★★★ / ★★★★
“Aquaman” brings to mind Playstation RPGs in the ‘90s: a reluctant protagonist with a calling, journeying across vast landscapes, nail-biting boss battles, fetch quests, and an impending war between worlds looming in the background. But what elevates the material from becoming a video game under the guise of a superhero film is James Wan’s energetic direction. He embraces groan-inducing jokes, silly one-liners, and ludicrous scenarios like a couple deciding to kiss in the middle of a battlefield with aplomb. What results is a work with a distinct personality—certainly entertaining—even though there are moments when plot developments fail to command a lick of sense.
It is said that a superhero movie is only as good as its villain. Patrick Wilson plays King Orm, half-brother of Arthur/Aquaman (Jason Momoa—clearly having a blast with the role) who wishes to unite four underwater kingdoms before raging war against those who live on land. To my surprise, I found his motivation to be practical—humans have trashed and polluted the oceans so badly over the years that it is a fact that our activities have negatively impacted marine populations and biodiversity. Orm is not painted to be evil for the sake of having an antithesis to our hero; he simply wishes to do right for those whom he represents and doing so requires absolute force. Orm is a curious antagonist, somewhat undeveloped, but I wished he, too, like the title character, were given an equally colorful personality.
The screen is filled to the brim with overwhelming visual effects. There is almost always something to gawk at, from hundreds of sea creatures making their way toward Atlantis, stumbling across a hidden kingdom underneath the Sahara, to a bizarre but inspired moment in which an octopus is shown playing drums. A character may stand still but her thick red hair is always flowing beautifully. And these are the calmer moments. Busy action sequences take place underwater, in the air, and even underground.
Particularly impressive is the rooftop chase in Sicily where Arthur and Mera (Amber Heard), the latter betrothed to Orm but knows her future husband is not fit to be a king and a leader, are located by the enemy while in the process of searching for a legendary trident that would grant great powers to the person who wields it. This sequence is particularly challenging for two reasons. First, it must balance thrill with comedy. Look closely and realize there are slapstick jokes thrown about—appropriate because the water-based hunters are not accustomed to moving on land.
Second, we follow two protagonists that have been separated—one dealing with a handful of weaker enemies and the other faced with one incredibly formidable foe. With the former group, it is impersonal. But with the latter group, it is personal because for one of them, it is about revenge. Each confrontation must be directed and edited differently. And I admired that the filmmakers are aware of the importance of keeping things fresh. It is not about delivering violence and explosions but the entertainment created during the buildup.
The film offers a good time, not a smart time or even a sensible one—and there is nothing wrong with that. I enjoyed “Aquaman” because those who shaped the project prove knowledgeable of the genre’s weaknesses… and strengths. Perhaps more importantly, the director puts his own stamp on the work. Keep in mind that Wan specializes in horror films. Watch carefully as Arthur and Mera reach The Trench—a place where sea creatures are sent to be sacrificed for their crimes. Note how numerous horror imageries—the storm, monsters increasing in numbers at an alarming rate, how these creatures move, how hungry they look—take over the screen. It is a literal descent to hell. It is clear that without the director’s vision, creativity, and execution, the final product would have been just another DCEU blockbuster with little to no personality.
Bone Tomahawk (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★
An interesting hybrid of western and horror, “Bone Tomahawk” is a work that requires a whole lot of patience, a pinch of rumination, and a healthy dose appreciation for the small but calculated elements dispersed throughout its one-hundred-thirty-minute running time. Those craving for a film that is willing and unafraid to take risks are likely to welcome what it offers.
Notice how it takes its time. It is almost an hour into the picture when the plot is finally propelled to the forward direction and so for a while it makes us wonder where the story is supposed to go. We are given possibilities. Because the picture is a western, we expect a typical clash between the Indians and the white men. Instead, the material consistently strives to deliver more than what is expected. In some ways, it reminded me of a classic literature—the manner in which writer-director S. Craig Zahler lays the foundation so meticulously that payoffs are highly likely to prove fruitful. (And they do.)
