Movies

Insidious: Chapter 3

Three years before the Lambert haunting, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) was ready to quit being a psychic. Then a teenage girl comes to her for help communicating with the girl’s dead mother. The girl does not heed Elise’s advice and tries to contact her mother on her own, leading to dire consequences. An evil spirit heard her calls and has latched on to her. Elise soon realizes she cannot stop doing what she was made to do. It is up to her to stop the entity from slowly killing the girl and imprisoning her soul.

The first thing I will say about this film was that it was down-right scary. There were multiple times that it made me jump, even when I knew something was about to come out and scare me. That being say, it seemed like the film relied very heavily on the scares to carry the story along. Throughout the film they constantly used scare tactics to make audiences jump out of their seats, which worked very well, but they relied so heavily on the scares that the story was a bit lacking. It was almost like every five minutes something was popping out to say “boo.”

The best part about this film, and the entire Insidious franchise, is Lin Shaye. She is an amazing actress, and her character in these films is so easy to love. It seems like this film was almost meant to be an origin story for Shaye’s character, Elise, but it was muddled a bit by the story of the poor teenage victim, Quinn (Stefanie Scott). I really feel the film would have been so much better if they had made it solely about Elise, and only involved Quinn’s story when it related Elise helping her. Considering the fact that this is a prequel, it only seems logical that it would focus on Elise. This would also have provided more opportunity to build on the mythology that was built up so well in chapters 1 and 2. There were definitely a couple attempts at adding to the mythology, such as Elise talking about the “woman in black” that wants to kill her and explaining how Elise first met Tucker and Specs, but it didn’t seem sufficient.

The acting in this film was phenomenal. Shaye, of course, was amazing as always. While her character was absolutely infuriating with how stupid she was, Stefanie Scott still did an amazing job as well. She just kept doing the most idiotic things, and she was so oblivious to the danger she was in it drove me crazy. My dislike for her character had more to do with the way she was written than her acting ability. I also loved The Man Who Can’t Breathe (Micheal Reid MacKay). Even though his character says maybe two words in the entire film, he is so good at emoting through what little we can see of his face and through his body that he sends chills down your spine. I may also be a bit biased when it comes to MacKay just because he played the mummy in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Monster Squad.

Visual effects are extremely important in horror films. The Insidious franchise does a great job in that department. The way they portray “The Further” I find especially effective. They keep it almost entirely black with fog drifting throughout, using only a single lantern to focus your attention on wherever the light is. The makeup they created for MacKay’s character was especially interesting. They used very minimal effects, making him look thin and sickly, while also giving him the appearance of having a decaying body with sallow skin and thinning hair.

Insidious: Chapter 3 was very successful in the sense that it delivered the scares and kept your eyes glued to the screen. It also brought back everyone’s favorite character, Elise, and told us a little bit about her life before she dealt with the Lambert haunting. There is definitely room for improvement. The story should have focused more on Elise, and relied more heavily on a quality storyline rather than the scares. Either way, the film was really entertaining and was a generally successful installment in a terrifying horror film franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

Zombeavers

A group of friends decide to spend a weekend at a cabin in rural Indiana. While spending some time on the lake the friends discover a beaver dam. Little do they know that this charming little beaver dam, and it’s inhabitants, have been exposed to some toxic chemicals. Those chemicals have created what can only be described as “zombeavers!” Soon, the college coeds are terrorized by these evil little undead creatures.

This movie is so much fun. Just from the name and the trailer, you have to go into this movie knowing it is not at all serious or scary. I personally love horror comedies, when they are done well, because they choose some of the most ridiculous horror scenarios and use them to make you laugh. This film definitely delivered the laughs. The entire premise of adorable, shy little beavers becoming horrifying, bloodthirsty zombies is hilarious all by itself. Without giving away any spoilers, the movie gets even more ridiculous than that. It was such a unique story with a crazy twist in the last 15-20 minutes of the movie that I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Another surprisingly great aspect of the film was the acting. Since it is a horror comedy a lot of the acting is over the top. Keeping that in mind when judging the acting, they really all did a great job. I was especially surprised to see Jake Weary (It Follows) in this film. I had never seen him in anything before It Follows, and it’s was great to see how dynamic he is and the range of characters he can play. Two of my favorite characters were Zoe (Cortney Palm) and Buck (Peter Gilroy). They were absolutely hilarious and had some of the best one-liners of the movie. You will also come to hate the character Sam (Hutch Dano). He is the epitome of everything you could possibly hate in a guy, which is an important character to have in a horror comedy.

While the practical effects are not great, they sure are fun. I at least appreciate that, for the most part, they chose to use puppets for all the beavers instead of CGI. There is something so much more fun about horror comedies when everything is practical effects, no matter how silly they look. Watching people get chased by puppet zombie beavers is absolutely delightful. If you watch the movie, be sure to watch past some of the credits. They show some hilarious outtakes from the film, one of which involves a dog from the movie swimming in the lake with beaver puppets and it is adorably funny.

