Insidious – An interesting tale, but not quite what I expected

image There is a lot of hype about this movie since the sequel is currently out in theaters. To that end I decided to watch the original and see what the fuss was all about. While I found the story of Astral Projection and ill tempered creatures trying to make it into our world, overall the movie left me flat like they cut corners and didn’t take full advantage of the story.

When their son Dalton falls into a coma without cause, his parents Josh and Renai are desperate for answers. Their new house is plagued with mysterious events from shadows, to music, to bumps, to wild and vivid dreams. Something is wrong so they move. But the problems follow them and soon they’re at their wits end to explain what’s happened to their son.

Along comes Elise Rainer who is quite familiar with this sort of problem and with the family itself. It seems Dalton has allowed himself to venture too far into "The Further" a region of Astral Projection where strange things live and feed off humans. Dalton has allowed himself to become a victim and needs someone to help get back home. With the help of Elise, Josh is able to enter the Astral Plane and search for his son.

It’s an interesting story, a bit far fetched but interesting none the less. The odd happenings and strange characters hiding in the corners, running down the halls and disappearing at locked door makes you wonder just what’s going on. Is there really a spirit? Is Dalton behind all of this?

But what starts off as an interesting plot begins to get a little silly. The "ghost hunters" and the use of the gas mask come across as ridiculous and detract from the otherwise moody elements of the movie. Then when we hit the final moments, the thrill is gone. It’s not tense. You’re not on the edge of your seat. It sort of just happens. Some may say it’s just a set up for the big twist at the end, but that really wasn’t a shocker either. It all seems so out of context that it doesn’t even make sense. Because of that I thought the ending was extremely flat and knowing there is a sequel I didn’t feel an urge to race out an see it.

Like The Conjuring, this had more potential than what we see on the screen. So much just never materialized. It was an interesting idea, but the characters and the story never really develop to the point where you actually care about what’s going on. It was able to hold my interest, but I wasn’t riveted. In fact, as soon as the movie was over it was dismissed. I’ll check out Insidious 2 just to see where they take the story, but I’m certainly not going to pay today’s prices to find out. This makes for a good rental and was enjoyable, but considering the excitement and all the reviews, I thought there would be a lot more to it.


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The Awakening – The early ghost hunting adventures of Florence Cathcart

image This is an interesting period piece set in 1921 that showcases some early ghost hunting tools as Florence Cathcart works to investigate some mysterious happenings at a boarding school where a phantom boy is said to have been seen and shows up in the school pictures.

Florence is a debunker of the paranormal. We first find her at a séance where she quickly calls fraud on the entire proceedings showing how the ghostly faces appear, how the table shakes and how so many people are in on the game. Quickly, the Spiritualists are rounded up and carted away. Florence has gained quite a reputation for herself and is soon asked to investigate and debunk the claims of a ghostly boy who keeps appearing in the school photographs and has the boys who live there quite scared.

Approaching the matter with her usual skepticism, Florence sets up her early detection equipment and feels quite certain she will catch the boy who is playing this trick. It’s quite interesting and entertaining to see the early EMF detectors, motion sensors and camera hooked to wires so they trigger when someone passes in front of them. And soon, Florence has a young boy in her grasp. But there appears to be more to this place.

There is doll house replicate of the school and inside are little characters that act out the events that Florence has just done. It shows her setting up the cameras, different people in proper rooms and generally retells the story we just witnessed. But Florence already found the boy who played the tricks so what is this? Is there really something going on or is there another accomplice? Is it one of the boys or one of the many staff that seems to have an elusive past and ulterior motives?

I found this to be a very atmospheric movie that does a lot with only a little. There are no wild special effects, or wild scenes of gore, or blood soaked monsters running at the camera. Instead, The Awakening instills a sense of foreboding by mysterious footsteps, giggles, figures that are always just out of reach so we can’t tell who they really are, characters that say one thing then do another and plenty of misdirection. And it keeps building all the way through. Even when the prankster is found, events keep happening. The more Florence seems to deny and debunk the events the more frequent and ghostly they become.

For those who liked The Others like I did, this is a fun movie. It has depth and scope. It makes you think and wonder. It shows that you can make a fun and atmospheric movie without going over the top with special effects and gore. There are lots of twists and turns in this one and the plot keeps getting deeper as we go along. When we get to the end we don’t just learn about what’s been making all the noises, we learn about several of the characters, how they’re connected and how Florence is related to it all. It’s an ending that fits very well with the story, one that doesn’t feel cheap or contrived.

This is a very fun weekend movie to watch with the lights off and this is the perfect time of year for it.

The Awakening (2012)

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The Devil as told to us by M. Night Shyamalan

If the devil came calling, would you know what he looked like?

