Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Nightmares and the realm of dreams. They’re not a new target for horror movies. Indeed, a certain burnt-faced man in a green and red striped jumper with a beknived hand got there a good few decades ago. But they’re still ripe for the picking, owing to the fact that we can’t control our dreams or where they take us. For the most part. Let me tell you a little story… You see, when I was a young Phage I used to suffer from extreme nightmares. Ones that would involve a car full of silhouettes pulling up outside my house and running at the building whilst Momma Phage slept upstairs. I would run downstairs and see them running and jumping in through the windows – they had no faces, no features, nothing. Just silhouettes. Similarly, I’d see images of beloved ones warping into demons and attacking me. These were relentless and they’d come again and again, night after night. That was until I learnt to lucid dream and control what happens. So I was able to talk to these demons and attackers. Once I did? No more of those nightmares. I cured myself of these insidious thoughts.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Whilst my advancing age has somewhat diminished my abilities to manipulate the dream, I can still become self-aware and know I’m in a dream. This has brought about a new type of nightmare… As now I’m in my head, but it’s completely dark. All I know is that I’m there with some malevolent force. Nowadays I find myself challenging myself in my head and trying to embrace this “thing” that I’m perceiving as evil. It sounds confusing right? You should try spending a night as The Phage! It’s an odd one! So… where am I going after this therapy-esque confession? Well, the original Insidious focused on evils that lurk in our dreams – dead spirits that want to come back… So, enter Insidious: Chapter 2, to pick up where the first film left off…

If you’re thinking about seeing Insidious: Chapter 2 and you’ve not seen the original? Well, you’re going to struggle. Pretty badly! This movie doesn’t make many apologies for this and plunges relentlessly into the plot. I’ve seen Insidious… and to be honest, I thought it was “good” but by no means this “great” horror that people laud it as. It had a nice premise, but lost all terror in the last third. Having said that, I do remember the plot. But having not watched it since its theatrical release, even I found myself straining to remember the closing 10 minutes of the original. I got there… but it wasn’t instant recall! Essentially, this film picks up immediately after the first – a little boy became trapped in dream world with some demons, his dad (Patrick Wilson) followed him into there to bring him home. But we’re not sure just what came out of that world, as an evil “old woman” was trying to get back to Wilson‘s body before he did… did she succeed? Well, Wilson did kill at the end of the first movie, so we’d presume so, right?

Oh, and if you’re wondering, I’d have given Insidious 3 Phages. Why? Too much reliance on my old enemy… LOUD NOISES!

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

And LOUD NOISES are very much in place in Insidious: Chapter 2 too. Not as many as there have been previously, but there’s certainly a reliance on them. Let’s be honest… there’s little in the way of true scares in this film. A couple of jumps, but that’s more due to clever framing, as opposed to genuine horror. No, The Conjuring this ain’t. I should mention we saw The Conjuring, but flew abroad straight away afterwards. Verdict? We really liked it – 4 Phages. Jeez, we’re writing reviews within reviews here aren’t we?!

I would however like to mention the humour. Insidious: Chapter 2 did have me smiling – for the right reasons. The comedic performances coming out of “paranormal investigators” Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) were brilliant. Truly, they were the highlight of the movie for me. The others? Well… they were there. Not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, but nothing too memorable.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

As mentioned at the outset, I like the dream premise, but Insidious: Chapter 2 gets carried away with it and vaults back and forth between planes a lot. This, coupled with the unrelentingly forward-marching plot, makes for an uncomfortable viewing for the first time Insidious viewer… But even for the veterans, it all becomes a little dull. The jumps have been done before and the plot is quite linear. In the original the last 15 minutes disappointed me as they were anticlimactic, like the reveal in Jeepers Creepers. But here? I was just a little bored. And the hokey set-up for Insidious: Chapter 3? A little too much…

Insidious: Chapter 2 is pretty much on par with the original Insidious in my books… and I wasn’t bowled over with the original, like so many were. This sequel should be applauded for continuing the plot and being a true sequel, but it falls down in terms of horror and suspense. I enjoyed the movie more as a comedy than I did a horror thanks to the performances of Whannell and Sampson. But even that wasn’t enough to save the movie. It was passable… but certainly not remarkable.

Maybe I’m just not able to be scared by horror movies now, following my earlier confession about my somewhat bizarre nightmares that I concoct for myself nowadays. In fact, I’m pretty sure my dreams and nightmares are ripe for the picking, as they’re pretty warped and weird. Although I’m not sure how you convey the feeling of malevolent evil that I can sense once I’m in there. Maybe if we held the screening and announced that one audience member would be picked at random and subjected to the horror that is having to watch Adam Sandler‘s Jack & Jill on a loop for an entire weekend… that’d do it.

