1.14.2018

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) & Insidious: The Last Key (2018)



DIRECTED BY
Leigh Whannell [Chapter 3]
Adam Robitel [The Last Key]

STARRING
Lin Shaye - Elise Rainier
Angus Sampson - Tucker
Leigh Whannell - Specs
Dermot Mulroney - Sean Brenner [Chapter 3]
Stefanie Scott - Quinn Brenner [Chapter 3]
Hayley Kiyoko - Maggie [Chapter 3]
Tate Berney - Alex Brenner [Chapter 3]
Michael Reid MacKay - “The Man Who Can’t Breathe” [Chapter 3]
Josh Stewart - Gerald Rainier [The Last Key]
Spencer Locke - Melissa Rainier [The Last Key]
Caitlin Gerald - Imogen Rainier [The Last Key]
Kirk Acevedo - Ted Garza [The Last Key]
Bruce Davison - Christian Rainier [The Last Key]

Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Possession/Demons

Running Time - 97 Minutes [Chapter 3]/ 103 Minutes [The Last Key]


PLOT (from IMDB):
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 - After trying to connect with her dead mother, teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), asks psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to help her, she refuses due to negotiate events in her childhood. Quinn starts noticing paranormal events happen in her house. After a vicious attack from a demon, Quinn’s father (Delmot Mulroney) goes back and begs Elise to use her abilities to contact the other side in hope to stop these attacks by this furious demon for a body.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY - Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet - in her own family home.


REVIEW
James Wan has probably become the most prolific modern horror director and producer of the last fifteen years. While he has started to slowly move away from the genre to tackle more action-oriented fare [FURIOUS 7 and soon, AQUAMAN], you can’t deny that the man [along with co-writer Leigh Whannell] has crafted three of the more popular and extremely profitable horror franchises in the modern era. 2004’s SAW led to a massively popular and money-making franchise that just made a comeback a few months ago. 2013’s THE CONJURING has also made a ton of money, especially if you include the ANNABELLE spin-offs. And 2011’s INSIDIOUS series has proven that fans still care about horror films with substance, good acting, and scares that are earned without relying on loud noises to make people jump.

In fact, INSIDIOUS proved that ghost stories and films about demon possessions can still send a chill up and down your spine if done right. The first film, in my opinion, is still one of the better horror films of the 2010’s - just a stylish movie of subtle creepiness with great actors, beautiful shots, and a script that delves deep into the characters tormented by the evil spirits that make up this franchise. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 was less so, but it has a great performance by Patrick Wilson and a great villain that kept you invested from beginning to end. 

The surprising thing about the INSIDIOUS series is who really became the focus of the franchise. Instead of the main characters, the supporting ones have managed to keep the franchise afloat for 7 years now. Who knew Lin Shaye’s Elise would be the heart and soul of the series, taking what should have been a vehicle for the Lambert family and making INSIDIOUS about her and her sidekicks, Tucker and Specs. For better or worse, the shift of focus to the ghost hunters has given INSIDIOUS a pulse that keeps audiences flocking to watch these films. It’s even crazier when Elise was murdered in the first film, yet she’s the one giving the series life.

Realizing that Lin Shaye was the glue that held INSIDIOUS together, Leigh Whannell decided to focus on stories that took place before the first INSIDIOUS film that give us insight on Elise’s journey to help the Lambert family and how she hooks up with Tucker and Specs. That’s the reason why INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 exists. The first prequel in the franchise, James Wan hands the director’s seat to Whannell, who makes the series more about Elise while still giving us The Further and characters who are traumatized by some dangerous demonic spirits out to hurt them. In a way, CHAPTER 3 is a less convoluted retelling of the first film, just with different characters dealing with a different demonic force. The Brenner family is less captivating than the Lamberts, but their story is also very relatable. Teenage Quinn has lost her mom and feels pressure from her dad to pretty much pick up the pieces, which conflict with her passion to become an actress. She believes the spirit in her house is her mother, but learns quickly that it’s something more sinister. She seeks help from Elise, who is dealing with her own grief and refuses to help until she realizes how much trouble Quinn is really in. The parallel stories of trauma and grief between Quinn and Elise is a clever plot device, as both parties deal with it differently - but it effects them in a similar way. However, Elise’s motivation to move on from it gives her the strength to face her fears and help Quinn against her adversary in order for her to move on. Elise is an interesting character to begin with, but Quinn [which could have been a one-dimensional protagonist] is given a lot of depth due to her passions, her struggles, and her willingness to fight. Her strained relationship with her father is compelling and makes us sympathize with both sides, leaving us to care about what happens to them by the film’s end. And Elise’s struggle with losing her husband to suicide and dealing with nightmarish spirits since gives us more insight on her life and makes her more heroic when she sucks it up and decides to confront the demons to help other people defeat theirs. I liked the balance of the two arcs and I felt they came together decently well by the end.

