INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 REVIEW

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Spook me once, shame on you. Spook me twice, shame on me. Spook me thr- If you can do that, then you’re doing something right.

They still got it! The third (Well, first) installment of the relentless Insidious franchise haunts the silver screen yet again. And let’s just say, I wasn’t screaming for my money back.

A prequel set before the haunting of the Lambert family that reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl (Stefanie Scott) who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity.

If you had asked if there were any decent horror films about these days? Insidious and The Conjuring would have probably been the only examples my brain could muster. Okay maybe Paranormal Activity (The original and the third at a push).

I went in to the first Insidious expecting nothing after so many demonic duds and was rewarded with nail biting tension, jumps, a story and characters I actually gave two monkeys about. Understandably it fared well. Bringing back the old school haunted house horror genre with a bang!

I liked how writer/director Leigh Whannell put a fresh spin on the whole thing by incorporating the idea of the paranormal dimensions and The Further. It really stood out for me even when the scares may have been a little lacklustre. Inevitably a sequel was soon green-lit and a franchise was born.

I won’t spoil too much for those who haven’t seen the other films or Annabelle (The less we say about that, the better. The only disappointment of Whannell’s creepy collection). If anything, this would probably be the best one to start with.

Recurring characters and little references may spoil the experience a little but you can fill the blanks quite easily. BUT the opening of Insidious 3 didn’t really get things going and I could feel my hopes wading fast. NOT even the opening score that used to scare the living daylights out of me did anything. It seemed like someone had forgot to turn the volume on. Normally, I dread the opening titles. Can’t remember. Let’s remind you . . .

A weak Lin Shaye performing a reading with Scott’s peppy acting student was cliched and slow. Not a great start. We had to watch minutes tick by as Scott spoke about her family and the recent passing of her mother. It was all by the book and predictable.

The broken family dynamic with Delmot Mulroney’s dreary (No seriously. Was he on something?) dad unable to cope was unintentionally comical. Scott’s flirty exchanges with the boy next door. Sigh. Boring. Thankfully Whannell didn’t bother focusing on that love angle at all. A relief.

BUT then strange things began to happen. Weird figures waving (No seriously. What was the deal with the waving?) Disappearing and reappearing. AND out of nowhere. BAM! One nasty accident. The film found it’s form. And I was an anxious mess.

Before I knew it, the jumps flew in thick and fast. The tension and suspense may have been predictable but it still got my heart racing. The sly hand across face to wipe hair that wasn’t there. Just in case something lashed out from under the bed or something.

Scott played the role well and managed to make a memorable turn. It was just a shame that her character was so cliched and when she had the leg cast, there wasn’t much she could do. If anything, this wasn’t really her story.

It was the story of one of my favourite characters in the franchise, Lin Shaye’s medium Elise Rainier. As soon as she appeared in the first Insidious, I was intrigued. A well written character that had an interesting and mysterious back story.

Whannell finally shows us that very back story that the previous two merely hinted at. He also creates a new creepy demon to give people sleepless nights with The Man Who Couldn’t Breathe (Michael Reid MacKay). The demon that has taken a shine to Scott’s Quinn.

Despite a slumbering start, Insidious Chapter 3 did something that other horror films have failed to do. Keep me interested. It was tense, suspenseful and creepy. You could argue the build up was predictable. The figures in the curtains. The faint little voices. The OTT and incredibly loud movie score making you tremble if the scare didn’t.

BUT believe me there were a quite few scares that got me. Normally I can sit there and deliver a countdown before a jumpy bit emerges. Not this time. It’s good when you fear that all the best bits have been flogged in the trailer. Only to be proved wrong in the first 30 minutes.

For Insidious fans, we finally understand Rainier’s reluctance to help the Lambert family from the earlier films (No, get this right. Later films). If anything, you have more respect for her. Either that or you’ll think she’s even more bonkers for venturing into the Further again.

Tom Fitzpatrick’s The Bride in Black makes a very unwelcome return. Only because the b*stard kept making me jump. No seriously, he made me jump twice doing the exact same thing. And be warned a certain Darth Maul looking like demon does make a surprise appearance.

The only problem with The Bride in Black was that the more he appeared, the funnier it got. An encounter with Rainier should have a pivotal moment but it came off like something out of A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. I would show the clip BUT the horror, the horror!

And of course, we get to see how Rainier got together with Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). Their presence did lighten things up but didn’t spoil anything. To be honest, the film was strong enough without them but it was nice for Whannell to make everything come full circle.

The pace may have been patchy. The opening a little slow. More could have been made from Rainier’s past. BUT once it got going, I was one happy horror fan. And I felt the film got stronger like it’s demented host as it drew to it’s frantic (and slightly corny) close. I actually preferred this outing to Insidious Chapter 2.

And you know what? I can’t wait for another spooky encounter.

3/5

OUIJA REVIEW

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I wish they could have used the Ouija board to summon something better.

The wait continues. Bar a few jumpy moments; another poorly written, schlocky horror film hits the big screen. Is it time that Hollywood give up the ghost(s)?