The plot involves a rescue mission spearheaded by Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell). He is accompanied by a “backup” deputy (Richard Jenkins), an educated man (Matthew Fox), a cripple (Patrick Wilson) whose wife is abducted. But the journey is not what the film is about. It is about the discovery of who these men are while facing their mortality. We learn of their pasts, their fears, their hopes, who they loved, and what they wish to accomplish once the rescue is over. Not all of them will see the end of the rescue.
The dialogue has color. Although a western and the words uttered are western-like, the attitude and the flavor of the various deliveries command a certain ironic-lite anachronism. Comedic exchanges tend to sprout out of nowhere and they are even bittersweet at times. It almost gives the impression that these men are aware, or have accepted the possibility, that they are walking toward certain death. Are they driven by revenge, honor, duty, curiosity? As the travelers push themselves to exhaustion, they open up, and eventually we are able to gauge their sense of morality and hypothesize what really made them choose to partake in this rescue mission. Perhaps they feel a need to rescue themselves.
Beautifully shot and well-acted, one can make a case that “Bone Tomahawk” is a case study of the male ego and what is expected of masculinity. Note that the women characters stay in the home, they are healers—even the female cave dwellers are blinded, crippled, their main function to get impregnated and deliver new life successfully. Most importantly, however, the film is an entertaining, highly watchable experiment that delivers potent thrills.
Conjuring 2, The (2016)
★★★★ / ★★★★
After the terrible mess that is “Insidious: Chapter 2” which followed a refreshingly brilliant predecessor, I was worried about James Wan’s continuation of “The Conjuring,” yet another excellent modern horror addition in his increasingly impressive repertoire. It is a wonderful surprise then that “The Conjuring 2” is able to match its antecedent on a consistent basis, at times even surpassing it, and actually expands the characterizations of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga).
This time, the case takes the married couple to London where a single mother (Frances O’Connor) and her four children are haunted by the spirit of an old man who used to live in their home. The situation is seemingly triggered by Janet (Madison Wolfe) bringing home a home-made Ouija board and, along with her sister (Lauren Esposito), attempting to communicate with the dead. Soon, Janet begins to wake up in the middle of night and finding herself in the living room near a leather chair where the old man passed away…
The writer-director approaches the material with a specific vision and confidence. He engages and terrorizes the viewer by setting up a familiar trope and delivering a punchline that is unexpected. At times the punchline is withheld. For example, the aforementioned Ouija board scene is set up exactly like other movies that feature the mysterious item. But the twist here is that the planchette is never shown moving on its own. We anticipate what might or should happen given our experiences with other, lesser horror films and the brilliance is that when nothing at all happens, our fears and worries are carried onto the next scene. This piggyback approach creates many dramatic payoffs.
Just about every performer on screen have a certain believability to them. For example, judging simply on looks, O’Connor who plays the mother has a certain air of working class to her. Such a comment is not meant to be glib. On the contrary, I commend the casting directors for choosing someone who fits the material extremely well. O’Connor’s character, Peggy, looks tired, her clothes are worn and plain, and she appears as though she belongs in a house that doesn’t have very many adornments or amenities. It shows us that the family have limited means and so they cannot just pack up and go upon their encounter of paranormal activity.
Another example is Wolfe who plays the main daughter who is terrorized by the demonic spirit. Her ways of commanding the camera when directly looking at it or away from it are completely different—an impressive quality especially for someone her age because so many performers across all genres do not possess such a skill. Because Wolfe is so magnetic, it is that much easier to get into the mindset of her character and relate to her plight. I also enjoyed her scenes with Wilson and Farmiga because she consistently proves that she has the power to match their subtleties.
Scares are potent and creative. Wan has a knack for allowing the tension to swell until it is almost unbearable. While numerous jump scares are employed, I argue that the best scenes are drawn out, allowing time for images, well-placed and modulated shadows, tone and atmosphere, camera movement, and score, to create a synergy. Alfred Hitchcock once said, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” There is plenty of anticipation here.
“The Conjuring 2” is one of the most technically impressive horror films to have come out in the past few years—an accomplishment not to be underestimated due to the sheer number of horror movies released in one year alone. It is almost perfect visually. I just wish it had utilized less CGI, particularly the scene involving The Crooked Man coming after a little boy. Perhaps it might have been scarier if a giant, tactile puppet had been used instead of relying on the magic of a computer. Still, such a snag can be easily forgiven because just about everything else it offers is first-class.
Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
★ / ★★★★
Though Josh (Patrick Wilson) has succeeded in getting his son (Ty Simpkins) back from the spirit world via astral projection, something else has found its way into Josh’s body and it intends to stay there. So, Josh finds himself stuck in the other realm as if he were one of the dead. His wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), suspects that the man in front of her may not really be her husband after he fails to recognize a song she has written for him. To top it off, her fears are amplified due to the ghostly occurrences beginning to unfold in the house.
“Insidious: Chapter 2,” based on the screenplay by Leigh Whannell, is a witless, humorless, uncreative, and messy would-be horror movie. I was astonished that this embarrassing wreckage is from the mind of the same person who wrote the suspenseful, eerie, genuinely scary predecessor. Even though the first picture ended in a cliffhanger, a sequel should not have been made because there was no script worth putting into celluloid.
If there is one word to describe the film, it would be “reaching.” As in: the movie is constantly reaching for something that simply isn’t there. The supposed scares lack energy and a sense of timing—two key qualities to pull off an adequate horror film. As a result, every attempt to “scare” the audience is so dull to have to sit through.
It throws everything at us: an entity playing the piano when one is alone in the house, something suddenly moving while one explores a dark room, a malicious voice being heard through the baby monitor. And though these things can work if used wisely and sparingly, showing them one right after another communicates nothing but a desperation to impress. I wasn’t impressed. It bored me.
The characters are now aware of the nature of what they are dealing with so suspense and mystery are no longer present. We are asked to do nothing but anticipate how they react. It does not help that there is a strictly enforced formula to the scares as well as in the unveiling of revelations. It is like having to sit through a joke we’ve heard before… only this person is not telling it very well. If the material had been smarter or if the writer had been more ambitious, it ought to have had some kind of a spin with respect to the characters being more aware of what they are fighting against. Instead, it settles for less than mediocrity and just about everything about the picture feels interminable and desultory.
To add insult to injury, the sequel connects one of the most terrifying encounters in “Insidious” into its veins. It feels so forced—something that comes right out of those cheap, badly made, insulting sequels to James Wan’s “Saw” and Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity.” Is this what commercial horror has been reduced to—“connecting” events with its predecessors to appear “intelligent” or “creative”? I find it disgusting, lazy, and insulting.
It is clear that “Insidious: Chapter 2” is not director James Wan’s finest effort. There is nothing to see here unless one is interested in sifting through distractions and clichés. A litmus test on whether or not a scary movie is effective: if you come out of it more frustrated than uneasy to be in your house alone, it has fundamentally failed to do its job.
Conjuring, The (2013)
★★★★ / ★★★★
Horror movies do not get the laudation they deserve because a good number of them are shockingly bad and thrice more settle for just being mediocre. Great horror is very difficult to achieve so many filmmakers in the genre often end up relying on blood and violence to generate would-be scares. It feels as if there is a collective act of surrender in giving the audience something to be excited about.
It is surprising then that once in a blue moon a horror picture comes along and surprises because it is ambitious, confident, and smart about what it hopes to accomplish. Right from the opening scene, we get a sense that “The Conjuring,” directed by James Wan, is a different breed: behind it is an eye that is conscious of the nuts and bolts of what makes horror movies so fun to watch. A pair of nurses who believe that a doll is able to move on its own should be funny. And it is–for a split second. Utilizing well-placed pauses between dialogue, a heavy silence as the camera scans a room, and an awareness of what should be shown (and when), it sets up very familiar scenes in ways that can be appreciated.
The freaky Annabelle doll is only the scent of a delectable meal. After the Perron family moves into a farmhouse in Rhode Island, strange events start to occur. Carolyn (Lili Taylor) finds bruises all over her body but is unaware how she gets them. April (Kyla Deaver) picks up a music box next to a lake and begins to have an imaginary friend. Meanwhike, as Christine (Joey King) sleeps, something grabs her leg and tries to pull her off the bed. Details like creaky doors, isolated smell of rotten meat, and clocks stopping at exactly 3:07 in the morning go a long way because we care about the family.
