Insidious: Chapter 2 review

Insidious_Chapter_2_PosterIn film, few genres give me as much joy as horror.  Even the bad movies have this odd charm to them that makes them just a joy to watch.  They fail so hard at being scary that the resulting entertainment is just unintended glee.  When they succeed at tension building and suspense, though, there’s a whole new experience to be had.  “Entertainment” isn’t really the best word to describe a good horror movie because it’s more a roller coaster than a joy ride.  It’s a combination of physical responses and unrelenting dread.  A successful horror movie is an entirely different experience than any other film.  Sadly, successful horror movies are few and far between.  Thankfully James Wan and Leigh Whannell are around to breathe new life into the horror genre.

The two got their start with what birthed the most successful horror franchise of all time, Saw.  While not all the films in the series are winners, it’s undeniable that the first film helped to reshape an entire genre of film while providing one of the most ingenious plot twists of all time.  Since their little torture porn, the horror duo have worked on Dead Silence (while not the best horror film, a fun throwback to campy 80’s killer doll flicks that I still enjoy) and the more recent Insidious.

The first Insidious raised the bar for me in what to expect from a horror film.  The film relied on tension building in tandem with jump scares and completely forwent any gore – being released with only a PG-13 rating.  Something not terribly common in horror films.  Most horror films up to that point had been R-rated murder romps that featured an overabundance of jump scares and creative kills to draw in audiences.  Insidious delivered something different:  a truly terrifying experience.  It was smart, fast, fun, and intense.  This isn’t to say that it didn’t rely on jump scares, but it was able to have lasting moments of constant tension buildup beyond those loud music cues and closets flying open.  Insidious set a new standard for me and its sequel had a lot to live up to.

Insidious

I had high expectations for the film but, with James Wan having directed another 2013 horror film (the well-received The Conjuring which also starred Insidious’ Patrick Wilson), there was a bit of concern in whether or not this film would feel like the lovingly crafted sequel I wanted or a quick cash in to a super successful modern horror classic.  I’m pleased to say that Insidious met my expectations – even exceeded them at times.

insidious-philip-friedman1Insidious: Chapter 2 begins with a bit of back story highlighting story elements that are hinted at in the first film but never delved into.  Josh Lambert had some experiences with astral projection as a child and this back story is more fleshed out in this sequel and plays heavily into the history of both films.  It’s an excellent preface to the subsequent events and really helps to broaden the scope of the film.  After the title card, which is pulled from the first film and “Chapter 2” fades in behind it, we’re taken to an interrogation room.  Picking up almost immediately after the events of Insidious, Chapter 2 reminds us that there’s a dead medium in the Lambert house and Josh is more than likely the murderer – though with the complicated alibi of being stuck in The Further.

The next 100 minutes are filled with answers, more questions, and plenty of scares.  Insidious: Chapter 2 avoids playing it safe by messing with the foundation laid in the first film.  Everything that happened in the first film has some new meaning in the sequel and it’s crazy how well it works.  Repurposed footage is given new life in mindblowing sequences where you’re left thinking, “If this wasn’t planned in the first film, this is damn brilliant.”

Jump scares and exposition play a much bigger role in Chapter 2 than they did in the first.  We’ve already been introduced to the idea of astral projection and The Further, so this time around we’re looking to get some resolution following the cliffhanger finish of the first film.  There’s still that building tension and I had chills running down my arm more than a few times during the course of Chapter 2, but lore building and fast moving thrills are a big part of the experience, too.  It works, too.

The way Insidious ended could have been the end of it all and I would have been okay with it.  It felt like a wonderfully fitting close to a horror film.  With that, it’s nice to know that the events that followed Elise’s death don’t feel shoehorned in.  There’s actually a lot of interesting happenings and the foundation they’ve built for the lore is left vacant at the end of the experience for even more adventures – though maybe absent the Lambert family.

EliseThe film also brings back Specs and Tucker, favorites of mine in the first film, and it brings them to the forefront.  They’re great characters and breaths of fresh air amidst all the tension and jumps.  It’s not always easy to have a balance between horror and comedy in a film, and these characters show that a balance isn’t entirely necessary.  When you’re dealing with absurd and bizarre matters, absurd and bizarre characters can fit right in.  Let’s face it, even when you’re facing a haunted family surrounded by horrors of unspeakable nature, you’d be glad to have a couple of oafish nerds hanging around to make light of the situation.  It was nice to see them back for round two and they were as enjoyable as ever.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is more than a sequel.  It’s a film so tightly knit with its predecessor that it’s almost impossible to think of the two films standing on their own anymore.  With one, you cannot have the other.  This sequel serves as a prequel, and interquel, and a sequel with content so heavily embedded in the first movie that it’s more like the sequel influenced its predecessor than vice versa.  As a continuation of a saga, this film is damn near perfect.  If the ideas presented in Insidious and Chapter 2 do spawn another chapter, I sincerely hope it stays in the hands of the masters of modern horror James Wan and Leigh Whannell.

 

Insidious: Chapter 2:  4 out of 5

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Zombieland: The Series Trailer–Pilot on Amazon

While it’s disappointing that we may never get that much desired sequel to 2009’s fantastic horror comedy Zombieland, we can be further disappointed by Amazon’s attempts to continue the adventures of our survivors in their serialized continuation:  Zombieland: The Series.  The first episode is currently available on Amazon for free, but it looks terrible.  I can’t speak certainly whether it actually is or not, since I haven’t taken advantage of the free video, but the trailer below doesn’t really make me feel comforted that the property is in able hands.  The cast of characters is the same, supposedly, as those in the films, but the new actors portraying them seem to have lost a lot of what gave those characters their appeal, if this trailer is representative of the final product.

One Hell of a Night: Evil Dead Review

Recycling old ideas has been a common thing in Hollywood recently with more and more big budget remakes/reboots of classics or sequels in established franchises sprouting up all over the place.  Sometimes it works, reintroducing a classic idea to a new audience with more modern themes and effects; sometimes it doesn’t with losing sight of what exactly it was that made the classic great.  Horror movies aren’t immune to this revisiting of existing properties and the latest horror reboot is this year’s Evil Dead.  A reenvisioning of Sam Raimi’s horror classic, this new Evil Dead eschews the camp and comedy of the original two films in favor of a pure, gritty, gory horror romp through evil infested woods.

The film starts out strong with a prologue that has a father trying to purge his daughter of the evil that possesses her.  From there, viewers are brought to a familiar cabin in the woods where a group of friends is gathered to help Mia (Jane Levy) through her detox.  The setup provides the promise of some emotional character depth, but it’s quickly lost after it becomes quickly apparent that the story only cares about Mia and her distanced brother David (Shiloh Fernandez).  It’s somewhat disappointing that all this promise is lost amidst horror movie clichés, but you soon forget about it when you realize just how well they did the tension and jump scares—it’s also impossible to deny just how fun all the over-the-top gore is.  In the end, though, the bit about the estranged brother and his recovering sister works out because those characters are the ones that stand out the most, so when something bad happens, you feel it—everyone else is fodder, so you’re really just waiting for them to die.

The script isn’t particularly strong, but it gets the job done.  The writers surely had a ball constructing this new vision, but it is somewhat weighted down by clichés.  Characters do ridiculously foolish things if only for the reason to put themselves in a situation where one of them has to die—but, as a viewer, you don’t really care because that’s really what you paid $8 to see.

It’s also worth noting that in spite of not being campy or over-the-top in its presentation of humor, this new Evil Dead has its own charms.  The humor isn’t quite as apparent as it’s much more tongue-in-cheek and morbid than the original films.  There’s one scene in particular that was brutally gruesome, but I couldn’t help but let out a solid laugh—a reaction I’m sure they were hoping for.

Evil Dead is built on the ideas of the classic films, but brings to the table several of its own.  There are scenes that feel incredibly familiar, but then you’re thrown a completely unexpected (and pleasantly gruesome) curveball that freshens up the formula.  This remake/reboot is a welcome entry in the franchise and the genre as a whole and, while it is more of a “pure” horror film, it does have moments that echo the charm of the originals.  Fans of The Evil Dead and horror in general will be more than pleased with what Evil Dead has to offer.