CHAPTER 3 does have its issues. The second half of the film does come across a bit silly at times. Elise recites some lines that Shaye attempts to make work to the best of her ability, but they’re more laughable than empowering. And The Further stuff wasn’t really all that interesting nor scary. In fact, I had issues with The Further in previous films, but at least the demons were memorable and there was something ominous about this dark world. CHAPTER 3 doesn’t really allow for that, as it feels more empty compared to the previous films [not sure if that was a budget issue]. And the breathing demon didn’t do anything for me. Sure, the sound is a bit creepy, but I wish we knew more about him. Compared to the previous villains, this breathing guy felt like a last resort to give the movie an antagonist. Plus, I really want to like Specs and Tucker more than I do. I still feel that a lot of their comedy falls flat, even though it was nice to see them before the whole “suit and tie” deal and how their relationship with Elise came to be.

Also, what happened to Quinn’s love interest and her best friend? They seem pretty important in the first half, yet totally disappear once the second half starts. And they never return! At least Quinn’s little brother brought in Specs and Tucker to help Quinn out, which is more I can say for the little brother in the first two INSIDIOUS films.

I will say that despite a change in directors, CHAPTER 3 still fits in well with the rest of the series. Leigh Whannell takes over for James Wan, and despite the lack of Wan’s style, Whannell handles himself well behind the camera. The best move on Whannell’s part is restraining the jump scares. Instead of constantly using loud sounds and noises [which Wan likes to do], Whannell leads into the scares, making them more effective and well earned. In fact, I thought a lot of the scares here worked really well. Jump scares aren’t terrible, like many believe. It’s just that they’re overdone a lot without a reason. CHAPTER 3 has a reason for them, which is why they’re welcomed. I also felt that Whannell used some great moments of visual misdirection to give the audience false security prior to a nice surprise. Still, CHAPTER 3 doesn’t look quite as rich as the first two films, nor does it manage a flow that the first two carried well. But for a man who’s not really known to direct films, he does Wan-lite very well.

The acting in CHAPTER 3 elevates the material. Don’t know much about Stefanie Scott, but she’s really great as Quinn. She took a token one-dimensional lead horror character and give her a ton of depth and sympathy. I believed Scott throughout the film, from her frustration with her family life, to her grief over her mom, and to her fear of realizing she was the target of a demonic entity. I thought she did a really nice job. Dermot Mulroney is more plus than minus. He handled the stress of being a single dad to teenagers well, but there were times where his acting got a bit hammy for the material. But Mulroney mostly knocks it out of the park, giving his character more depth than expected as well. I thought his father-daughter chemistry with Scott was convincing and welcomed. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson do their thing as Specs and Tucker. I blame the material more than their acting abilities, but you really can’t have an INSIDIOUS film without them. I felt they were a bit more subtle this time around and weren’t really given much to do, which created a mixed bag of sorts. But smaller doses with these guys are probably for the best.

However, the film belongs to Lin Shaye, who really grounds CHAPTER 3 with a multi-dimensional performance of a woman who’s ready to give up on her life after the death of her husband, only to find purpose when someone [who has yet to really live her life] needs her help. She handles every emotion needed well. Her anger is believable. Her sorrow is heartbreaking. She’s convincing as a total bad ass at the end. Shaye knows her character and is a lot of fun to watch as Elise. It’s nice to see this character actress of a specific age leading a horror franchise in the modern era.

Speaking of Shaye, she’s also the best part about 2018’s INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY - the second prequel in the franchise. Since the story is mainly focused on Elise, Shaye gets to play with a facet of emotions and situations that flesh out her character and give us a reason to love her more. Unlike CHAPTER 3, Shaye is so good that she even makes the sillier moments feel important in THE LAST KEY. She has great facial expressions, body language, and portrays Elise as a total hero who is both vulnerable and strong. She brings a grounded, motherly vibe to this film. Without Lin Shaye, THE LAST KEY would be a total disaster in my opinion.

Thankfully, Shaye is in the film, making THE LAST KEY at least watchable for those fans of the series. It’s a shame that the story falls apart whenever things take place in “modern times” [story takes place in 2010]. Besides her, everything else just feels like a shadow of what has already been established in these films. Someone gets possessed, but it’s a character we don’t really know or care about. Specs and Tucker are here to be the comic relief, but 85 percent of their material isn’t really funny and feels forced. We get introductions to Elise’s family, but none of them are really given time to develop - especially when one of them also has Elise’s power and it’s just assumed to be a family trait without much explanation. The Further is handled okay, but again just feels cheaper compared to the other films - even CHAPTER 3. And the villain is a cool concept, but feels like a bit player compared to everything else. It’s a shame because I think films about Elise’s adventures could keep the franchise alive for years. But judging by this film, THE LAST KEY is barely trying to keep the door open.