The first hour is exemplary because each scene is a focused escalation from bizarre to horrifying. The key is going for the jugular without rushing for the jolt. Instead, a situation builds up slowly, interestingly without false alarms, and then suddenly until a saturation point. As we observe the Perrons being tortured by the paranormal entities, it begins to feel like we are a tenant living in one of the rooms and wondering what the hell we got ourselves into. The director is aware that what he is playing with is not new and so it is all the more important to provide a personal touch with each encounter.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson playing paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, respectively, do a respectable work embodying a couple who has been in the job for so long. And so it is a disappointment that the writers, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, end up making the case somewhat more interesting than the demonologists. Ed and Lorraine get a subplot about their daughter and an exorcism that has gone awry, merely functioning as footnotes in the big picture. I felt like I knew the Perron case well but not the couple examining it.
When the film gets showy, especially during the final twenty minutes, it loses a degree of its power. Images of objects floating in the air and furnitures being thrown by an invisible force are just too far–and standard–from the moody aura it has created for itself. Since it falters to remain true to its identity all the way through, it is short of being exceptional.
“The Conjuring” is a step in the right direction for the genre. It shows that with the right material, talent, and enthusiasm behind the lens horror movies made in the twenty-first century can be very good, can be taken seriously, and can be accessible even for those who are not generally fans of scary movies.
But is it one to be remembered? I’m optimistic.
Ledge, The (2011)
★ / ★★★★
Hollis (Terrence Howard), a cop, just found out that he has always been infertile. This means that the kids he supposedly has with his wife (Jaqueline Fleming) are not his biologically. Still processing the news, he is informed that a man wishes to jump off a building. The person about to commit suicide is called Gavin (Charlie Hunnam). Gavin tells Hollis that he has been instructed to jump to his death at noon. If he fails to do so, another will die on his behalf.
“The Ledge,” written and directed by Matthew Chapman, lacks punch because the thriller and dramatic elements fail to mesh in such a way that reels in our interest from the beginning all the way to the end. I stopped caring somewhere in the middle.
The majority of the story is told using flashbacks. We meet Gavin’s new neighbors, Joe (Patrick Wilson) and Shana (Liv Tyler), a married couple who strictly hold onto their belief in God and what is written on the Bible. Over dinner, conflict arises when Joe assumes that Gavin and Chris (Christopher Gorham), roommates, are gay. Only one of them is gay, which is Chris, but Gavin, an atheist, cannot help but feel offended by such bigotry. The scene sets up Gavin and Joe’s tug-of-war between who is “right.”
As much as I am interested in philosophical musings involving faith, or lack of one, the arguments they bring up are not anything new. As their discussions evolve into altercations, I found myself thinking about a documentary I saw many years ago involving religious radicals condemning viewers who do not believe in God that they would surely go to hell. I was reminded of those specific images because, to me, those emotions–specifically the level of animosity–are real. The negative tension between Gavin and Joe feels too much like a poor simulation.
Perhaps it has something to do with the acting. While Wilson is more subtle in expressing his frustrations–a wrinkling of the forehead, constantly looking down, a forced smile–Hunnam chooses to be more explosive. It might have worked better if the latter is calm, especially for someone who is comfortable with his atheism.
And then there is a messy subplot involving Gavin’s increasing attraction to emotionally fragile Shana. Gavin thinks it is his duty to rescue her, a former drug addict, from the grip of her husband’s iron fist. So Gavin tries to seduce her. I found the whole charade amusing, but it is clearly not meant to be. The writing fails to provide a good enough reason to convince us that the protagonist is ultimately doing the right thing. Sure, Joe is a controlling jerk of a husband, but whatever happens inside Joe and Shana’s home is really none of Gavin’s business.
“The Ledge,” rife with faux-intellectual debates, lacks common sense and it is prone to heavy-handedness. Even the act of jumping off the ledge symbolizes a leap of faith.
