Thursday, 3 October 2013



'Cinematic what?'
Well, I've decided that as I'm going to see a fair few horror films at the cinema (A LOT in fact), perhaps it's worth my while coming up with a suitable review format for these. Obviously I can't write the detailed notes I use when I review a dvd (I do that honest) so these reviews need to be punchier, shorter, sharper and, well, maybe a bit less fun but certainly a LOT less time consuming. With that in mind, here's my very first attempt to do this — the first Scary Cinematic Snapshot.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Dir: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey

SPEEDY SYNOPSIS: I'll try not to spoil things TOO much here, but read on at your own risk.
The film starts with a cool little flashback to the first time young Josh encountered psychic ghostbuster Elise thanks to new character, Carl (who looks just like my doctor!)
Interestingly the younger version of Josh's mother, Lorraine, is played by Jocelin Donahue, from the AWESOME House of The Devil. This scene further explores the creepy ghost lady stalking him as a kid sub-plot from the first film. So far so good.
After the hilariously melodramatic screaming strings of the title card, the film picks up where the first left off: Dalton and Josh have returned from the Poltergeist-esque Further, but Elise has been found dead. Could the Lambert boys have brought something malevolent back with them?


The end.

Ok, I'll give you a bit more. While the police investigate the Lambert home as a crime scene, Josh (Patrick Wilson), Renai (Rose Byrne), their sons Dalton and Foster and baby daughter Kali move into Lorraine's (Barbara Hershey) home.
They are there for approximately 30 seconds before terrifying shit starts to happen again, yet Josh is alarmingly resistant to doing anything. Oh, and his teeth fall out.
Meanwhile Elise's comedy ghost hunter sidekicks Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (writer Leigh Whannell) team up with Carl (Steve Coulter) to work out exactly what happened to their dearly departed friend.
From here the film branches into two distinct stories: the ghostly goings on at home with the Lamberts and the ongoing quest to find the entity that did for Elise. 
This second one is actually the more complicated, itself featuring flashbacks to Lorraine's previous career in a suitably creepy hospital and a serial killer known as The Bride in Black.
Ultimately these two plot lines converge (by way of more shenanigans in the Further that niftily uses some time travel fun to strengthen the ties to the first film, minus a Delorean or Doc Brown) and build to a  suitably grim conclusion.

And Insidious: Chapter 3 next year, no doubt.

BEST BITS (spoiler warning): First off, I'm going to say this film does an AMAZING job of tying in with the events of the first film. It is a seamless sequel and feels like a natural and organic expansion of the first story.

It even adds more depth to seemingly inconsequential events in Insidious. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give it is that straight after watching Insidious: Chapter 2, I wanted to go home and rewatch the first one.
This tight plotting and excellent storytelling really made the film fun, with very few head-scratching moments. Everything (well, nearly everything) that takes place on screen happens for a reason, so the film is a surprisingly rewarding experience.
One area in particular that I was happy with is the way that some of the supporting characters (such as Tucker, Specs and Lorraine) who, let's be honest, felt like a bit of a waste of screen time in the first film have suitably expanded roles and actually feel relevant here. Good work.
In terms of performances, one leaps out at me. Patrick Wilson is fantastic.
Portraying what is essentially a couple of characters, he has much more to do rather than look confused and say how much he cares about the people close to him this time round. When portraying the woman-hating, serial killer Parker Crane (who is still in contact with his dead mother on the other side) he is excellent and clearly has fun with the role. James Wan clearly likes Wilson — after this performance and his turn in The Conjuring, I can see why. Good work, Paddy!
Now a possible bone of contention — I quite enjoyed the stuff in The Further in the first film. Some people HATED it. This time, the Further is MUCH better and it feels as if the production team have learnt from their experiences making Insidious and put that knowledge to good use here. I'll be intrigued to hear what anybody who hated the first film's Further scenes thinks of these. Feel free to drop a comment below!
A last couple of big pluses now: the period details during the flashbacks in Our Lady Of Angels Hospital; the short found footage-esque scene in that same setting later in the film (that ratcheted up some creepiness right there!); a brilliantly crafted jump scare involving a tin-can telephone and a wardrobe; and Carl's dice. They made for some great atmosphere in two key scenes!
Finally 'Hunter, Ninja, Bear'. As ace a variation on 'Scissor, Paper, Stone' as Nathan Barley's 'Cock, Muff, Bumhole'.
Oh, and 'BRING IT!!!!!'