The best stuff have to do with Elise’s childhood flashbacks, which honestly made me wish the whole film was about these moments instead. The opening section of the film is pretty disturbing stuff and some of the darkest moments in the franchise to date. Since I don’t want to spoil things, I’ll keep it short: Elise lives with her parents and younger brother on the ground floor of a penitentiary where inmates are electrocuted only one story above. Suffice to say, Elise sees a lot of tortured souls and strange things happen in the household. The mother believes in her gift, her prison guard father abuses her because of it, and her younger brother is so scared by her that he wants nothing to do with her. Every scene involving the past are captivating and present some nice moments of terror, mystery, and a neat twist I didn’t see coming. Yes, a film based on the past would have probably lost Lin Shaye for the most part, but the flashbacks really deserved their own film. It probably would have worked better than the actual THE LAST KEY. The modern horror moments seem so silly after the more realistic horror stuff from the past that the film loses steam any time we’re back to present day.

The direction by Adam Robitel [who achieved acclaim for THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN] is serviceable in terms of capturing the tone and look of the INSIDIOUS franchise. Again, Wan brought style to the franchise which Robitel can’t match. But the flashback scenes are shot really well, and the scenes in The Further looks pretty nice, even if they aren’t really all that interesting. The jump scares don’t really work this time around however, as most of them just feel forced and expected. But I appreciated the flow of the film and the splicing of footage from the first INSIDIOUS at times. 

Besides Lin Shaye, the rest of the acting in the film is pretty okay. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson return as Specs and Tucker. Their acting is fine, even though the material is pretty rough for both of them. The characters were kind of distracting for their own good at times, but the actors made it work at best as they could. Bruce Davison came for a paycheck, since his role is pretty much a glorified cameo. His scenes with Shaye didn’t really connect with me, and it wasn’t because of her. Josh Stewart is very good as Elise’s father, portraying a cold, brooding, vicious presence that I appreciated. He was scarier than the actual spirits in this film. Spencer Locke is cute, but doesn’t really get to do much. Caitlin Gerald did well enough in her role as Imogen, bringing out the better elements of Whannell’s and Sampson’s acting. And I like seeing Kirk Acevedo in anything, and he was okay here. The weakest acting in the franchise, but it was decent enough nonetheless.

THE FINAL HOWL
If you’re not a fan of the INSIDIOUS films, CHAPTER 3 nor THE LAST KEY will change your mind. But if you do enjoy these movies, CHAPTER 3 is the better of the two. It’s a pretty good prequel with some strong performances, good plot elements, and good direction by writer Leigh Whannell. Unfortunately, THE LAST KEY didn’t do a whole lot for me. More of the same, but not as creepy, interesting, or captivating. The flashback scenes are really great though and the direction by Adam Robitel is competent. And without Lin Shaye, THE LAST KEY would barely be able to turn the lock. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of these films soon, but THE LAST KEY shows that the well may be running dry with this franchise.



SCORE

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015)
2.5 Howls Outta 4

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2018)
2 Howls Outta 4


INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 Trailer


INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY Trailer

11.29.2017

Midnight Confessions Ep. 131: "Don Dohler Double Feature"


Our last episode of the year and we're spending with Don Dohler, because...why not? We take a look at Dohler's first 2 films, THE ALIEN FACTOR (1978) and FIEND (1980). We also do a year end recap [to the best of our recollection], plus music by Murderock because...why not? We'll be back in February! So until then, Happy Holidays from the MC Crew!






 




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11.20.2017

Death Wish (1974)

DIRECTED BY
Michael Winner

STARRING
Charles Bronson - Paul Kersey
Hope Lange - Joanna Kersey
Vincent Gardenia - Lt. Frank Ochoa
William Redfield - Samuel “Sam” Kreutzer
Steven Keats - Jack Toby
Stuart Margolin - Ames Jainchill
Jeff Goldblum - Freak #1
Kathleen Tolan - Carol Toby

