring 2 is about more than just ghosts and scares.  It’s also about love and family.  The haunting is threatening to end Ed and Lorraine’s love story.  The haunting is threatening to destroy a loving family.  Ed and Lorraine aren’t just investigating a ghost but they’re also saving a family.  They’re not just fighting against the supernatural.  They’re fighting for love.

And, in our cynical times, that may sound corny or silly or old-fashioned.  Well. you know what?  The Conjuring was an old-fashioned film and, in a way, so is The Conjuring 2.  But who cares?  Horror works best when it’s mixed with humanity.  The Conjuring 2 may be a horror film but it’s also a celebration of humanity, love, and family.

You may have noticed that I haven’t go into many specifics about the plot of The Conjuring 2.  I don’t want to spoil it for you.  This is a film that you should experience with fresh eyes.  I could tell you about the scariest scene in this film but, if I did, you would not get the full experience.  I’ll just say that I’ve seen a lot of scary movie nuns but none of them can compare to The Conjuring 2.

The Conjuring 2 is the best supernatural horror film that I’ve seen this year so far.  It will scare you and it will touch your heart.  See it.

Also, be sure to stay for the end credits, which feature a lot of genuinely creepy snapshots of the actual locations where the film’s haunting is said to have occurred.  Not only are the pictures scary but they also show the care with which The Conjuring 2 recreated 1970s London.  Is the picture below a scene from the film or is it a picture that was taken during the actual haunting?  You’ll have to see The Conjuring 2 to find out!

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Horror Film Review: Crimson Peak (dir by Guillermo Del Toro)


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The fact that Crimson Peak, Guillermo Del Toro’s wonderful new film, is only getting mixed or grudgingly positive reviews tells you everything that you need to know about the sorry state of modern film criticism.

Taking place at the turn of the 19th Century, Crimson Peak tells the story of Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska).  The daughter of industrialist Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver), Edith is haunted by a childhood memory, in which her mother’s ghost appeared to her and told her to never go to Crimson Peak.  Edith grows up to be an aspiring writer.  She writes stories about ghosts, though she is always quick to point out that the ghosts are just meant to be a “metaphor for the past.”  Her publishers tell her that no one wants to read a ghost story written by a woman and they recommend that she concentrate on writing a nice romance.

Following the violent death of her father, Edith marries the charming inventor Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston) and moves to his family home in England.  Still in shock over the death of her father, Edith struggles to make things work in England.  Tom is nearly penniless and seems to be more interested in his inventions than with her.  (Not only did they not consummate the marriage during the honeymoon but Tom sleeps in a separate bedroom.)  Meanwhile, Tom’s older sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), does little to hide the disdain that she feels towards her new sister-in-law.

As for the house itself, it is on the verge of collapsing.  At one point, Tom mentions that, because of the red clay that sits underneath the mansion, their new home is sometimes called Crimson Peak.  If that wasn’t enough to panic Edith, she keeps seeing mysterious figures wandering through the halls.  Edith swears that she is seeing ghosts and that they are trying to tell her something.  Tom and Lucille tells her that she’s imagining things and continue to insist that she drink a special tea.  Could that tea be the reason why Edith finds herself coughing up blood?

(Actually, there’s a lot of blood spilled over the course of Crimson Peak.  It’s not just the clay that makes the ground red.  If Edith Wharton had written a horror movie, the end result would probably be a lot like Crimson Peak.)

And let’s just get this out of the way right now — Crimson Peak is an absolutely brilliant movie.  Those critics who have complained that Crimson Peak doesn’t have any of the expected “shock” scares are totally missing the point.  Crimson Peak is not about cheap scares.  Del Toro is not looking to make you jump by having a cat jump out of a closet.  Instead, Crimson Peak is all about atmosphere.  Del Toro maintains an atmosphere of consistent unease throughout the entire film.  The scares come less from what is shown and more from what is implied.  In that way, Crimson Peak pays homage to the great gothic horror films of the past.

