Insidious Review

For the past couple of decades or so, the genre of horror has become somewhat of a minefield. With the film industry so over saturated with overdone plots and jump scares, the clever and inventive movies often slip through the cracks in the form of independent productions. Films like It Follows and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil received little attention upon their initial release, while films like Paranormal Activity maintain constant popularity.

Nonetheless, occasionally moviegoers get a widely released horror flick that manages to bring something new to the table, even if that ‘something new’ is minute. A fine example of this being Insidious.

Directed by James Wan (maker of such films as The Conjuring and Saw), Insidious didn’t revolutionize the genre or shy away from the mainstream. What it did do was put a new twist on the now conventional horror formula, making it a film that appeals to many different audience tastes without being polarizing.

Insidious stars Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne as Josh and Renai, a couple who move into a new home in the suburbs. Soon after moving in their child Dalton (Ty Simpkins) tragically slips into a coma, and strange things begin to happen around the house. They quickly realize something supernatural is afoot, and enlist in the help of a parapsychologist named Elise (Lin Shaye). Elise informs them that their child isn’t actually in a coma. Rather, Dalton had an out of body experience that left his spirit trapped in a ghostly place she refers to as The Further. It is now up to them to save Dalton’s spirit from The Further before he is stuck there for good, and something more sinister takes his place.

A good horror flick doesn’t only lie within the bounds of its actors capabilities, but having performers that can convey the fright is always a plus. Wilson and Byrne lead the cast wonderfully here, perfectly portraying a distraught couple worried sick over the wellbeing of their child.

Their performances are complemented well by the addition of Lin Shaye about halfway through. What’s great about Shaye’s acting is that she seamlessly convinces the audience that the far-fetched sci-fi jargon is in fact genuine. Even those who are skeptical of science fiction in films will buy into the absurd rationale this movie relies on. Rather than jump the shark, Insidious somehow managed to slide under the shark.

The frightening sequences in the film are quite tactfully employed, mixing inventive and clever ideas with more conventional methods. We get the quick, one and done jump scares that many moviegoers love, but also see plenty of built up moments that get big payoffs. There are even scenes that don’t have any sort of payoff, but are authentically creepy because of the eerie atmosphere that’s created.

The eerie atmosphere is mostly due to the aesthetics of the Further, which are distinct and artistic without looking too forced to be that way. This creepy imagery is accompanied with a truly fantastic musical score that managed to intensify a lot of the more suspenseful scenes.

Again, Insidious didn’t subvert the genre or change the game completely, as we still get plenty of terrible horror films today (like the fourth installment of this franchise). What I believe Insidious (and its creative contemporaries) did accomplish was to pave the way for other mainstream horror flicks to get imaginative, so to speak. Films like Lights Out and The Conjuring have received critical and box office success since the release of Insidious, and both ride the line of conventionality too.

I hope to see more inventive and fun horror films in the future, especially from the Insidious director James Wan.

The Verdict: A-

-Zachary Flint

Phoenix Forgotten Review

From director Justin Barber and producer Ridley Scott comes another boring found footage movie, this time about aliens.

Similar to the premise of The Blair Witch Project, Phoenix Forgotten is a story about three teenagers who go missing in the Arizona desert while searching for UFOs.  These events take place only a few days after the real life occurrence of the ‘Phoenix Lights’, where thousands of people claimed to see UFOs. And, like most found footage films, I’m sure you can guess exactly what happens.

Unlike The Blair Witch Project, this film is completely unbelievable in its approach. I can’t tell if it was meant to appear real, or if the audience was supposed to know the events transpiring were fake. Either way, the writing was often pretty atrocious, making it very clear from the get-go that it was fake. Overall, I’m just not sure it’s possible to make a convincing (or even realistic) found footage movie in this day and age.

Another major issue with the film is how little it tries to scare the audience. I was actually shocked by the end of the film because of how insignificant the tension is. While I was glad Phoenix Forgotten didn’t resort to silly jump scares, I was expecting at least some thrilling moments. Instead, we the audience get next to no scares or thrills.