Phage Factor:

2.5 Stars

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Dark Skies (2013)

Dark Skies (2013)

The truth is out there… Are you hearing that theme song in your head yet? Yes, The X-Files did wonders for getting the concept of aliens “out there” into the public domain. It triggered an unhealthy fascination in what’s up in the skies for a lot of people. The same people (mainly guys) also developed an unhealthy obsession with Gillian Anderson. Me? I’m just fascinated with how David Duchovny looks almost exactly the same now as he did back in 1992. Whatever alien gloop he’s using on his skin, I want some! Sure, aliens have taken many forms in the movies too – from the horrific “tongue-y” xenomorphs in the Alien franchise to the little guy who’s got a really long glowing finger and is obsessed with going home – but none are more famous than the “Greys”. You know the ones: really tall, long limbs, huge black eyes… oh, and they’re grey. Think Roger from American Dad! or any alien seen in South Park. Got it? Good. So how does Dark Skies, the latest alien horror movie, deal with the deities from the sky?

The Signs of Dark Skies are evident for all to see...

The Signs of Dark Skies are evident for all to see…

Well… have you seen Signs? You know, when M. Night Shyamalan was still delivering top notch movies that you really wanted to go out and see? If you’re with me, then lift that plot up and supplant it into Dark Skies and you’ve essentially got the premise. I know what you’re thinking if you’re a regular reader: “Hey, Phage, where’s the plot summary? I don’t like change – just do things like you normally do!”… but I’m honestly not kidding when I say that Signs and Dark Skies are almost exactly the same film. Replace the farm from Signs with a suburban neighbourhood, whip out Joaquin Phoenix and Mel Gibson and replace with Keri Russell and Josh Hamilton and you’re pretty much on the money.

OK, I’ll give you a summary lest I lose you forever into the void that is the internet: Dark Skies follows the lives of Daniel and Lacy Barrett and their two young boys. Sure, they’re going through financial troubles, but that’s the least of their worries when their youngest, Sam (Kadan Rockett) starts to act peculiarly and attributes his odd behaviour to the “Sandman”. But that’s only the beginning… as soon the whole family is engulfed in what can only be described as an “extraterrestrial” experience…

Dark Skies (2013)

I’m a bit surprised actually, as I’ve made the film sound wholly more exciting than it was. The crux of the problem with Dark Skies isn’t that it’s got a bit too much in common with Signs, but the fact that the pacing is entirely off. Especially for a “horror” movie. I know that I often lament the use of loud noises, camera jerks and cheap startling tactics, but they do at least add some (false) frights into a horror movie. Dark Skies lacks all of these for at least the first 3/4 of the movie. This would ordinarily cause me to commend the film. However, their absence actually exposes the critical weakness of the film: nothing’s happening. It’s not suspenseful – nothing’s happening.

We’re all accustomed to horror films ramping up the tension over their run time. This is especially true with the Paranormal Activity franchise; it’s their calling card. You know the scares are going to get bigger and more intense the longer the run time goes on. Hell, I can still see the ending of REC in my mind’s eye (now that was a horror film!)… that was a build-up punctuated with a ton of scares along the way. It seems that Dark Skies saved all of its material for the final quarter of the film. This wouldn’t be bad, if the final quarter wasn’t quite so poor too. You already know how it’s going to end.

Dark Skies (2013)

The trouble is that the film tries to shoehorn in too many ideas from other films. You have the obvious Signs similarities, then the use of surveillance footage (Paranormal Activity), night vision cameras (Paranormal Activity 2) and emotionally disturbed children (Poltergeist). What you’re left with is a product that isn’t equal to the sum of its parts.

All that being said, I admire the film-makers for being bold in attempting something a little different from the normal LOUD NOISES approach to horror movies; making it unfortunate that the plot is a bit too bare and basic. When I saw that it came “from the producer of Insidious, Sinister and Paranormal Activity“, I thought I knew what I was going to get (clue: NOISES), but I was mistaken. Turns out I wasn’t mistaken about the ending though…

Ultimately, I just failed to be scared or even feel absorbed by the plot of Dark Skies. Even the most “startling” of modern horror movies at least have me hooked into the plot to see how it’ll all play out, but this was stripped away by my overwhelming sense of déja-vu. Dark Skies isn’t for those with short-attention spans, but nor is it for those that want a pay-off in their films. If the skies are dark and forboding outside your house, don’t try venturing out to the cinema for Dark Skies. You’d have more fun re-watching The X-Files.

So back to the real question here… just how does David Duchovny do it? How does he still look as youthful as he did in the early 1990’s? Maybe it was the fact that he played a character obsessed with aliens? Perhaps he actually did encounter aliens and they gave him some magical youth formula… that’d make a lot of sense. Or maybe it’s just the well-documented fact that he was a sex addict for much of his life and he’s actually a vampire absorbing their youth as he goes. Now that’s a film idea! The truth IS out there.