And remember when I complained about how terrible Jessica Chastain was in The Martian?  Well, she absolutely brilliant in Crimson Peak.  The role of Lucille is not one that demands a lot of subtlety and Chastain appears to be having a great time getting to play such a menacing character.  If anything, this is one of Chastain’s best performances.  (One need only consider how overly mannered Meryl Streep would have been in the role to realize just how great an actress Jessica Chastain truly is.)  Mia Wasikowska is the epitome of fragile loveliness as Edith and Tom Hiddleston is perfectly cast as a handsome, slightly decadent aristocrat with a secret.  In fact, all three of them are perfectly cast.  Taking their roles too seriously would have been a mistake but so would have not taking the movie seriously enough.  The entire cast strikes a perfect balance, embracing the melodrama without going too far over the top.

So, why are so many film critics having such a hard time embracing Crimson Peak?  It’s pretty much for the same reason that a lot of them had a hard time with Pacific Rim.  Guillermo Del Toro’s films are masterpieces of the pulp imagination.  As such, he exposes the condescending attitude that most contemporary critics take towards “genre” films.  When mainstream critics dismiss Crimson Peak as just being “a horror film that isn’t scary enough,” all they’re really doing is revealing how ignorant they are of the horror genre.

So, in other words, don’t listen to those mainstream critics.  They are not worth your trouble.  Crimson Peak is a wonderfully acted and visually gorgeous gothic romance and it needs to be seen on the big screen.

Reportedly, Crimson Peak struggled at the box office this weekend.

Well, you know what?

If you haven’t seen Crimson Peak, you need to go out and see it this week.  It’s a great film and what good are we if we let the great ones go unseen?

Crimson Peak’s Visually Stunning Gothic Horror


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Guillermo Del Toro has become the one filmmaker who seems to excite both the elitist cinephiles and the geek community whenever he comes out with a new film. He’s done both pop-friendly extravaganzas (Pacific Rim, Hellboy) to critically-acllaimed arthouse fares (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone). His name has been attached to so many projects of all stripe that one wonders if he ever gets time to rest.

Most of these projects never get past the concept stage, but when one does and he goes all out in directing such projects we get something that excites the fanbase like his upcoming gothic horror film Crimson Peak. It looks to be Del Toro’s love letter to gothic horror of the past with his own visual flair for the morbid and the beautiful in one package.

The film stars a who’s who of powerful performers from Jessica Chastain and Tom Hiddleston to Mia Wasikowska and Charlie Hunnam.

Crimson Peak is set to haunt the public this coming October 16, 2015

Trailer: Crimson Peak


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When will studios finally smarten up and realize that Guillermo Del Toro is one of the preeminent fantasists of our time. Just give him the money and talent to finally make his dream project for the bigscreen: At the Mountains of Madness.

Until that happens we shall have to wait with anticipation for every new project he does see through to completion. This time around he leaves the world of Jaegers and Kaiju and takes us into the world of gothic horror with his upcoming film Crimson Peak.

The most talented cast he has work with to date, Crimson Peak is Del Toro’s take on the classic gothic ghost story but with more than just a tad and smidgen of his own narrative and visual style when it comes to horror. It stars Tom Hiddleston, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Charlie Hunnam and Jim Beaver.

Crimson Peak is set for an October 16, 2015 release date. Just in time for Halloween.

Review: Mama (dir. by Andres Muschietti)


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In 2008 a young Argentine filmmaker made a 3-minute short film that caught the eye of one Guillermo Del Toro. The short film was titled Mama and it’s simple premise of ghostly mother chasing after two young girls in a darkened home was so well-received by Del Toro that he decided to produce a feature-length adaptation of the short film. He could’ve easily put himself in the director’s chair for the adaptation, but liking the work done by the short film’s original director the Mexican filmmaker gave the job to the original director, Andres Muschietti, and allowed him the freedom to make Mama the way it was meant to be made.