I considered the possibility that this was meant to be more about the characters and less about getting scared like your traditional found footage movie. Yet, I don’t even think that argument makes sense. There are plenty of plot points (like the love triangle between our three protagonists) that go absolutely nowhere. Even the few touching and heartfelt moments in Phoenix Forgotten feel like they are unresolved and go nowhere. By the film’s end, none of the character plots are satisfied, at all.

So if Phoenix Forgotten isn’t scary, isn’t believable, and isn’t the least bit fun, than what is it? Who was it made to please, or entertain? Well, I have the feeling we’ll never get that answer. Phoenix Forgotten is a messy and directionless film that I hope I’ll forget very, very soon.

The Verdict: D-

-Zachary Flint

Blair Witch Review

I hold the firm belief that, for most cases, found footage is a gimmicky form of filmmaking. Only used by filmmakers who want a quick buck off of teen moviegoers and have no interest in making a quality movie. In some cases, like the Blair Witch Project or the first Paranormal Activity, found footage can be used to enhance the movie going experience. Allowing the audience to feel as though they too are a part of the film. In other cases, like the film I just saw Blair Witch, the found footage aspect comes off as entirely pointless.

Blair Witch is a found footage movie taking place years after the events of the Blair Witch Project, where three young filmmakers went missing in the woods making a documentary. The brother of one of those filmmakers, named James Donahue (James Allen McCune) decides he wants to go looking for his sister in the woods. He enlists in the help of a few of his friends as well as some guides to document the trip into the woods.

Part of what was enjoyable about the original Blair Witch Project was that everyone who viewed it thought it was real footage. The filmmakers even went to great lengths to build up an entire mystery surrounding the Blair Witch and the history of Burkittsville, Maryland. All of this was very much fictional, but it added to the excitement and “realness” of the film. Even those who didn’t believe in the whole story behind the film admired it for its gritty realness. So when an obviously fictional sequel comes out almost twenty years later claiming to be real footage, it just comes off as sort of gimmicky. As if the filmmakers wanted an excuse to make a found footage movie but also wanted to cash in on an already popular idea.

In addition, the Blair Witch Project was shot very gritty and it looked like it was made on a home video camera. Again, adding to the perceived realness of the experience. As if these three filmmakers could`ve been real and these events are true. Blair Witch just looks too good for it to be believable.

I don’t mean to be so comparative to the Blair Witch Project, but this movie relies on so much material originating from it. The climax (which is pretty underwhelming) even takes place where the Blair Witch Project ended!

There are plenty of scenes in Blair Witch that inevitably go nowhere. I cannot tell if this was just a misfire in filmmaking or intentional filler so that the movie will hit the hour and a half mark. In one scene the guides attempt to scare James and his friends into believing what they say about the witch is true. The scene builds up fairly well but is dropped and never brought up again.

The most impressive thing going for Blair Witch was its sound design, for which I must give special props to. The in depth and high quality sounds in the movie is what creeped me out and scared me the most. The sounds emerged me into the story more than the plot or characters could`ve ever done.

The movie had some scares, however this was far and in between. Whenever I actually started feeling creeped out the film was good. I feel there is just too much filler and not enough good content to keep audiences entertained. After my viewing, I didn`t hear a single person in the theater say anything positive about it. Most were just very underwhelmed by the experience. The found footage aspect hindered the overall product instead of helping it. Other than the sound design, I didn`t enjoy Blair Witch very much.

I think the best word to describe Blair Witch is underwhelming. The characters, plot, scares, found footage aspect, all of it is just underwhelming.

I believe that horror fans will find it dull, and general audiences will probably steer clear from it. The main audience for this flick will boil down to those who still enjoy found footage movies. As for me, I hope that found footage movies either get clever, or just stop completely.

Zachary Flint