WORST BITS (spoiler warning): Perhaps the biggest problem here is that Insidious: Chapter 2 isn't the best film about a haunted house starring Patrick Wilson and directed by James Wan that I've seen this year — The Conjuring is. It may seem unfair to compare them, but, well, it's bloody hard not to. And The Conjuring trumps Insidious: Chapter 2 in most areas.
Perhaps the most important of these is scariness. While it has a few memorable moments, I:C2 just ISN'T as frightening as its predecessor OR The Conjuring.
I feel a lot of the blame for this lies with the villain(s). Mrs Crane is just a little obvious and really doesn't inspire much more than the odd spine tingle when viewed as anything more than a shadowy vague presence at a distance. And one of the few mistakes Wan and co make is to give us far too many close ups of the malevolent spirits in the film in perfectly fine lighting conditions.
While the cliche of ghostly figures in the darkness has been done to death, the reason it works is that shadows work on two levels: they hide the actors, robbing them of some of their human features and covering any obvious uses of make up AND they encourage us to fill in the gaps with whatever horrors our imagination can conjure up. There's a reason that wardrobe scene worked so well!
Also while the Bride in Black made for a nice eerie presence in the first film, here it seemed to lose some of her/his scariness. Perhaps the problem was that when compared with the first films red-faced demon, it came off as decidedly second rate.
Another niggle came during a scene where a nice plot point comes full circle and we realise the relevance of an earlier moment. 'Ah ha!' thinks the audience, 'So that's what that was about!'
Then one of the characters onscreen delivers THAT EXACT LINE. 
Ffs Hollywood, we aren't all morons out here. Give us some credit, we don't need to be clubbed over the head with a plot to keep up.
There were very few plotting missteps. One moment that stretched credibility to breaking point for me went a little something like this:
So a possessed psychopath is attempting to smash through a door to slaughter you and your family? yeah, I'm sure you can just fall asleep in mere seconds. You do that now. I'm calling BOLLOCKS on that one right there.
Also it was a little too convenient how often somebody would arrive at the very last second to save somebody in mortal peril.
Sadly, some of Wan's horror staples seem to be losing their edge. Toys showing a life of their own are always good for a few scares, but Kali's walker was just a bit naff.
Finally, there was also a point quite early on where I was unable to focus on the scene playing out onscreen because I was trying to work out whether Lindsay Seim was doing the greatest impression of Lin Shaye EVER or whether Shaye's voice was being dubbed over her scenes. I concluded it was the latter.

VERDICT: There are two ways to review this film. First, as a straightforward horror film, it’s alright. It has some creepy moments and pulls together several plot strands to make for a thoroughly satisfying film. Okay, it got a little jumbled at times, and the nature of the Further really needs a little explanation as it seems to exist between life and death, directly overlay our own world at various time periods AND somehow house areas which exist purely in memory (or something), but all in all, the film tells the story it needs to without pulling plot points out of its arse or wandering up any dead ends. 
I also liked the whole backstory to the Bride in Black — it felt a lot like Psycho, complete with cross-dressing murderer scarred by his cruel and overbearing mother, but just ramped up a little.
Unfortunately it wasn’t as scary as either the first film or its studio sister, The Conjuring. This could be a big problem to some people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a snoozer, but the comparisons must be made and it comes out worse off.
As a sequel however, it is exemplary. It TOTALLY does everything a sequel should — builds on the story, adds a new layer of understanding to previous points and boldly and bravely expands on everything we've seen before. Previous mistakes are NOT repeated, in fact when it comes to the likes of Tucker and Specs’ sometimes suspect comedy relief, they are actually corrected. 
Rumours are this will be James Wan’s last horror film. This is a shame as it’s arguably his weakest offering (although perhaps that is a sign that he should branch out?). Still even mediocre James Wan is better than 90 per cent of horror films out there, so don’t be TOO put off.
To conclude, if you enjoyed Insidious, I THOROUGHLY recommend you see Chapter 2. If you didn’t, this may just do enough to change your mind. 
If you’ve not seen it? Go watch The Conjuring, you'll thank me for it.

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Until next time, I hope you enjoyed your stay.

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