Barry Munday (2010)
★★ / ★★★★
Barry Munday (Patrick Wilson), despite his pudgy frame, was a womanizer. He exuded confidence which charmed some but repulsed others. When an underaged girl (Mae Whitman) lured Barry in a movie theater, her father, with a trumpet in hand, walked in on them and hit Barry in the groin. Doctors at the hospital informed him that there was nothing they could do to save his testicles so the boys were going to have to be removed. A couple of days later, to Barry’s surprise, he found out that he had impregnated a woman named Ginger (Judy Greer), the ugly duckling of a well-to-do family (Malcom McDowell, Cybill Shepherd). Based on a novel by Frank Turner Hollon, “Barry Munday” was amusing only half of the time because the director, Chris D’Arienzo, ended his scenes just when the punchline was delivered. For instance, when Barry met Ginger for the “first” time (he couldn’t remember their sexual encounter), the two shared awkwardness, which was mildly funny, but they were left with only references of the night in question. Ginger pointed at the area where they had done the deed and the specific song that played in the background but there was not one memorable joke that incited laughter. I felt as though the film could have played upon Barry’s vanity when he met Ginger. He obviously thought she was ugly so why not overtly play upon the fact that maybe he didn’t feel like she was good enough for him? Yes, the main character would have come off as mean-spirited but it would only highlight the journey he had chosen for himself. The filmmakers’ decision to not take on certain risks lowered the movie’s level of comedy and it missed potential character arcs. I enjoyed Chloë Sevigny as as Ginger’s sister, the favorite of the family. She wasn’t afraid to acknowledge her sexual needs. What I expected to see was her character being used to create a divide between Barry and Ginger. After all, there was a jealousy between the sisters. But I was glad it didn’t take that route. I believed Barry’s change toward becoming a better man because his evolution was mostly two steps forward and one step back. It took some time for him to decide to take real responsibility. However, what I didn’t find as effective was Barry suddenly wanting to know about his father who left before he was born. It offered an explanation involving why Barry turned out to be a womanizer when it didn’t need to. Most men just can’t help but want the idea of being with other women. And that’s okay. Anyone who had taken a psychology course could surmise what the film was trying to say. It implied that his father’s absenceled to his desperate assertion, through being with a lot of women, that he was a man. It was unnecessary because I felt as though Barry’s journey was already complete. He may still not be the kind of guy one would take home to meet the parents, but he was likable enough. We knew he eventually meant well.
Young Adult (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★
Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), divorced and currently single, was finding it a bit difficult to focus on finishing her final novel for a formerly popular young adult fiction series. Every time she sat down to write, she found her mouse scurrying its way to her inbox so she could look at an e-mail from an ex-boyfriend in high school, Buddy (Patrick Wilson), who just had a baby and was very happily married with Beth (Elizabeth Reaser), a drummer in a local girl band. In Mavis’ mind, the e-mail was some sort of signal that Buddy wanted to rekindle their relationship. So, Mavis packed her bags, dog in tow, left Minneapolis behind, and drove to the sleepy town of Mercury, Minnesota. Written by Diablo Cody, “Young Adult” was another story of an unhappy woman who felt compelled to find love in the most inappropriate circumstances, but what allowed it to feel fresh was Theron’s ability to play with nuance. Mavis was not a likable person. She acted like she was above everyone else because, unlike most of her peers, she made it out of her hometown and succeeded in establishing a life in the city. Most importantly, through her creativity, she was able to make a name for herself by being a ghost writer. Yet there were plenty of moments when it was impossible for us to not feel sorry for her because, despite her ambition and determination, she was deathly short-sighted. A lot of us know people exactly like her: unable to detect if she’s overstepping boundaries, desperate for approval even from those who barely knew her, and living a life like she never had to say sorry. I was supremely embarrassed for Mavis because she had no shame in throwing herself on her former flame. Since she wanted him back so badly, she was more than willing to throw her successes out the window and act like a pimply teen girl with a big crush on a hunky guy. But she was no teen nor was Buddy a stud. Because I felt that Mavis was an exaggerated version of Theron and the actress wasn’t afraid to make fun of herself, I was comfortable laughing at her and with her. A plethora of negative adjectives could describe Mavis but being devoid of a sense of humor was not one of them. Her jabs might be pricked with poisonous needles, but I loved that she was direct and didn’t waste any time thinking about how she was going to get what she wanted. The person who consistently attempted to talk some sense into her, serving as the audience’s voice, was Matt (Patton Oswalt), a geeky guy carrying a bit of extra weight who was jumped by a bunch of jocks in high school because they mistakenly suspected he was gay. The most striking scenes involved simple conversations between Mavis and Matt; Mavis was the seemingly impenetrable wall and Matt was an untiring hammer that drove nails into it. They clicked because both were stubborn in their own way. Directed by Jason Reitman, “Young Adult” was entertaining because the screenplay was sharp and full of irony. Although there was vitriol in the dialogue, it did not overshadow real human emotions like desire, fear, and shame.