Phage Factor:

1.5 Stars

Sinister (2012)

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never been a fan of Anchorman and all of its sayings that some fans will spit back at you ad-verbatim like it’s still a fresh and exciting movie, and not something that’s now eight years old. But one quote, or scene, does stick with me – and that’s the one in which Steve Carell‘s character just exclaims “LOUD NOISES!” as his contribution to an argument. It was funny. It was apt. So why am I bringing this up in a review that’s not for The Campaign? Well, because I don’t think there’s any other phrase, spare “LOUD NOISES!” that really sums up horror movies of the past five years. Does Sinister follow this well trod path, or is it something altogether more… sinister?

The set up for the film is that true crime author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family to a new town so that he can write his new book about some grizzly murders that happened there: a quadruple hanging. Of course, Ellison decides to move the family into the exact house where the hangings happened (unbeknown to his family) so that he can draw inspiration from the surroundings and maybe uncover a thing or two about the unsolved murders. But Ellison uncovers a box of film in the attic that explicitly details a series of brutal murders all featuring a rather evil looking presence. Obviously, I can’t divulge much more, but that’s the premise. But is it any good?

Well, it’s a mixed bag. I also can’t help but feel that Sinister and Insidious have more in common than a single word title. Let me make this clear: I thought Insidious was an OK horror movie that had a solid narrative… for the first 2/3 of the film. That last act was appalling and looked like it was shot in a high school drama class. Honestly – the “make up” on the “big bad red faced demon” was abysmal. That whole ending left a sour taste in my mouth. But the main problem with Insidious and Sinister is their reliance on the aforementioned LOUD NOISES! The films rarely employ true terror or fear. The vast majority of the jumps come from cheap amplified noises. This isn’t horror. This is just making people jump. I could pop a balloon behind you right now and you’d jump. It’s not horror or terror – it’s surprise. This is why I can’t really say that Sinister distinguishes itself from the pack. It’s more of the same.

Ethan Hawke is fantastic here… even if he does look like Johnny “Drama” Chase…

I will however say that the plot, whilst supernatural and a little forced, works well. I enjoyed the general premise of the film as a whole and I really must commend Ethan Hawke here. He seamlessly holds the film together and really slogs it out on-screen. It’s refreshing to have a horror movie that’s genuinely well acted by its lead protagonist. One thing I’ve got to mention though… since when did Johnny “Drama” Chase from HBO’s Entourage (RIP) start acting in films? In the trailers I swore that Ethan Hawke was Kevin Dillon – they look almost identical. I was half expecting to see Turtle and E run on-screen and make the film into a total Bromance (yes, I loved Entourage, and can’t let go of it). But getting back on track: Hawke is brilliant. That’s not to say the rest of the cast are slouches, but they never stood out in the same way. James Ransone‘s Deputy was the comic relief and Juliet Rylance ably portrayed Hawke‘s wife, Tracy, but the children? Eh… less noteworthy. They’re no Pierce Gagnon, that’s for sure. Can’t we cast him in all films from now on? And cast Tom Hardy in there too? I’d pay.

If you shhh it makes the LOUD NOISES even LOUDER!!

Whilst I wouldn’t say I was disappointed by Sinister, I almost knew what I was going to get from the outset. As soon as I see all of these “terrifying”, “you won’t sleep at night” and “best horror of the decade” quotes I’m immediately suspicious. Especially when they come from small-time horror film sites about as big as Film Phage – hey, it’s true, we’re small time  here (for now…). I just feel that either the standards for horror are slipping, or that people have forgotten what it’s like to be truly terrified by a film. Maybe I’m just hard to scare in that regard, but I didn’t feel tense or have an feeling of horror for the entire runtime. It was just interesting. I still say that nothing has come close to capturing the nuanced horror of Rec or even The Ring upon first viewing in a darkened cinema. There’s just too much emphasis on cheap jumps as opposed to psychologically terrifying someone. Although it’s lambasted, you’ve got to credit the original Paranormal Activity for at least trying this and making people doubt their own eyesight. A clever innovation. A clever innovation that will not be found in Sinister, despite Hawke‘s best efforts.

The only thing truly sinister about Sinister is how they managed to amass so many positive quotes from fellow critics that made the film seem the equivalent of a live-action ritual sacrifice with demons emerging from the lacerated corpse. Instead what we have is a film with a solid plot and a dodgy sound system that spikes way too often.

I’ll say one thing: Sinister beats out The Possession as best horror film I’ve seen in the past few weeks, but considering that’s its only competition that’s not saying much. With only Paranormal Activity 4 and perhaps Silent Hill: Revelations still to go, it could be another very unscary Halloween. LOUD NOISES!!!

Phage Factor: