Horror, Reviews

Insidious

Insidious

Copyright © 2011 by FilmDistrict

Story
Renai (Rose Byrne) and Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) have just moved into a new house with their children. The eldest, Dalton (Ty Simpkins) begins to explore the house and goes to the attic after hearing sounds coming from there. After witnessing something terrifying, he leaves the place and before going to bed, both Renai and Josh remind him never to go back into the attic. All seems well until the next day when Dalton does not awaken from his sleep. The doctors are unable to justify the cause of Dalton’s coma and when he is moved back to the house from the hospital, strange events begin happening. Afraid that the occurrences are coming from the house, Renai pleads with Josh to leave in search of a new home. The disturbances still continue until they realise that the haunted is actually Dalton himself.

Review
Having ghostly apparitions while sleeping in your cozy little bed or seeing objects move from the living room to the kitchen are staple ingredients for a good scare when you are dealing with a vengeful omnipresent force in a too-good-to-be-true-priced newly purchased dream house. Both originals of ‘The Haunting’ and ‘The Amityville Horror’ kept you at the edge of your seat while ‘What Lies Beneath’ presented another ‘spiritual’ option for the soul to connect with the living. With the growing interest in a different kind of horror i.e. the ‘Saw’ or ‘Hostel’ series these days, it is no wonder horror films that rely on memorable characters with great build-up tensions and atmospheric vibes are no longer in fashion for the new generation of fans.

Thankfully, the renaissance began with 2009’s ‘Paranormal Activity’, a ‘little’ found-footage feature that made it big all across the globe. It required none of the sordid sort to catapult its success. Just plain old good word of mouth and I can see why this offering from Malaysian born James Wan who rose to prominence from his ‘Saw’ debut has the legs that is rarely seen in this genre. The buzz started when ‘Insidious’ was first screened in the Toronto International Film Festival to much critical delight from the audiences there and the momentum continued until its theatrical release on April 2011. It ended up making almost seventy times from the budget spent, becoming the most profitable film for that year.

It is no denying that this sleeper hit took the familiar and reconstructed it with a touch of science thrown in for the added originality. What is fascinating about the revelation is the idea of introducing astral projection into a seemingly generic take on the haunted house tropes. The house is not cursed this time around but rather malicious entities surround it due to our protagonist’s ability to perform such skill. The dread that is made known throughout the film is brilliantly brought out by composer Joseph Bishara and cinematographer John R. Leonetti. Watch out for the musician’s cameo as one of Dalton’s tormentors as well. His physical appearance will definitely leave an impression not easily forgotten.

Another standout scene to look out for is the emergence of a frightening man in Dalton’s baby sister’s bedroom. It will jump at you at the most unexpected of times. The sense of unease lingers thanks to a well rounded cast. Its two leads, Byrne and Wilson put on understated performances and their chemistry together is believable as a couple who is struggling to save their son from a ‘hostile’ takeover. It truly is a remarkable year for Byrne especially since this is only her first out of three hits; she follows it with ‘X-Men: First Class’ and ‘Bridesmaids’.

Frequent collaborator with Wan, Leigh Whannell who wrote the script and plays a supporting role in the film has crafted another well-conceived idea sans the blood and gore that were featured heavily in their earlier work involving games and death traps. While the thought of featuring such a twisted and intelligent murderer who can concoct inventive ways to kill his victims has spawned six sequels and is a key factor to the birth of a new kind of terror, I, for one am glad that Wan did not participate in Saw’s continuity and decided to advance his career on future endeavours with a more restrained and subtle approach. A welcome return to old school horror and its success is testament that moviegoers are indeed discerning about quality above everything else.

Rating
Entirety: A-
Acting: A
Plot: A

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, violence, terror and frightening images, and brief strong language

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Fantasy, Reviews

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson

Copyright © 2013 by 20th Century Fox

Story
Set after the events from the first book, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is still trying to cope with life and training in Camp Half-Blood. Other than his heroic turn in his previous escapade, he has been merely average in camp and is constantly undermined by the more superior Clarisse La Rue (Leven Rambin), the offspring of Ares. When the camp’s protective force is weakened, guarded by Thalia, daughter of Zeus who was preserved as a tree after sacrificing herself in a prior incident, the trio consisting of Percy, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) decide to save the poisoned tree by setting out on a journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece which is powerful enough to cure and even resurrect anything or anyone it comes into contact with. Meanwhile, Percy learns of another imminent doom approaching concocted by an old foe that requires the fleece’s magical properties as well.

Review
When it was announced that the follow-up to ‘Lightning Thief’ had been green lit to grace our screens this year with a new director, screen writer and supporting cast, I was fairly optimistic that the outcome should be better than its predecessor. After all, ‘Lightning Thief’ was enjoyably fun and successfully paved the way for subsequent adventures to come. The gross taking may not have been as gargantuan as anticipated for its first outing but under the reins of Thor Freudenthal who previously helmed another book-to-movie franchise, ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ from Fox as well, the producers are definitely hoping for the tide to turn.

While the earnings are still not final, it is expected that ‘Sea of Monsters’ will outperform the original (although US takings are significantly lower). For fans of the books, it is a sign to rejoice as the next chapter of Percy’s life has been set for a 2015 release. I really do hope that third time is a charm for this flagging series as the best I can say about this sophomore effort is its juvenile fun. When we were first introduced to Percy, we got to know about his medical condition and how it affected his overall well-being. This was followed with many well-known Greek legends, all carefully placed throughout the film to keep it staying afloat.

The novelty for this concept is infamous Greek mythologies are given a modern spin which was the strength in his previous quest. It is not only lacking in the sequel but what makes it even more unmemorable is the introduction to too many original and inconsequential characters. The ones who do stand out, Clarisse and Tyson (Douglas Smith), their character expositions are still under developed and feel forced. Just on appearance alone, Tyson, Percy’s one-eyed half-brother especially, could have given the much needed emotional core to an otherwise very hollow film. Another missed opportunity is on Jake Abel’s main antagonist, Luke who emerges only in a handful of scenes does not resonate enough for the audience to believe his rage towards his father and motivations for unleashing a force of terror into the world.

The saving grace for this feature comes only from seasoned character actors Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion who do not disappoint in their comical but brief interpretations as Dionysus and Hermes respectively. So heavily underused, their scenes are by far the best in the movie. If more screen time has been allocated for Hermes to reconcile with Luke, it would have provided the quieter moments reminiscent to Percy’s unresolved daddy issues a while back. As the entire story hinges on Percy to once again save the day, Lerman’s take on this underdog this time around is more self-assured and expressive than he was three years ago.

If only the rest of his fellow young actors could follow suit, the sequel could have turn a notch higher artistically and not relegated to just a cash-grab from the powers-that-be. It does not help either that the action sequences feels like they are too hastily conceived and the overall scope of the climax is not befitting of an epic battle with the King of Kings. A word of advice, less is always more; so instead of barraging the audience with lots of CG to conceal its inadequacies, why not present a better written and polished script to justify its leap to the big screen? You do not need any Golden Fleece to heal its ‘sickly’ state. What it needs is an auteur to zap the series right back on its Olympian track.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B+
Plot: B

Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language

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