The feature-length version of the film works off of the screenplay written by the filmmaker Andres Muschietti and his sister Barbara Muschietti (with some help from Neil Cross) and expands on the brief sequence from the short film. We get a backstory as to the origins of the titular character and how she came to be throughout the film. We even get a much more detailed work up of the two young sisters who have become the obsession of the ghostly “Mama” and how they had gotten involved with her.

Mama opens up with a disturbing sequence where a father has murdered his partners in his company and his wife then taking his two young daughters out into the country where his grief at what he’s done leads him in an attempt to complete the cycle of becoming a family annihilator through the killing of his children then his own suicide. It’s only through the intervention of a shadowy figure in the abandoned cabin they’ve come across in the forest that this father’s plan fails. It’s a truly disturbing scene to see a father comforting his 3-year old daughter and at the same time hold a gun to her head. It’s almost a wonder that the audience feels both a sense of relief and horror at seeing “Mama” protect the young girls by killing the father.

We skip five years later as we find out that the father has a twin brother named Lucas (played by Game of Thrones‘ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) who has spent the intervening years using whatever money the dead brother had left in an attempt to find the two young girls. Victoria and Lilly do get found by the scouts sent out by Lucas in the very same cabin where their father had taken them earlier in the film, but what the scouts find look more like feral animals than children.

One would think that the film would be about “Mama” wreaking havoc on Lucas to try and get her young girls back, but this film is not about mother versus father but mother versus mother. We’ve already met “Mama” briefly in the start of the film. The other mama in this fight for the girls’ love and soul is Lucas’ rocker girlfriend whose attitude in the beginning doesn’t shout maternal at all. Annabelle (played by Jessica Chastain) doesn’t think it’s her job to have to raise the two girls. It’s her love for Lucas that keeps her from bolting and trying to find a common ground with the two young girls. As the film moves forward Annabelle begins to feel protective of the two young girls and begins to believe that “Mama” is real and that she has followed Victoria and Lilly back from the cabin.

To say that this film is a horror film would be understating things. While it does have some jump scare moments and some creepy and disturbing images the story itself plays out more like a dark fairy tale set in a modern setting. just like another Del Toro produced horror film from the last couple years in The Orphanage, this film uses a fairy tale template to tell the story of the maternal love mothers have for their children. It’s interesting to note that the two mothers vying for Victoria and Lilly are not their biological mother, but surrogates who have come to love and care for the two girls in their own way.

Mama doesn’t break new grounds in the field of horror. It’s liberal use of gothic horror cliches and tropes by the Andres and Barbara Muschietti detracts from some darkly beautiful visuals and imagery that the filmmaker seemed very adept in creating to build that very sense of the fairy tale. What could’ve been a “been there and done that” and “paint-by-the-numbers” ghost story gets elevated by the performances by Jessica Chastain and the two young girls (Megan Charpentier as the elder sister Victoria and Isabelle Nélisse as the younger Lilly). Chastain in particular shines in the role of Annabelle as we believe her growth from reluctant caretaker to loving mother figure to protective mama bear by the time film ends on a very un-Hollywood ending.

Mama will definitely lose some fans of the horror genre who expect gore (which the film doesn’t have a drop of) and tons of scary moments (the film has jump scares but not much). This film will attract audiences looking for something familiar but at the same time with the added visual flair of a young filmmaker who looks to have a future in the genre, if not the industry, as a new creative eye who can work with something unoriginal and give it his own spin.

While the film is not on the same creative and storytelling level as Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage it is much better than Troy Nixey’s remake of the 1973 horror film Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. The film does continue Guillermo Del Toro’s streak of finding new and upcoming young filmmakers in the horror genre and giving them a chance to break into the industry with him mentoring them through the process. Mama might not be a perfect film but Andres Muschietti’s work as a director shows that he has repaid Del Toro’s faith in him. I, for one, can’t wait to see what this filmmaker has up next.