White Noise: A Tale of Horror Review

Proper horror games are few and far between these days, and they tend to creep up more on PC thanks to independent developers and distribution platforms like steam.  Since its introduction, Xbox Live Indie Games (XBLIG) has been largely abused by a community of users determined to make their mark by releasing complete garbage or “me-too” knock offs.  There have been several solid releases in the XBLIG marketplace over the years, yes, but they’re constantly becoming harder and harder to find with each new day of unsolicited downloadable shovelware.  White Noise: A Tale of Horror is one of those shameless copycats… but it’s a very good one.

While I haven’t played Slender: The Eight Pages, I wasn’t completely ignorant to the fact that White Noise was a rip off; despite this, I felt starved for a good scare and decided to give White Noise a try… after all, it was only $1 (80 MSP).  I am pleased to say that it was a very worthwhile purchase.

Since I haven’t played Slender, I can’t draw comparisons between the two (though I have heard they are essentially identical games); instead, I will be reviewing White Noise based on its own merits.

White Noise is a simple game following a simple formula:  plop players in random locations in the middle of a creepy forest with nothing but a flashlight and the will to outrun a terrifying, shadowy creature set on making you dead.  Players are tasked with recovering eight tape recorders hidden throughout various creepy locations featuring run-down architecture and ominous noises.  There are few cues or hints as to where the recordings are located–static noises are used to indicate the player is close to an audio log, but the game doesn’t feature a HUD or any other markers indicating where the logs may be found.  It’s a bit of a cop-out to increase the game’s longevity by encouraging multiple playthroughs to acclimate one’s self to the game’s environment, but it’s surprisingly effective as the game rarely feels monotonous as the tension never seems to subside.

Being placed in random locations, it’s a challenge to get oriented from the beginning, and having the viewing area limited to only what the flashlight illuminates certainly doesn’t make things easier.  While it can be easy enough to get back on a familiar path, once players start picking up the audio logs, the shadowy figure begins making appearances, forcing players to run and (possibly) get lost again.  Audio-visual cues indicate when the creature is close (featuring snowy static around the border of the screen and fitting audio when the shadow figure is near), and a lot times it comes completely out of nowhere. White Noise is incredibly effective at the jump scare, and it manages to make that startling moment last with a sense of danger and tension after the initial startling revelation that there is a monster nearby.  There is no offense against the creature, players’ only option is to run away.  Running isn’t unlimited, either–and it’s certainly not fast.  I found myself tightly gripping the right trigger (used for sprinting) in desperation hoping that I could get away from the creature–it only worked sometimes.

Adding to the tension is the game’s beautifully rendered horror world.  Being mostly shrouded in darkness probably helps this game to be more visually appealing, but there’s no denying that it’s one of the best looking (if not the best looking) games on XBLIG.  The forest is genuinely creepy and the run down cemetery and crumbling monuments decorating the world help add to that feeling of uneasiness.

The sound design is equally effective.  The game’s score appropriately becomes more and more intense with each audio log the player recovers–adding to the heart pounding intensity as each note bursting through the speakers nearly shouts, “It’s coming to get you!”  The sounds of nature and other haunting noises are as misleading as they are cause for dread.

Story, on the other hand, is nearly non-existent.  The game begins with a text introduction before plopping players into the woods to gather audio logs they cannot listen to–they’re merely tokens of progress that can be used to unlock gameplay bonuses from the game’s menu.  I’m a sucker for horror as much as I am a fan of lore–that this game actually managed to frighten me and that it only cost a dollar are reason’s I’m willing to look the other way in regards to plot.  As much as I would have loved there to be an actual story, it could have also detracted from the experience if it were poorly written or thought out.

White Noise may not be a beacon of originality or the zenith of storytelling, but it’s a mighty fine horror experience.  The scares, as cheap as they may be, are genuine and lasting–this isn’t something that can be said about most of the AAA “horror” games out there now.  I’d love to see more horror content make its way to the Indie Games channel on Xbox Live and I think White Noise is a great first step in that direction.  If you are starved for a good horror experience, White Noise is well worth the dollar and time.

 

 

White Noise: A Horror Tale A Tale of Horror is currently available on XBLIG for 80 MSP.