Unfortunately using a low budget amateur cast with up and coming newbies meant one thing. That this film made money. Which means . . . More of this horrific bilge to come.

So what’s it all about? A group of friends must confront their most terrifying fears when they awaken the dark powers of an ancient spirit board.

Apparently, according to the studio release. I didn’t see anyone confronting their fears. Just running around aimlessly or screaming every 20 seconds (like the annoying spectator at the cinema).

The concept is hardly original but if executed properly, the possibilities are endless. If not? Well you get this.

I was really disappointed. It was the perfect platform for a virtually new and unknown cast to make a name for themselves.

It was great to see Olivia Cooke (Emma Decody from Bates Motel) get a leading role. Her supporting turn in The Quiet Ones gave me high hopes.

She does her best but her character is so flat and uninteresting. It feels like she is sleepwalking through the role. And at times she even sounds like it.

The characters were really unmemorable. I had honestly forgotten their names as soon as they appeared. I had to ask my mate who had no recollection either; merely “Bates Bird” and “that one eyed guy from Percy Jackson (Bradley Smith)”.

If not for the jumpy bits, this would have got a zero. For all my cynical meandering about the predictable checklist that this film churned through, there were several moments that got me good and proper.

It helped to have a ridiculously loud cinema sound system and a screaming spectator twitching every two minutes (No, it wasn’t us).

It took a good 40 minutes before things really got going. That’s half of the film. It felt longer than 89 minutes. The story felt like it was going through the motions.

Childhood friends play with Ouija board. Childhood friend decides to play it again. Dies. 30 minutes of dull dialogue with the gang moping around and grieving before finding said board and deciding to play it. Brilliant. NOT!

I don’t believe in the whole Ouija board thing. My brother did one before and felt that the scenes where they used the planchette (the little triangular board. I did my research. Not just strung together, you know) and asked the questions was creepy and quite accurate. To be honest, how could they get that bit wrong?

I don’t think writer/director Stiles White had seen the British equivalent Long Time Dead. That was a disaster BUT a damn sight better than this.

The characters hardly had my empathy but at least I wanted to see what happened to them. Once the Ouija stuff began, it was all the same old guff. Things moving in the background. Doors slamming. Oven hobs coming on (For some reason).

It was only as the film was ending where I got into it. It was racy, frantic and jumpy. The shadow moving on its own accord. The demonic child (Sierra Heuermann) and mother (Claudia Katz) fighting to claim victims. It finally seemed to be going somewhere. Only for it to end so abruptly and flatly that I felt like I wasted my time.

And of course; to add to my frustrations Ouija left it all open for . . . What do you know? Another installment.

Lin Shaye (Insidious) was the most memorable supporting character in the five minutes she was given. That doesn’t say a lot considering her character was unoriginal and derivative in the first place.

The wait goes on for a genuinely tense, atmospheric horror film.

Stocky, generic and bland character sleepwalk through a dull and predictable story line. If not for the jumpy scenes, I would have bailed out.

1.5/5

ANNABELLE REVIEW

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Terri-belle, more like

It was only a matter of time that a spin-off of one of the creepiest horror characters of the last decade would happen. BUT maybe they shouldn’t have bothered.

A couple begins to experience terrifying supernatural occurrences involving a vintage doll shortly after their home is invaded by satanic cultists.

Both the Insidious and Conjuring films were actually quite good.

Not hard considering the mindless entries of regurgitated jump-in-your-seat hidden footage movies that have bombarded the box office since Paranormal Activity.

They weren’t perfect but they attempted to resurrect that old school haunted house feel and tell an actual story.

The Annabelle doll was the creepiest thing for me in The Conjuring. That face. Shudder. And so we have a spin-off . . . Hollywood milking another cash cow.

Unfortunately the story was flat, predictable and dull. It relied on incredibly loud music and lazy “jump bits” to keep you interested.

The story of Annabelle’s origins were briefly glazed over in The Conjuring but that was still creepier than the story we got in this one.

I mean, really? The plot line was taken from Child’s Play. A demonic cult member possessing a dodgy looking doll. Boring and unoriginal.

Annabelle Wallis (Ironic her name’s the name of . . . Yeah, moving on) delivered a solid performance and certainly carried the film. That also explained her absence from the excellent BBC crime drama Peaky Blinders. It was lucky that there was a likeable lead or this would have been a complete write off.

My main issue was that the scares were so predictable. The film felt like it was going through the motions.

You could tick off a checklist of clichéd horror moments. Something will run past . . . NOW. The creepy baby mobile will start to move . . . NOW. If not for the massive cinema speakers and the grandiose musical score of Joseph Bishara, I would have barely flinched.

It seemed to mesh Child’s Play with Rosemary’s Baby. On paper, perfect. But it’s execution? Meh.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a couple of moments (for all my cynicism) that caught me off guard. Hell, there were even actual moments of suspense.

