Tag: ghosts

Insidious


Insidious (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Lamberts, led by schoolteacher Josh and musician Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne), recently moved into a new house with their three kids (Ty Simpkins, Andrew Astor). In the beginning, there were small incidents around the house like books being put out of place but no one ever touching them. Then the changes started to become more noticeable like Renai hearing malevolent voices from a baby monitor when no one was supposed to be upstairs other than the sleeping infant. One night, one of the children, Dalton, went to explore in the creepy attic and fell from a ladder. He was hurt but there was no serious injury. The problem was, the next morning, Dalton wouldn’t wake up. Doctors claimed he was in a coma but they couldn’t explain why. Written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan, “Insidious” was a creative, thrilling, old-fashioned haunted house film. When you’ve seen a lot of horror movies, you start to feel as though you’ve seen everything in the genre, that nothing can surprise you anymore. But there are times when movies like this would come and take you completely by surprise. From its title card in gargantuan red text designed to summon 70s and 80s cheesy horror nostalgia down to its chilling soundtrack, it immediately showcased its knowledge of horror conventions. I got the feeling that maybe it was going to poke fun of the standards. In some ways it did, but I was happier with the fact that it took the known conventions and made them better by altering them just a little bit. In a wasteland of bad remakes and cringe-inducing adaptations, a spice of modernity feels like a new breed. The first half worked as a horror picture because of the way it patiently built the suspense. The ghosts were scary but they didn’t go around following the family (depending on how one sees it). They were just hanging about, taking up the same space as the living. The director was careful in revealing too much. Sometimes the ghosts were on the background and the characters didn’t see them. But the audiences certainly did. Sometimes the apparitions were on the foreground and we had no choice but to scream at the images thrown at us. Because the director varied his camera angles and the types of scares, the film held an usually high level of tension. Each situation was a potential cause of alarm. In a dark room, we knew that something was going to happen but it was a matter of when. “Insidious” also worked as a horror-comedy. Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), a geek tech duo who seemed to have been plucked from Ivan Reitman’s “Ghost Busters,” provided required tension-relievers as they attempted to get bigger weapons to detect the ghosts. Meanwhile, the addition of Lin Shaye as the concerned psychic was an excellent counter-balance to the more comedic moments. Her character reminded us that “Insidious” was a horror movie first and foremost by allowing us to see what she saw in a dark room via Spec’s drawings. For an old-fashioned horror flick, “Insidious” felt progressive, even fresh. Sitting in a packed theater, I felt like the film continually threw snakes of increasing size onto my lap. I screamed louder each time.

Paranormal Activity 2


Paranormal Activity 2 (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

A family of four, led by Daniel and Kristi (Brian Boland and Sprague Grayden), decided to set up cameras all over the house because they believed someone vandalized their home while they were on vacation. Several days after the cameras were set up, the family reviewed the recorded images and started to notice strange things like objects moving by themselves. We observed baby Hunter (played by William Juan Prieto and Jackson Xenia Prieto) focused on something while in his crib in the middle of the night. Ali (Molly Ephraim), the eldest child, initially thought it was cool that the house was haunted so, along with her boyfiend (Seth Ginsberg), they tried to communicate with the spirits using a Ouija board. That’s never a good idea. “Paranormal Activity 2,” directed by Tod Williams, had a solid rising action. It was similar to its predecessor, directed by Oren Peli, because it managed to convey chilling images by showing very little. For instance, when the mother started hearing noises in the baby’s room and found that the weird noise wasn’t there, she headed to the connecting bathroom. Then something small would move near the crib. It obviously wasn’t the wind because the doors and windows were shut. When the mother returned to the room, the object ceased to move. It was scary because it defied physics. A moving object can’t abruptly stop moving without some force acting against it. Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie’s (Katie Featherston) return worked in some ways. Their appearance reminded me of why I enjoyed the first picture so much. They had good chemistry and their interactions were playful and amusing. But when the film started to weave in and explain how Micah and Katie’s story was related to the family in question, it felt forced. It began to feel like I was in a room watching a home movie and the writers were next to me as they attempted to write the script using a loud typewriter. It lacked believability. Once the kitchen cabinets and drawers were flung open at the same time, it was downhill from there because it wanted to increase the ante. But it didn’t need to. I missed the amusing scenes when Martine (Vivis Cortez), the family’s nanny, believed the house was haunted so she tried to let the good spirits inside using various incense and prayers. I also thought it was funny when Ali “researched” haunted houses and seemed to believe everything she read on the internet. The boyfriend just smiled because he knew how silly it was. It was simple, but I think it worked as a commentary for the young and not-so-young’s dependence on computers when we desperately need information. “Paranormal Activity 2” had some good scares and uncomfortable (but fun) chuckles as byproduct of stress (or fear) but it offered nothing new.

Northfork


Northfork (2003)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written by Mark Polish and Michael Polish, “Northfork” told the story of a community in Montana forced to be uprooted from their homes because the area that they lived in would soon be underwater. Six men (James Woods, Graham Beckel, Josh Barker, Peter Coyote, Jon Gries, Rick Overton) were assigned to persuade the residents to move out of their homes by any means necessary. On the other side of the spectrum, a dying child (Duel Farnes) was dropped off to an orpanage by his parents to be in the hands of a priest (Nick Nolte). In the child’s mind, the child tried to persuade ghosts (Daryl Hannah, Robin Sachs, Ben Foster, Anthony Edwards) that he was an angel and therefore they should take him with them when they leave Northfork. I love the fact that the film and was not really about anything; there was a plot but there was no story yet it was such a pleasure to watch. The way it played with the atmospheric images of the landscape to match the very eccentric characters somehow moved me. Even though there were times when the scenes with the six men did not completely work for me because some of the humor were not easily accessible, I couldn’t help but appreciate those scenes because of the creative visual puns. For me, the stronger scenes were the ones focused on the dying child. I was on the verge of tears when I thought about how his parents just left him to die because it was more convenient for them and how desperate he was leave the world of the living. There was a nice contrast between how alive he was in his mind and how weak he was in the “real” world which made the experience all the more touching. My favorite aspect of the film was the fact that it was very open to interpretation. I saw it as a story of loss and renewal. The residents may be losing the comfortable world they lived in but outside their comfort zones is a possibility of a better life. The boy may be losing his life but the result might offer a world where he need not be abandoned. “Northfork,” directed by Michael Polish, is a challenging picture. Less thoughtful audiences may be quick to judge and claim that nothing happened and therefore it wasn’t a worthwhile experience. Others may argue that it borderlines insularity. I may agree to an extent but I thought it worked because it captured the mindsets of residents living in a small town. I admired the ambitious philosophical questions it raised. I just wished it had more scenes when the camera would pull into a wide shot and showcase the breathtaking landscapes that were about to be erased.

The Eclipse


The Eclipse (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

A widower (Ciarán Hinds) with two kids started seeing ghosts of his father who was still alive. Coincidentally, two authors (Iben Hjejle and Aidan Quinn) arrived in the widower’s town to promote their novels, in which one of the authors had characters that had to deal with their own ghosts. This was a strange film because although it had elements of classic jump-out-of-your-seat horror, it also tried to be a story of a man who was still grieving over his wife but at the same time wanting to move on even though he had no idea how to start. I didn’t think it managed to do either effectively because the tone was too melodramatic and the characters became stuck with their own demons instead of eventually rising above them. I rooted for the characters because I believed they deserved to be happy, but the material desperately wanted to do something very different to the point where I wasn’t sure if it knew exactly where to go. As the picture went on, I became frustrated with it. Written and directed by Connor McPherson, there were some interesting motifs in the movie such as the director’s use of framing his characters in mirrors. I constantly wondered what he was trying to tell his audiences. Did he mean that the characters were fragile? Were the audiences only seeing the surface of the characters despite the characters addressing their histories? Were the characters harboring some sort of dark secret in which all of them were connected to? I was very curious with the director’s technique but in the end I found no answer that satisfied my curiosity. Instead of slowly opening up, I found the movie becoming more reserved and I felt less connected with what was going on. Instead of spending too much time with the attraction between Hinds and Hjejle, I thought the film would have been more effective if it focused on the relationships between the widower and his children, the widower and his wife, and the widower and his father, while using the authors and the characters in their respective novels as some sort of foil for the lead character. A more confident and clear balance between horror and drama was much needed. The horror elements could have been used as a metaphor with what the widower was going through. The ingredients of making a great film were there (it certainly looked poetic) but I think the execution was not as effective as it should have been. It needed more tension and a sense of urgency if it was going to retain the viewers’ attention.

The Grudge 3


The Grudge 3 (2009)
★ / ★★★★

“The Grudge 3,” directed by Toby Wilkins, started off pretty creepy as we got to observe Jake (Matthew Knight) being committed in a mental institution under the care of a psychiatrist (Shawnee Smith). We then cut to the siblings (Gil McKinney, Johanna Brady, Jadie Hobson) who were taking care of the apartment complex where Jake and his family used to live. Just when I thought that this second sequel will be better than “The Grudge 2,” it became bogged down by the conventions of the horror genre. For instance, a character deciding to enter a dark apartment from which a strange noise could be heard, a character having a moral dilemma concerning her family, and the all-too-obvious false alarms that might have worked if the material had a superior story. The bad and downright cheesy dialogue was just too much for me so when the characters were ultimately placed in front of the malevolent ghosts, I couldn’t help but not be scared. Admittedly, the shocks such as when the ghosts would appear out of nowhere which was aided by a booming score worked for me. But the aftershock was not present, an element that I believe is crucial for horror pictures. The side stories bored me half to death. The fashion model boyfriend (Beau Mirchoff), the Japanese woman with a mysterious link to the curse and the psychiatrist hoping to find some answers slowed the story down immensely. In my opinion, “The Grudge” is not all that scary. I’m surprised a lot of people embraced the first few movies (including the Japanese originals and the American version starring Sarah Michelle Gellar). There’s something about the entire franchise that seems redundant to me. I’m not entirely sure if it’s the fact that the curse is unbeatable or if it’s just the same kind of characters making the same bad decisions. If it’s the former, it begs the question of what the point is for watching the movies. And if it’s the latter, I can’t help but blame the lazy writing; it can’t be that difficult to establish a well-rounded character who we care for and root for up until the very end… and he or she not dying in the process. If you’re not a fan of the series in the first place, there’s absolutely no reason for you to see “The Grudge 3.” But if you are a fan and you do decide to see it, expect more of the same.

The Changeling


The Changeling (1980)
★★★ / ★★★★

Initially, I thought this was going to be a ghost story like the truly horrific “The Shining” (which I was excited for), but toward the end it ended up being more like “The Ring” (which I wasn’t as excited for). Directed by Peter Medak, “The Changeling” was about a man who loves to play the piano (George C. Scott) and his grief for losing his wife and daughter. After about four months of their death, with the help of a friend (Trish Van Devere), he decided to move in to a creepy historical mansion to work on his music and to move on from the tragedy. However, the house would not let him work or heal because it would make strange noises, play the piano when he left the room, open the door ever so slowly as he composed music, and throw his daughter’s ball down the stairs… even after he seemingly got rid of it. Those truly scary moments (aided by a haunting soundtrack) made this film worth watching. However, I did not enjoy the last third as much because it reminded me of “The Ring” (even though I enjoyed that movie). Granted, this was made first but the whole well being buried under a house was too much of a distraction for me so it definitely took me out of the experience. If I were to pick a favorite scene in this picture, it would hands down has to be the séance scene when Scott, the medium, and others finally made contact with the ghost. It was done in such a scary manner which reminded me of the exorcism scene in “The Exorcist.” I tried not to blink in fear that if I closed my eyes, something would suddenly appear in a dark corner in the living room (I saw the movie with all the lights out). I’ve heard all too often that this is not known by many, especially my generation. I think it definitely deserves to be seen, especially the fans of horror films, because it was able to generate genuine scares without sacrificing the story. This is a very good haunted house picture that could have been as good as “The Shining” if it had been longer (perhaps a tour of the deeply atmospheric house?) and the whole bit about the well was eliminated. But then again I’m just being picky about the difference between “good” and “great” (to warn those who are expecting “The Shining”-level filmmaking). Don’t get me wrong, this is still a must-see.