Obviously this film is not cinematic genius. It’s not trying to win any awards or get critical acclaim. The point of this movie is to take what would probably be a terrifying situation and make it funny. In that respect, this movie went above and beyond. When you think about being in a situation where you are in the middle of nowhere with zombeavers, it would probably be frightening. Watching it happen to other people is hilarious. If you’re looking for a fun movie that will make you laugh out loud, definitely watch Zombeavers.

OVERALL RATING: 6/10

Jessabelle

Jessabelle is a young woman who was just in a horrific accident that left her in a wheelchair. It is likely that she will eventually be able to walk again, but until then she has to go live with her estranged father in the bayou of Louisiana. Jessie discovers a box of old tapes her mom made for her before she was born. As she goes through the tapes one by one, strange things start to happen. Jessie starts having vivid, horrific dreams that seem more and more realistic. The tapes and the dreams begin to reveal more of Jessie’s past and about the mother she never knew, but she may come to regret what she discovers.

I’ve said this before, but ghost movies always scare me the most. This ghost story did not disappoint. It had all the elements of a great haunting movie; it was scary, it had a great mystery, there were a few excellent twists, and as the story progresses things get more intense. This film was scary to the point where I had to turn a light on (in my defense, I was watching it alone in the dark). I think part of what made this film especially terrifying is the fact that Jessie is confined to a wheelchair. When these scary things start happening she is virtually immobile. Since the film is from Jessie’s perspective, you feel her panic as she is being haunted and attacked.  Sarah Snook, who plays Jessie, also did an amazing acting job. Her character acted how I would in her situation; she was both terrified of what was happening to her, but also curious as to why it’s happening.

One of the best parts of this film is how things are revealed in small doses. Jessie ends up in her childhood home by chance. If she had not been in that accident, she would never have gone to live with the father whom she hadn’t seen in years. From the moment she finds the tapes of her mother, things get progressively worse for Jessie. Because things are gradually revealed, it also sets up a couple of really great twists. Most likely by the end of the film you will have figured out what is happening, but it will still be quite a surprise compared to what you may have thought in the beginning. The story gets especially interesting when it becomes clear that voodoo is a major part of what is happening. I’m really fascinated by Louisiana and the use of voodoo. This film explored voodoo in a way that reminded me of the film The Skeleton Key, except I believe this film did a far superior job. It showed voodoo in a way that is both interesting and unnerving at the same time.

Another thing that I absolutely adored about this film is that it didn’t really leave any unanswered questions. With very few exceptions, I hate when at the end of a movie I have lingering questions or things just don’t make sense. I think because things were revealed in pieces throughout the film, it made it easier for the filmmakers to make sure everything made sense by the end. It was also the kind of film where after watching how things end, you think back on events that occurred earlier in the film and things that may have seemed odd at first are easier to understand.

If you’re looking for a classic ghost story that also has a unique storyline, this is the movie for you. It had all the elements of a great ghost story, but it also added a little something extra with the voodoo. The film also had amazing acting that will send chills down your spine. If you watch it alone, like I did, you may want to leave a light on. Otherwise, be sure that you watch Jessabelle with someone who doesn’t mind you grabbing their arm and covering your eyes at the scary parts.

OVERALL RATING: 8.5/10

The Canal

Film archivist David (Rupert Evans) and his pregnant wife Alice (Hannah Hoesktra) move into a house near the canal. Five years later strange things start to happen and it all begins with some old police footage. While David is reviewing the footage, he realizes that it shows a crime scene where a brutal murder took place in his house over 100 years ago. Soon after seeing this footage, David discovered that Alice is cheating on him and she disappears that same night. As the husband, David almost instantly becomes the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance. When her body is found in the canal it is initially ruled as an accident, but David believes that an evil presence in his house is responsible. He becomes more and more unhinged as he tries to find proof that there is something sinister that not only killed his wife, but is also after him and his son.

The first thing I have to say about this film is WOW. It was way scarier than I was anticipating. From what little I knew about this film, I expected it to be more of a psychological thriller. It definitely was psychological in many aspects, but the imagery centering around the supernatural elements was both subtle and bone-chilling. When there are spirits involved in the scene you never really fully see them. It is all very suggestive and hidden in the shadows. Evans definitely added to how scary this film is. He did an amazing job not only going from this happily married man to a grieving widower (who may be going insane), but also reacting in such an intense way to the supernatural elements that you can’t help but feel his fear.