An elongated elevator sequence had me quivering behind my hands as the doors refused to close. The ever-growing threat of something about to strike.

That was until . . . the doors kept opening and closing for the next two or three minutes, killing any tension or patience.

The final 20 minutes finally got going BUT it just wasn’t enough.

Ward Horton was so stocky and wooden. I couldn’t care what happened to his character. And that was the problem, the supporting characters were so cliched and one dimensional.

All the bad stuff would (Surprise, surprise!) happen at night. Leaving us with shoddy acting and mindless dialogue during the day sequences. Bar one crazy kitchen encounter.

Considering the running time was 99 minutes, it felt a whole lot longer.

Alfre Woodard (12 Years A Slave) and Tony Amendola (Once Upon A Time) had perfect opportunities to take the stage but their characters were so pointless and unnecessary. Save a “twist” in the closing moments.

A twist that I called so early on that I could feel my ever-thinning patience fading to nothing.

Annabelle herself was delightfully demonic. I just wish they had made more of the doll. You know, the very object that the film was supposed to be about?!

Playing on that Child’s Play vibe with the doll moving or doing something. Not the “supernatural force” around her.

For every dark moment, I felt more could have been made. The writers could have done so much more with the premise.  BUT they just played it safe. The ol’ “Well it worked with the others” spiel.

I think this film needs to be exorcised and possessed with a better cast and story line.

I don’t know what scared me more the fact it was made or the fact it made money.

2/5 for me.

JACK STRONG REVIEW

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Hit and miss. Suspenseful in parts. This US/Polish collaborated thriller just wasn’t strong enough.

I was impressed to see a foreign film at my local Cineworld. However, this film might not be the best case to persuade them to do so. An intriguing opening certainly got things going. The sinister looking Dimitri Bilov showing how the Soviets deal with spies. BUT that was soon bogged down with heavy exposition which people (who are unfamiliar or a little bit rusty with their Cold War history on the Soviet Empire) would find quite hard to follow.

It seemed to skim across the years without really establishing a date. The characters age at an alarming rate. It’s only when a brief encounter with an army officer confirmed that three years had passed, five years, etc that you even had a clue.

It was a good half hour before anything happened. I don’t mind a slow burning film if there’s enough suspense or story to keep it going. This was just lulling me into a coma. It was established early on that this account is a flashback which killed a good bit of the tension.

It was only when Ryszard Kulinski (Marcin Dorocinski) decides to provide important information to America that we start to get an engaging and suspenseful thriller. It was nostalgic of the early Bond films. The markings on the bricks, secret meetings, as well as the odd piece of gadgetry in the form of a nifty cigarette lighter that my interest was piqued.

However, this all gets too repetitive. The tone stutters along. With one brilliantly tense scene, there is one OTT and unintentionally hilarious one. Without spoiling too much, whether it was the acting or the execution; two scenes came off like something out of a parody! In one tense scene, Kulinski steals an important document, shoves it in his bag and attempts to walk out of the fortress. Only to walk into a wall.

Another example; the gruesome Putek (brilliantly played by Miroslaw Baka) suspects that someone in the room is the spy. What do you do? Keep calm. Act dumb. Or do you sweat profusely, ring your handkerchief out like a sponge and then grab the nearest piece of paper and rub ink across your forehead? Hmmm. Yeah didn’t think so.

Obviously, the main character is under a lot of stress and risk which would test you psychologically more than physically but it came off hammy and if I was in that room, I would have pointed him out in a heart beat. I mean he was a highly ranked military figure. Surely he had experience in hostile situations?

The family element seems to be forced in to break up the floundering tension and was only really necessary in the final act. I mean the heated tension between Kulinksi and his son Bogdan (Piotr Nerlewski) had its moments but more could have been made out of their fractured relationship. Shame. Kulinski’s encounters with his wife Hanna (Maja Ostaszewska) lacked real chemistry and came off sloppy.

It was a surprise to see Patrick Wilson (Insidious/The Conjuring) in this and speaking Polish. He played the part well but in all fairness, anyone could have done it. You would have thought having a big name (ish), you would have given him a meatier role? Nope. Wilson is wasted as a deadpan handler who reels off the usual cliched rubbish and then isn’t even around for the big finale.

The finale, on the other hand, does pay off. As the pressure mounts, escape is the only option. There is a brilliantly shot car chase across an icy Polish town that was tense and pacey. Remembering it was a flashback, there were a few cheeky red herrings that made you stick with the finale.

However as the film catches up with the present. You’re left somewhat confused. Although pacey and suspenseful, you notice plot holes. The intentions of the police become increasingly unclear. A reveal in the closing minutes was surprisingly laughable.

What was also infuriating was the unexpected demises of several characters I had followed throughout the film. They were rushed and unexplained. BUT as the credits rolled, it was revealed that some of the deaths are still not. This did add a somewhat sombre touch to the aftermath.

Not a complete dud, but it’s stuttering style and execution took the wind out of what could have been one heck of a thriller. Not strong enough for me.

2.5/5