Paranormal Activity


Paranormal Activity (2007)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Oren Peli, “Paranormal Activity” claims to be real but it is far from it because, well, it was written and directed by someone. So save yourself the embarrassment and don’t yell out, “It’s real! It’s real!” in front of everyone. A couple from San Diego, Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat, decided to record the paranormal happenings in their house from September to October 2006. Katie was apprehensive of the idea because she has a history of a ghost following her ever since she was a child. Micah went ahead anyway because, a typical guy that he was, he wanted to record something awesome instead of taking the safer route. The movie started off with funny moments between the couple but it became more grim the deeper we got into the film. I’m not talking about just scary noises in the hallway. I’m talking about footprints, shadows, Ouija boards, sleepwalking, possession, and exploring the idea of a possible exorcism.

Comparisons with the highly influential and effective horror film that everyone thought was real at the time of its release in 1999, “The Blair Witch Project,” is inevitable. (I wonder why suddenly most people nowadays really dislike that movie.) Both movies used a hand-held camera that was shaky and it played upon one of people’s greatest fears: the unknown. Both movies also used the technique of a continuous rising action and ending the movie during its climax for full effect (and discussions after walking out of the multiplex). Although I consider “The Blair Witch Project” to be a better movie, it’s really all a matter of personal taste. I believe “Paranormal Activity” more than held its own because it captured genuine thrills and chills that most movies with big budgets (and far better special and visual effects) cannot. That fact alone should make the actors and the director proud of their work.

Essentially, “Paranormal Activity” thrived on realism. If you believe in demons or ghosts (or even if you’re not sure they exist–a group of which I belong in), chances are you will be cowering in your seat. If you don’t believe it demons or ghosts at all, chances are you’re going to laugh at the whole thing and maybe you shouldn’t even spend money to watch it. (Maybe catch it on DVD because it really is quite impressive.) I thought the movie was scary because it’s a classic haunted house movie: we see shadows, noises, and the things they do to the objects around the couple. And yes, they eventually do something to our protagonists other than scaring them out of their minds and desperately wanting to call an exorcist for help. I loved the bedroom scenes because those are when things started to get very… interesting. Even though the setting was rendundant (the whole movie was shot in one house), the things that were happening (that shouldn’t happen in the first place) was not. With each bedroom scene, the level of scare factor was amplified exponentially–by the fourth of fifth bedroom scene, I really wanted to look away because I found myself imagining the “What Ifs” when I would be the one sleeping and all the lights would be off.

This is not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen. But it is one of those movies that I couldn’t help but think about afterwards. Despite what we know (or “understand” might be a better word) of science, and as a person who values science, we shouldn’t disregard certain possibilities just because we haven’t gathered enough support about them. If you’re tired of the same generic slasher films and remakes that Hollywood is spitting out every week, then do yourself a favor and see this one. Stop reading spoilers and hoping that the fear will wane after you’ve read a description. Because chances are, images are stronger than words. And even if you don’t end up liking it, at least you’re supporting a small movie. By doing so, perhaps big studio executives would stop being so elitist and support smaller films in the future–a movement that I strongly believe in because, in my experience as a young cinéphile, most of the time smaller films have great ideas and better execution than big Hollywood movies.