Stylistically, this film was really quite beautiful. Many of the scenes were set up in such a way that it was almost like looking at a painting. In one particular scene, David sees an apparition and attempts to capture it on film to prove it exists. When you see the apparition, it is absolutely terrifying, but the way the scene is composed it is also so gorgeous you can’t look away.  I believe the fact that the imagery is beautiful and entrancing also adds to the feeling of madness. It is almost like you are losing your mind along with David. It all culminates in the climax of the film when more and more is revealed in rapid, horrific images until everything finally comes together.

During the film, you discover that the original murder in 1902 and what happened to David’s wife were not the only tragedies that occurred around the canal. There are several incidences in which the canal appears to be the epicenter for murder and mayhem. It makes you wonder why David and Alice managed to live in the house for five years without any odd happenings. It seems very likely that when David discovered his wife was having an affair it opened him up to the spirits in his home and the canal. The second he makes this discovery he is constantly haunted by the shadows that lurk in the darkness. He is also haunted by his need to prove these shadows killed his wife.

I’m sitting here, thinking about what I just watched, and I honestly can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this film. I’m always afraid to give any movie a 10/10, but I can’t think of a reason not to give that score to The Canal. It really was everything I want in a horror film; scary, beautiful, excellent acting, and a storyline that is both simple and imaginative at the same time. This is definitely the kind of film that will be on my mind for quite a while. The one warning I have for you is don’t watch it alone.

OVERALL RATING: 10/10 (I feel weird about it, but a 9.5 doesn’t feel like enough)

Unfriended

Laura Barns was a regular high school girl. One night, she partied a little too hard and someone caught it all on film. Then someone posted the video online for all to see. After the video was posted, Laura started getting anonymous messages online saying horrible things to her, even telling her to kill herself. Shortly after, it became too much for Laura, and she shot herself in the face. That too was caught on video and posted online. A year later, all her friends meet on Skype to talk about random things, most of them not even knowing it’s the anniversary. They soon realize there is an unwanted guest on their Skype call, and this guest is there to cause as much mayhem and death as possible until they discover who posted the video of drunken Laura Barns.

I’ve had the night to think about it, and I’m still really conflicted on how I feel about this movie. There are many things I really like about it. This film was made by MTV, who lately has been working on a few projects that focus on serious social issues affecting today’s teens. There are scripted shows that focus on a teen questioning their sexual orientation, a teen who is intersex, and even a show that displays the consequences of posting too much personal information online for crazies to find. With that in mind, I really liked that they brought to light the effects of cyber bullying and how people are more vicious when they can hide behind their computer. I also enjoyed that these privileged teens who did horrible things not only to Laura, but also to each other, got what was coming to them and had all their secrets exposed.

Another aspect that I really like was how it was filmed. The entire film is shot so you are looking at the main character’s computer screen. That way you can see everyone that is in on the Skype call, but you can also see this character go on various websites that help to unfold much of the story. It was surprisingly successful in doing this because you have the basic dialog that most movies have, but you also get to see what the main character is thinking by what she looks at online during the conversation. What makes this film such an achievement to me is primarily because it was filmed in one continuous, real-time take. The director revealed that when they began filming, they were trying it in longer 10 minute takes. The lead actress, Shelley Hennig (Teen Wolf), was actually the one who suggested doing it in one take in order to keep the energy of the film up. Not only is it incredible to me that they achieved doing it in one take, but I also love that it was one of the actors who suggested it instead of the director. [On a totally unrelated note, when you see all the tabs Hennig’s character has open on her computer one of them is an episode of the MTV scripted show, Teen Wolf, which she is one of the starts of.]

There were two things that make me feel like this movie isn’t as good as I expected it to be. First, since these people were on Skype, there was a lot of the screen freezing and choppiness that happens when you move around too much on Skype. This annoys me when I’m on Skype, so it made it difficult to watch for 82 minutes straight. Although, this definitely made the movie more realistic than it would have been if everyone’s Skype worked perfectly, even when they’re running around the house with their computer. Another thing that got to me is that I didn’t care about the characters. With the exception of Hennig’s character, I felt that all these people were so horrible that they really deserved whatever they got. It makes it less scary when you aren’t afraid for the characters’ lives.

As I said before, I’m really torn on whether I felt this was a good movie or not. I enjoyed it, which doesn’t take much for me, and I liked the social commentary on being careful about what you put out on the internet. It worked as a way to teach teens to be more compassionate when it comes to cyber bullying, and it effectively demonstrated that whatever you put on the internet is there forever. That alone will give it some extra points because that is a huge issues with today’s kids. It also was filmed in a really unique way that definitely drew me in. One thing that would really have made this a better movie is if the teens weren’t such despicable creatures, making it hard for you to care about them or their fate. Either way, it was an interesting movie that I would recommend people see.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

The Houses October Built

Every October, various haunted houses and corn mazes open up all over the country. Their sole purpose is to scare the living hell out of you. In this film, a group of childhood friends decide to make a documentary about the scariest, most extreme haunts in the United States. Along their journey they hear humors about one specific haunt that is the most intense scare a person could ever have. As they journey to find this elusive haunt, things start to happen that lead them down a dark path they may not be able to come back from.