Genre - Drama/Crime/Action/Exploitation

Running Time - 93 Minutes


With Eli Roth’s remake being released in theaters at the end of November during a time of social unrest in terms of politics, civil rights, and police violence, I figured it was the right to reflect on the original DEATH WISH franchise starring Charles Bronson. It’s funny how a film from 1974 is still as relevant today as it was back then, but the original DEATH WISH still manages to tackle certain issues the current generation is still struggling with. Back when the original Charles Bronson classic was released, the days of black-and-white heroism and happy endings were long gone. Instead, we had anti-heroes who expressed grey morality, not following the tradition societal rules, hoping stepping outside the box would breed positive change through not-so-positive actions. Clint Eastwood’s turn as Harry Callahan in 1971’s DIRTY HARRY set a trend for a movie hero who took the law in his own hands when law enforcement wouldn’t get their hands filthy to clean up crime. Bronson’s Paul Kersey follows the trend of a man who feels justified about his “above the law” stance to clean up the streets of New York City after tragedy strikes his family. The fact that many people today believe that owning guns to protect themselves and eliminate any sort of threat that the police refuse to get involved with shows that not much has really changed since the 1970s when it comes to individual thoughts on justice.

PLOT
Based on a novel by Brian Garfield, DEATH WISH is about architect Paul Kersey (Charles Bronson) whose life turns upside down after returning to New York City from a wonderful trip with his wife Joanna (Hope Lange) to Hawaii. When Paul is at work, Joanna and daughter Carol (Kathleen Tolan) are followed by three thugs (including a young Jeff Goldblum) after a trip to the supermarket. These hoods force their way into their apartment, brutalizing Joanna and raping Carol to get back at the upper class. When Paul learns of the incident, he’s devastated to find out that Joanna died from the attack and Carol is now in a catatonic state due to trauma - the point that she can’t function emotionally and has to be placed in an institution. Paul wonders what the police will do about what happened to his family, upset that the police have nothing on the thugs and can’t follow any leads to serve justice. And as his world crumbles, his paranoia gives him tunnel vision of all the crime around him in the city.
During a work-related vacation in Arizona, he meets developer Ames Jainchill (Stuart Margolin) -  who convinces Paul that guns are the way to maintain a civil society. After Ames gives him a revolver as a gift, Paul returns to New York luring muggers and fatally shooting them. As the killing spree grows, the news of a mysterious vigilante decreasing muggings in the city pleases the public. However, the police are worried with Lt. Frank Ochoa (Vincent Gardenia) in charge of hunting down Paul and stopping him from taking the law into his own hands - even though if he and some of his fellow officers aren’t totally displeased by Paul’s actions.

REVIEW
An exploitation film at heart, DEATH WISH struck a chord with audiences upon its release. The 1970s were a frightening time for many in the middle and upper classes of society, due to the upswing in crime in major cities in the United States. The police couldn’t seem to get a handle on it, and politicians were dealing with putting out scandalous fires of internal espionage and unnecessary wars to be too concerned. DEATH WISH is not subtle about its message. Within the first five minutes, a supporting character quotes urban crime statistics to Paul the moment he returns from utopian Hawaii, complaining about how dangerous New York City has become. Almost every other scene in DEATH WISH depicts crime - from Paul watching thugs vandalize a car right outside his window, to muggers attacking him in the streets or on subway trains - making New York City feel like a dystopian area that seems almost unbelievable to exist. This is even made for evident when Paul travels to Arizona, which looks like paradise compared to the gritty NYC. No one is afraid there. Everyone is having fun watching western shows [which Paul feels inspired by since shoot outs create justice] and driving through miles of desert. This freedom, as Paul’s developer Ames claims, is due to owning guns and protecting themselves from anything bad. There’s also a claim that overcrowding leads to more crime, which Arizona doesn’t have to deal with. DEATH WISH lays it thick with its message, but it also makes you wonder if the message isn’t all that far from the truth.

In some ways, you’d think DEATH WISH was a propaganda film created by the NRA to justify the right to bear arms and defend yourself from muggings and random violence. Paul, who was in the military during the Korean War - but as a medic, is pretty much anti-violence. But after what happens to his family and witnessing crime with his own eyes, his stance begins to change to reflect the world around him. Ames takes Paul to a gun range in Arizona, surprised how well Paul handles shooting targets with ease. And once Paul finds out Ames presented him with a pistol, he begins to take his frustration on the lawlessness of his environment by luring muggers and murdering them. It startles him at first, but the thrill of murder and taking the law into his own hands revitalizes him to the point it becomes an addiction. And when he pops up all over the news as the mysterious vigilante, it almost makes him feel good and justified for creating discussion about his actions. Even law enforcement officials are torn between following the law or applauding Paul’s actions. DEATH WISH seems to suggest that to fight crime, individuals must stand up to it and prey on those who are creating trouble. And watching this in 2017, it kind of shines a light on how things haven’t really changed much. It’s sad, to be perfectly honest.