Switch, The (2010)
★★★ / ★★★★
Kassie (Jennifer Aniston) decided she was going to have a kid even though she had not yet found the man of her dreams. She told Wally (Jason Bateman), her best friend, her plans but he thought it was crazy idea. She went with it anyway and found a guy named Roland (Patrick Wilson) who was willing to donate his sperm for money. During Kassie’s artificial insemination party, drunk Wally accidentally spilled Roland’s sperm down the sink. His intoxicated mind thought he could get away with it by replacing the lost sample with his own. The next day, he didn’t remember a thing. “The Switch,” based on Jeffrey Eugenides’ short story called “Baster,” was a bit of a surprise because it had a surprising amount of humanity. It could easily have been about the gags–like sperm and the hardship of being pregnant and giving birth–but it made a smart decision to pay attention to the characters’ motivations. Even though some of the lines delivered felt disingenuous, especially when the characters felt like they needed to deliver a speech in order to get their point across, I enjoyed it because I extracted bits of meaning, accidental as they may be, in their attempt. Aniston and Bateman had an awkward chemistry that worked. I thought that specific type of chemistry was vital because their characters conceived a child named Sebastian (Thomas Robinson) who was adorable, equipped with sad eyes, pouty lips, and eccentricities like collecting picture frames and putting strangers’ photos in them. The movie did a good job highlighting the similarities between Wally and Sebastian, but I wish it had spent more time exploring the bond between the mother and son. I wanted to see their similarities, too. After all, it was Kassie’s idea to bring a child to the world. Her trepidation of her dwindling biological clock was not a good enough reason for me to like her. With her specific circumstance, what made her a good mother? She was good with her son when he had to go to bed, but the feminist message embedded in making the decision to raise a child without a man was somewhat lost. Nevertheless, the emotional payoff toward the end was effective because we knew that Sebastian had learned, without being too obvious, to depend on his father and vice-versa. I also wished Jeff Goldblum and Juliette Lewis, Wally and Kassie’s best friends, respectively, had more scenes. They delivered a different sense of humor, Goldblum with his dry and deadpan delivery and Lewis with her baffled expressions and snide remarks, which was a nice balance to more pedestrian comical situations. Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, “The Switch” was a bona fide comedy that lacked complexity but it wasn’t one-dimensional. It was enjoyable because our expectations were met and sometimes that’s more than enough.
★★★★ / ★★★★
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.
★ / ★★★★
This is supposed to be a thriller but it’s not thrilling in any way. I couldn’t believe this was directed by Rodrigo García, also the director of the accomplished film called “Nine Lives,” because this movie feels like it does not have focus when it comes to character development, tone and what it wants to convey. Anne Hathaway stars as a therapist who was assigned to help the psychology of the survivors of a plane crash. Along the way, she falls for one of them–the ever-charming Patrick Wilson. If this picture had been a romantic comedy or a romantic drama, it would have worked for me because the two of them have great chemistry. However, this is a supernatural thriller and the film spent too much time observing their relationship to the point where I kept thinking, “Where is this going? How come no one is exploring the mystery angle of the story?” That lack of direction was glaring because I was expecting for Hathaway to unravel questions about the plane crash. Instead, she becomes sort of a secondary character because she really was not given much to do. The same goes Dianne Weist, David Morse and Clea DuVall–three actors who are usually fantastic when they have a challenging role. As for the twists, they felt forced because the core of the picture was not established in a strong way. There is not much more to say other than to skip this movie. It saddens me whenever talented actors get stuck in a dreadful movie like this. Were they just in it for a quick buck? Did they really believe in the story’s potential to entertain? If it’s the former, it’s understandable. But if it’s the latter, the script should have been a signal for a refusal and take up another better project that’s worth their time (and ours).