The main premise of the film is how back in the day, a basic haunted house where people jumped out at you and said “boo” was enough to scare the pants off most people. I myself am a total wimp. I went to the same haunted corn maze two Halloweens in a row and it scared me to death both times. These days people want the more extreme kind of haunt where the actors go past the point of what may be considered legal in most places. I have even heard stories of haunted houses where you have to sign some kind of waiver before you even go in so that if any physical or mental harm comes to you there can be no legal action taken. While I don’t know if places like this truly exist, it is the kind of place mentioned in the film that these people are dying to experience.

Intermixed within the film are interviews with supposedly real owners and actors at various haunts. The people being interviewed tell stories about extreme things that have happened at haunted houses, even murderers and sex offenders being hired as actors and using the job as a way to find new victims. While I have heard of plenty of crimes committed on Halloween, I’m not sure how valid the claims are that crimes are committed within haunted houses. This does bring up a fear that I believe many people have before entering a haunted house. You know the actors are technically not allowed to touch you, but what if a serial killer really was hired at a haunt and hid the remains of their victims within the sets.

The two aspects mentioned above give you the two extremes. On the one hand, people want something that is so outrageous and horrifying that they will never forget it. On the other hand, there is always the chance that the people in your friendly neighborhood haunted house are much worse than what they appear to be. In that way, this film makes sure that it covers all the potential fears a person may have before entering a haunt. They even show the different kinds of scares you get in various haunted houses and how it has evolved over the years. It starts with your more basic evil clowns and creepy dolls then moves into more shock horror with people being gruesomely tortured before your eyes, culminating in the ultimate scare where you are the victim of an all too real haunt.

Looking beyond the story alone, one of the aspects of this film that made is so believable was the acting. This group of people had such amazing chemistry and genuine reactions when they were going through the haunted houses that it made the entire story that much more believable. The few characters that you see from the haunted houses were great as well. Even the more silent ones, like the iconic porcelain doll, really know how to creep you out. The various masks and makeup that were used on the haunt actors was quite effective as well.

In my opinion, this film did not get as much credit as it deserved. While the ending was a bit lackluster, like so many horror movies, the overall storyline was very interesting. It seems likely that the kind of people that would appreciate this film the most are those that love Halloween and love to be scared. With excellent acting and a fairly unique topic for this fake documentary, it was hard for me to not enjoy the movie. It is the kind of movie that will be a favorite when Halloween comes around each year.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Honeymoon

The story starts innocently enough. A young couple, Paul and Bea, just got married. They decide to spend their honeymoon at Bea’s family cabin in a secluded area near a lake. Since it’s before tourist season, the place is pretty much deserted. One night, Bea vanished from their bed. Paul finds her naked and bruised in the middle of the woods. From that point on Paul notices there is something seriously wrong with the woman he loves.

This film has several good elements that could have made it a great movie. The two leads, Rose Leslie (Game of Thrones) and Harry Treadaway (Penny Dreadful), I already love from their past work and know they are amazing actors. While they were both excellent in this, there was something that really got to me during the entire movie. For those of you that don’t know, Rose Leslie is from Scotland and has a very thick accent, and Harry Treadaway is from England. In this film, they did American accents. Treadaway did a perfectly fine job, but there were times during the movie where I could hear Leslie’s Scottish accent come through. I know it must be hard to fake an accent for that long, but she is an actor and this is part of her job description so it ruined the illusion a bit for me.

I enjoyed most of the storyline. It was slightly reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie or Invasion of the Body Snatchers. As the film progressed it made you wonder what was real and what wasn’t, adding an extra element of mystery to the point where you begin to wonder if Bea is really Bea. This aspect of the film I found very interesting, and it held my attention. It was when the climax of the film came around that it lost me a bit.

(Don’t worry, I won’t give anything away). In the climax of the movie, it seemed like you were watching a different movie than you started with. It goes from psychological thriller/mystery to a weird, gross out movie that had scenes that were almost hard to watch. The hard to watch scenes weren’t used to get a point across like in some more successful horror films. This film seemed to add the scenes in more as an afterthought trying to make you squirm. They don’t even really explain what is happening in those scenes or why this has happened to the once happy couple. On a higher note, I will say the very last scene has some pretty great (yet simple) special effects makeup.

This movie really could have been great. It had all the right tools at it’s disposal. Unfortunately, the storyline took an odd turn that left me scratching my head, wondering what the hell I just saw. The one redeeming quality is that the two leads are wonderful and easy to root for, and the very last scene is really rather stunning visually. I won’t say you shouldn’t see this movie, because it was still entertaining, but I will say that you shouldn’t set your expectations too high. That will only lead to disappointment.

OVERALL RATING: 5/10