While DEATH WISH is obviously a classic in cinema, there are detractors who feel that it doesn’t live up to its rape-revenge motif. Paul’s wife gets murdered and Paul’s daughter gets raped [even painted with red paint on her butt as a target - obviously inspired by 1971’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE] by three thugs, whom Paul never gets revenge on due to lack of evidence and identity. Instead, Paul uses his grief to get rid of other criminals to prevent the same thing happening to others that happened to him. So technically, Paul never gets revenge on those who wronged his family, making DEATH WISH an oddity in the rape-revenge sub-genre. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the message still plays out as it should. It also allows Paul to carry out the character arc the story puts him in, going from peaceful grieving husband to violent vigilante. But the fact that the culprits are never caught or dealt with is disappointing in a narrative way, even if it does happen from time to time in the real world. However, the film still works, even if it isn’t one hundred percent satisfying. 

The other characters deal with the events in their own way as well. Paul’s daughter Carol is completely traumatized by the rape and death of her mother, dealing with catatonia and the inability to handle human contact. Paul nor Carol’s husband Jack can’t help her, sending her to an institution so they can deal with it. Speaking of Jack, he pretty much follows the status quo. He grieves the loss of his family, he struggles dealing with his catatonic wife, and doesn’t understand why Paul is so calm about everything all of a sudden. He feels doing nothing and letting things happen is the civilized way, even though this conformity is just making the world around him worse. And Lt. Ochoa is on the hunt for Paul, wanting him to stop taking the law into his own hands - while understand why Paul is doing it and quietly admiring him and respecting him for his actions. It’s good to see a variety of reactions towards the whole vigilante situation, as it broadens the depth of the message being told.

The direction by Michael Winner, who has directed Bronson in the fantastic 1972 film THE MECHANIC, as well as directing the cult horror film THE SENTINEL from 1977, sort of presents DEATH WISH as a gritty city version of your typical western. Instead of cowboys, Winner presents Bronson as a gunslinger hero who shoots evil people who threaten the status quo. It’s not the most stylish film and looks like your typical exploitation film of the 1970s at times. But there’s a certain level of sleaziness that crafts the film’s atmosphere, using the scenes of muggers threatening Paul and others as a way to build tension and anxiety as the film runs. New York City is shot in such a dirty, scuzzy way that it differentiates itself from those beautiful, colorful scenes of Hawaii or Arizona. There’s a dark cloud over DEATH WISH through majority of the film, with Bronson being the story’s only hope of a silver lining. For that, I think Winner does a good job visually bringing the story and its message to life.

The acting works for DEATH WISH. Charles Bronson is probably best known for his role as Paul Kersey, even though his acting won’t catch the attention of those handing out awards. It’s fascinating to watch Bronson in this film. Whether finding out his wife has been murdered and daughter raped, or showing euphoria for murdering muggers, his facial expression never really changes. Bronson is pretty much stoic throughout the film, making you wonder whether he wants Paul to display any sort of emotion at all. But for some reason, it’s perfect. You’re always wondering what’s on the man’s mind, waiting for the moment until he finally snaps - which never happens. It’s a wonderful performance of an actor not doing much at all, but saying a whole lot for 90 minutes. Vincent Gardenia is also great as Lt. Ochoa, the man chasing after Paul to stop him. He plays your typical gruff cop who secretly respects what Paul’s doing, but know it goes against his job, Gardenia also adds in ticks, like sneezing and coughing, that give Ochoa personality. Stuart Margolin is great as Ames, the man who makes Paul reconsider his stance on justice. He brings some humor to the film, acting as the catalyst to Paul’s vigilantism in his short role. And it’s funny to see Jeff Goldblum in his first film role as “Freak #1”, one of the thugs who murders Paul’s wife and watches Paul’s daughter get raped. And Christopher Guest as a young police officer towards the end of the film is also neat to see as well. A really solid cast in DEATH WISH.

And I can’t end this look on DEATH WISH without mentioning Herbie Hancock’s jazzy score, which adds a funky mood to a bleak film. It’s great stuff.

THE FINAL HOWL
DEATH WISH still resonates today as much as it did back in 1974. The message of using violence to stop violence is something many in our current society are still struggling with, whether some of us quietly agree with the idea of “an eye for an eye” or downright oppose it and want peace instead. DEATH WISH doesn’t really work as a direct rape-revenge film since he never really gets vengeance on those who harmed him and his family. But as a commentary of 1970s urban anxiety and the need to make change happen in a lawlessness world through any means necessary, it works extremely well. Charles Bronson typecast himself as the stoically gruff vigilante character with DEATH WISH, but that’s a credit to Bronson being so well cast for the role of Paul Kersey. Exploitative at times, gritty, violent, and even thought-provoking, DEATH WISH maintains a film that audiences should watch all these years later. 