While not every movie has been a gem, I’m still quite a fan of M. Night Shyamalan and enjoyed The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and The Village. I have to admit, I knew nothing of the movie called The Devil and stumbled on it quite by accident. That’s a shame really, because I found this movie quite enjoyable with plenty of twists and turns along the way.

The story goes a little something like this – 5 people get onto an elevator that mysteriously jams twenty floors up. What starts off as a couple of awkward moments as they wait for the elevator repair man turns quite deadly as they begin to die one by one. At unexpected intervals the lights begin to flicker and they’re plunged into total darkness. You can hear the scuffle, the screams, the punches. When the lights come back, someone is dead. So who is murderer and what is the motive? Well, that is indeed the question, but nothing is as it appears.

As the story unravels we find every one in the elevator has a checkered past from Ponzi schemes, to pick pocketing and thievery, to embezzlement, to assault and battery. In essence they’re all "guilty". So who’s to blame for all this? At the moment, all we know if they’re all trying to shift the blame to someone else. Has the Devil really come calling? Is someone looking for payback? Vengeance? Atonement? Admission of their guiit?

Most of the movie takes place in the elevator, in close quarters, with the bodies stacking up on the floor. All attempts to get the passengers out are failing and time seems to be running out. By the time we get down to the last two everything seems pretty clear. But wait, it’s not what you think.

While not the most complex or mysterious of stories, I still found The Devil to be quite entertaining. There are plenty of bumps, bangs, unexpected periods of darkness and false clues all over the place. And let’s not forget, there are several exterior characters who might hold the missing piece to this puzzle. Perhaps there is a husband, boyfriend or some other mysterious figure who might know what’s going on? Some people want to get out of the building, and some want to get in.

This may not be the blockbuster of the Sixth Sense, but I still found plenty to like in this movie. There is plenty of tension between the characters and each time the lights go out you try to guess who’s going to be left standing. Did you guess correctly? Have you picked the murderer? Is it even one of the people in the elevator?

You won’t get your socks scared off, but this is a great popcorn movie and with the lights turned down low I fully expect you’ll jump a couple of times. Too bad I missed this in the theaters, on the big screen, I bet this was pretty impressive. But even for the small screen, I think it’s worth the rental price or at least worth the cost of the bandwidth.

By the way, don’t be surprised if you see the same "color" elements of Night’s other films as well as plenty of numerology. Also, if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, you might see some similarities to "And Then There Were None".

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The Possession

image The story of this movie intrigued me and then I discovered this was based on a true story. A true story with plenty of embellishment I’m sure. But within a couple of minutes I knew where I heard this story before.

A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl’s father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.

This very tale was documented as one of the episodes of the Haunted History series. A man buys a wine box at an estate sale only to befall a wicked series of bad luck. He then tries to get rid of the box only to have everyone else fall under the same bad luck. Ultimately, one man goes to great length to seal the box and contain a powerful energy within.

So is the story of the "Dibbuk Box" which supposedly contains the trapped energy of an ancient evil. In the supposed true story, the spirit is brought forth using basically a Ouija board and what follows is the Holocaust. Polish sisters are able to contain the energy in a wine crate.

Such is the story of The Possession. After the death of his elderly mother, the son puts his things out for a yard sale. Among them is an unassuming box, almost like a jewelry box. A father, who’s recently been divorced and trying to make a comfortable home for his kids, buys the box and other items to furnish the house. They soon discover the box contains many mysteries and "Clyde" must turn to the Jewish community for help.

I found the original story to be so fascinating as to be unbelievable and wondered why no one had made a movie about the story. Turns out they did. And for the most part it’s not to bad. Things build slowly and over time Emily becomes obsessed with the box and the woman who lives inside. The woman talks to Emily, but soon the spirit wants to do more than just talk. Emily becomes distant and violent. Soon, Emily is just a pawn to the spirit as it tries to make it’s way into the world to who knows what end.

With several scenes that closely mimic the Exorcist, things get a little silly, such as Emily gnawing on raw steak out of the refrigerator. But other such as the hands roaming under the skin, moths wedged in the mouth and creepy scenes of eyes rolling around in the head it does make for some creepy fun. While it holds together well, there is nothing that gives the movie an overall tense feel. Unlike the spirit in the original story that may have brought on the Holocaust, there is no real sense of power of impending trouble with this story. It has some good elements and nothing goes too over the top, but it just becomes the usual, "oh, it’s a demonic spirit." To be cliche, what is the motivation? This is something we have seen and heard about dozens of times before.

That being said, there is nothing really wrong with this movie, it’s just the original story so wild and compelling that the movie retelling seems to fall a little short. It just lacks the drama of a box that is being passed from person to person that contains who knows what sort of evil.

Haunted History – A Deadly Possession – S01E05

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