SCORE
3.5 Howls Outta 4



11.12.2017

Jigsaw (2017)

DIRECTED BY
The Spierig Brothers

STARRING
Matt Passmore - Logan Nelson
Callum Keith Rennie - Det. Halloran
Cle Bennett - Det. Keith Hunt
Hannah Emily Anderson - Eleanor Bonneville
Laura Vandervoort - Anna
Mandela Van Peebles - Mitch
Paul Braunstein - Ryan
Brittany Allen - Carly
Tobin Bell - John Kramer/ Jigsaw

Genre - Horror/ Survival

Running Time - 92 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB):
Bodies are turning up around the city, each having met a uniquely gruesome demise. As the investigation proceeds, evidence points to one suspect: John Kramer (Tobin Bell), the man known as Jigsaw, who has been dead for ten years.

REVIEW
I’m sure modern audiences barely remember, but the SAW franchise was a big deal for the horror scene throughout the mid-to-late 2000s. It introduced us to James Wan and Leigh Whannell. It made Tobin Bell’s Jigsaw character a pop culture icon. And it helped create that annoying term, “torture porn”, for horror films where sadistic killers used elaborate traps to murder their victims. The first SAW from 2004 is a modern horror classic in my opinion due to its stylish direction, inventive storytelling, and a twist that everyone should have some coming but somehow we never did. The sequels have had their ups and downs. In fact, the original intended trilogy is still some great stuff. The last few sequels were pretty much just cash grabs - except you SAW VI, we still love you. 2010’s SAW 3D: THE FINAL CHAPTER [not] was a weak ending to a franchise that started with a really strong foundation. It proved that the series had been milked dry creatively and even financially, looking like a shell of its former self.

So it’s been seven years, and news about an 8th SAW film had been around for years. Considering how much time has passed and how the last SAW turned out, I was actually looking forward to a new SAW. Sure, a part of me wondered what the point of bringing the series back would be. Would Jigsaw even fit within the modern horror scene? Would audiences even care? But hey - if it could improve upon how the previous film had ended things, then why not? I mean, seven years is a long time to come up with new ideas to reinvent the franchise. JIGSAW has to be better than THE [not so] FINAL CHAPTER, right?

And after watching JIGSAW, yes - the 8th SAW film is better than both THE FINAL CHAPTER and SAW V. But it’s disappointing to see that no one thought about reinventing the wheel and making the series feel fresh. Instead, JIGSAW pretty much follows every other SAW sequel that exists - traps, red herring characters, and a convoluted twist that you’ll either admire, or roll your eyes at, for being ridiculous. I’m all for Lionsgate for wanting to bring the series back to make a profit. It’s just too bad I’m not all that eager to watch a new one if it ever comes to pass.

There are some good things about JIGSAW. I thought the Spierig Brothers did a great job behind the camera. Along with cinematographer Ben Nott, the Spierig Brothers give the film a more subtle visual presentation compared to the manic editing and yellow-green filters of the previous films in the series. It was nice to visually understand a SAW film for once, as the later sequels got too caught up in their style to be one-hundred percent coherent at times. It’s directed well, flows well, and the Spierig Brothers attempt to make a smaller scale SAW film look bigger and more expensive than it actually is. It’s not the greatest directed horror film ever, but JIGSAW is one of the better directed films in the series.

I also thought the acting was good. Everyone plays their roles well. Matt Passmore does a decent job as the leading man, Logan. Callum Keith Rennie is great as the lead investigator of the new murders, making you question where his loyalty lies at times. I also thought that of all the victims in the film, Laura Vandervoort did a solid job in creating a strong performance that has many subtle layers that start to unravel by the film’s end. Hannah Emily Anderson was also a fun performance as forensic pathologist Eleanor, who seems to be a fangirl for Jigsaw’s murders. And I love seeing Tobin Bell in anything, and his presence here is great as always. I thought this was one of the better acted SAW films.

And while the traps aren’t as memorable or as gory as the previous films, I did think the gore effects weren’t terrible. I thought the spinning cylinder trap was probably the highlight of the death traps really, as it brought some actual tension to the film. And the last trap with the head device surrounded by lasers was pretty neat as well, including watching a head split into multiple segments once the lasers strike.

But just like my gripes with 2017’s LEATHERFACE, it’s the narrative that brings JIGSAW down. You have seven years to come up with something fresh. So what do you do? You just do the same thing that the other films did! Talk about playing it safe just to make money. I was expecting something innovative somewhat, and it’s just the same film we’ve watched eight times already. Gory traps? Suspicious characters? Victims with a horrible backstory that make them less sympathetic as the film rolls through? A convoluted twist at the end that feels as if that’s the only reason the film exists? They’re all here. But I thought some of the previous sequels did these things much better in terms of execution. Some of the other sequels felt clever in their screenwriting. JIGSAW just feels forced when it comes to these things.

I’m kind of bummed that I’m even giving JIGSAW a less-than-positive review, since I actually like this franchise for the most part. Hell, I even liked JIGSAW more when I watched it. But after weeks of thinking about it, I felt more negative about it because I expected more out of it. Even if it was the worst SAW film because it was super different in terms of its approach, at least I could have appreciated it for trying something new. JIGSAW just feels underwhelming because it’s nothing we haven’t seen before in the franchise. And since it attempts to be a reboot, ignoring plot points from the previous films, the twist at the end was easy to figure out because they went to the tired-and-true storytelling that we saw in the first SAW. Sure, some of the victims’ backstories were interesting. And the new characters had interesting arcs at times. But it doesn’t change the franchise, or add anything new. And as much as I admire how they tried to sell us on the twist at the end, it honestly didn’t make any sense if you really think about it. It feels really forced. And if this twist is going to lead to more sequels, I may just wait until home video because how many times can I pay for the same thing but with a different cast? I know fans will love it, but horror has changed since THE FINAL CHAPTER. JIGSAW should have implemented some of that change and continued on that wave for potential future installments. Maybe they will if they ever do another one. But I think it may be too late by that point. But who knows - maybe Lionsgate will surprise us like they did with SAW VI back in 2009.

THE FINAL HOWL
Not the worst SAW film in the series, but still a pretty disappointing entry in the franchise. I commend the Spierig Brothers for bringing a nice, refreshing visual style compared to previous SAW films. I also thought some of the traps were cool and the acting was mostly solid. But it just feels like the same old SAW film we’ve seen seven times already - but more tame and with a twist that feels more forced than usual. After seven years, you’d think the producers would try something different - or at least twist the usual storytelling around to create something new. Fun at times, but JIGSAW doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Hopefully the next installment [if it happens] changes the formula a bit. But I’m not holding my breath on that. For fans only.


SCORE
2 Howls Outta 4



11.11.2017

Leatherface (2017)

DIRECTED BY
Julien Maury
Alexandre Bustillo

STARRING
Stephen Dorff - Hal Hartman
Lili Taylor - Verna Sawyer
Vanessa Grasse - Lizzy White
Sam Strike - Jackson
Finn Jones - Deputy Sorrel
Sam Coleman - Bud
Jessica Madsen - Clarice
James Bloor - Ike
Christopher Adamson - Dr. Lang

Genre - Horror/Slasher/Thriller

Running Time - 90 Minutes


PLOT (from IMDB):
A teenage Leatherface escapes from a mental hospital with three other inmates, kidnapping a young nurse (Vanessa Grasse) and taking her on a road trip from hell, while being pursued by a lawman (Stephen Dorff) out for revenge.


REVIEW
2017’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE prequel, LEATHERFACE, had a lot of hype among horror fans awaiting its release. Even though there was a mixed reaction to 2013’s TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D despite its classic line of “Do your thing, Cuz!”, the film was a financial success and was ready for a sequel. However, the studio and producers couldn’t agree on a story, creating the need for a prequel instead - even though there was already a prequel [THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE - THE BEGINNING]. But I guess that was for the remake story and not for the original continuity that the franchise is back riding on [why are these horror franchises so confusing?]. Anyway, it was believed that audiences would appreciate an origin story for the franchise’s main character, Leatherface, explaining how and why he became the horror film icon we’ve all grown to love. Bring in INSIDE and LIVIDE directors Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo to helm the film, with Lili Taylor and Stephen Dorff as the leads, and you got some excitement for a film no one really asked for but still wanted to see nonetheless.

However, the production was troublesome. Either due to dissatisfaction from Maury & Bustillo, or from Lionsgate itself, reshoots and multiple edits delayed the release of LEATHERFACE by two years. It also didn’t help that its potential theatrical release was dropped, settling for a DirecTV release in September before hitting all VOD platforms a few weeks ago. Unlike many years ago, the direct-to-video stigma no longer exists. But its distribution made many question whether LEATHERFACE was worth the watch. And while it’s not a terrible film, LEATHERFACE just ends up being pointless and a victim of an identity crisis.

Let’s just get the good stuff out of the way:

LEATHERFACE is a well-made movie. Maury & Bustillo try to bring back a lot of the lighting and feel of the original Tobe Hooper classic in LEATHERFACE, giving the film a classic look while maintaining a modern vibe that modern fans could probably appreciate. The action sequences involving the more brutal moments of the story are shot really well, with the directors attempting to bring tension and cringe-worthy moments that could leave some feeling uncomfortable - and others feeling like they’re back home in Leatherface’s world. There are scenes that are definitely meant to shock audiences, including a moment where a couple have sex while a break out is happening inside a mental asylum. This same couple also have sex on top of a corpse in a later scene. It’s grotesque and disturbing, which is exactly what this franchise should be capitalizing on. It’s edgy where it matters, due to Maury & Bustillo understanding how to bring that kind of tone in a horror film like this one.

Speaking of the visual presentation, LEATHERFACE also has some nice gore effects. We get some grisly decapitations, lost limbs, faces getting mutilated, and the expected chainsaw murders. The film doesn’t hold back when it wants to be brutal, which I appreciated. It’s great stuff.

And I have to compliment the acting in this film. I thought the performances are very good here. Lili Taylor is a delight as Verna Sawyer, the mother of the clan. She takes the role seriously and brings something menacing subtle with her performance. While she does awful things to people, you can also sympathize with her situation as well. I wish she were in the film more, but I appreciated her commanding presence whenever she was on screen. Stephen Dorff was also good as Hartman, the Texas Ranger who wanted revenge on the Sawyer family for murdering his daughter. It could have been a one note performance, but Dorff brings enough dimension to his grief and feelings that you want to sympathize with his character arc - even if the character is heavily flawed in his actions. I thought Sam Strike was very charismatic as Jackson, while Vanessa Grasse played the classic role of “final girl” Nurse Lizzie well. Finn Jones played his part as well as the script would allow him to, while Christopher Adamson played the sinister doctor to a tee. I thought LEATHERFACE had a pretty great cast….

….It’s just too bad that the script and narrative is what ruins this film big time. Now, I wasn’t expecting this prequel to be as good as the classic 1974 film or its first couple of sequels. But I was expecting it to be better than TEXAS CHAINSAW 3D. Sure, LEATHERFACE is better made and better acted. But TEXAS CHAINSAW maintained a consistent tone and mood, while feeling like a modern day TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE film for a newer generation regardless of its quality. LEATHERFACE only feels like a TEXAS CHAINSAW film during its opening few minutes and during the end of its final act. It’s almost as if the screenwriters forgot what film was supposed to be a prequel for.

The tone of this film suffers from a schism it can’t recover from. We have a vengeful sheriff who feels more comfortable in THE DEVIL’S REJECTS than he would here. Two members of the young cast that escapes the mental hospital [Clarice and Ike] shoot up a restaurant, have sex on top of a corpse, and act erratically around others. Did they audition for a prequel of NATURAL BORN KILLERS and stepped onto the wrong set? It honestly feels like a tamer version of a Rob Zombie film, but less memorable and less interesting. I don’t mind this film to be inspired by better movies, but maybe it should focus on what it’s really supposed to be - a prequel to THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. Even THE NEXT GENERATION did a better job at that than LEATHERFACE.

The worst part happens to be the treatment of the title character and how it goes against everything that has been established about him. During the narrative of the film, we’re never told which one of these escaped characters is the real Leatherface. Sure, we have characters that embody what we think Leather would look like when he was younger, but we’re never sure since names have been changed during most of the film. I don’t mind the mystery and I think it’s a decent twist if you never see it coming [I figured it out due to certain characters getting more screen time than others]. But the fact that this certain character ended up being Leatherface just felt odd and forced - as to swerve us along the way for a nice twist. But it could have worked if the script was stronger.

What I had real issue with was how this character suddenly became Leatherface. It seems he became the horror icon we’ve grown to love due to accidental circumstance, rather than a prolonged series of events that twisted his mind and body to the point of no return. We learn how Leatherface’s appearance came to be, which somehow turns him from a normal teenager into a slow-minded and violent killer. We’re also seem to be told that even though young Leatherface seemed to have a sense of morality and ethics at times, his family would always get to him and make him evil. The nature vs nurture argument is fine. But to have a character drastically change so quickly and just become the Leatherface we now know, even though he didn’t show any of these tendencies in any scene prior to this happening, is just bad writing. It does a disservice to Leatherface and to the fans of the franchise.

THE FINAL HOWL
LEATHERFACE could have been a good prequel to a classic horror film. And while it’s well made and well acted - with some nice gore effects - the story doesn’t do the prequel justice. The character arc for Leatherface doesn’t feel natural and doesn’t fit with the character we would come to know. And the film seems to suffer from an identity crisis, wanting to be any other film besides THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. THE BEGINNING was a way better prequel for the character. LEATHERFACE just ends up being pointless and honestly shouldn’t have been made at all. Not the worst in the franchise, but nothing really memorable either. What a shame.


SCORE
1.5 Howls Outta 4



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