MOVIE REVIEW: Insidious: The Last Key

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2018)


GOING IN

The INSIDIOUS series has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. I acknowledge that it isn’t the best horror out there, but I very much enjoy the first two films in this franchise, and due to a strong final act I even don’t mind the third chapter. The concept of The Further and exploring a place where spirits roam while trying to attach themselves to the living is certainly an intriguing one. While James Wan has gone on to make much more masterful horror films in THE CONJURING series, his ability to create atmospheric dread made the series one I could stomach more than the blood and gore pictures in this genre. Admittedly, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 was a letdown and Wan’s absence was felt as co-creator Leigh Whannell took over directing duties. Now director Adam Robitel is attached for yet another Lin Shaye led sequel. It’s not unheard for little known horror directors to surprise with a good film, but it is rare that fourth entries in a horror franchise ever live up to their original material. I’m going into this one with pretty low expectations and hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

1 Hour and 43 Minutes Later.


COMING OUT

 

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY begins with a flashback to a young Elise (series star Lin Shaye) living in her home on a prison campus. This insight into her childhood family dynamic and living situation immediately sets the stage for what will be her most personal haunting experience yet, when she returns to this childhood home much later in life to face off against a sinister demon. The details behind this particular occurrence are fairly dark in nature and the plot gets even more serious as it progresses. It’s actually somewhat shocking that the film maintains a PG-13 rating with the heavy content, but like other films in the series it does shy away from blood and guts, relying more on jump scares and atmosphere to provide the audience a sense of fear. Those scares are hit or miss, with a few genuine moments of surprise but many more of the telegraphed typical horror film variety. While some scenes may give audiences a quick jolt, the film never creates any lasting feeling of terror.

Returning to pen this entry (as he did the previous three) is series co-creator (and director of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3) Leigh Whannell. Whannell also stars in the film as Specs, part of the sidekick ghost hunting duo that provide technical assistance to Dr. Elise Rainier. You may notice the wording used in that last sentence and find it odd. After all, Specs and Tucker have never been the focus of any previous INSIDIOUS installments, but rather provided important brief moments of levity to give audiences a chance to breathe and have a break from the tension. One of the major problems with INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, though, is that Whannell has taken Specs and Tucker from fringe supporting characters almost all the way to centerpieces. In a trend that began with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, their screen time has increased and so have the one-liners and goofy actions. Because of their frequency this makes the film feel like almost half comedy. Instead of the jokes being used as levity, they are gags that bring attention to these characters, taking the audience out of the tension built up. It’s almost like two guys from a buddy cop comedy got dropped into this horror movie. It feels very, very weird. Whannell also really gets lost in his story, and as it gets deeper and darker it also becomes more convoluted. There are some really interesting ideas, but he just doesn’t deliver them in narrative form in a crisp understandable manner. The time travel element that takes place in The Further, in particular, has never been explained well and is no different here. Understandably there is some disbelief that must be had to accept the fantastical nature of the spirit world in the INSIDIOUS franchise, but the decisions here just take that further (pun intended) than most viewers are going to be willing to go.

Also disappointing was Robitel’s male gaze as a director. This is something that I have only recently started to notice, but did so multiple times in this film and one particular scene is an egregious example. It’s because of this scene, which focuses the camera up close on a female’s heaving chest for nearly 30 seconds as she lays on the floor gasping for breath, that it became hard to take the two new young female characters very seriously. So little devotion is given to developing their characters and in the end they are simply a plot device and object of desire for Specs and Tucker. Robitel does manage to create solid atmospheric fright at times. His framing of character faces within scenes where action is taking place in the background was something that stuck out as a positive, and the opening section of the film was quite strong as well. Additionally, the demon design and way in which it attacks is unique and scary, even if it does move a bit like The Crooked Man from THE CONJURING 2.

VERDICT

Continuing the downward spiral after a solid first two films, INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY deserves to be locked away and forgotten. Whannell’s script puts way too much focus on himself and his comedy sidekick, while also taking a strong opening idea and making it so complicated that its difficult to take seriously. Robitel’s direction isn’t all bad, and the physical atmosphere is appropriately creepy, but the objectification of two younger female characters is hard to ignore. The INSIDIOUS franchise under Wan’s hand was great, but it has now lost the focus it once had and it’s time to use THE LAST KEY to close the door on these ideas for good.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Minisode 31: Murder on the Orient Express

In this minisode we discuss Agatha Christie’s often adapted book to film, Murder on the Orient Express, directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, along with Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Josh Gad, Penelope Cruz, Leslie Odom Jr., Willem Dafoe, and a handful of other people potentially accused of murder. This story is special for a reason and we enjoy talking about the ethics and morality at play, while also gushing over a beautiful visual aesthetic in the film.

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MOVIE REVIEW: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

GOING IN

In all my years of devouring classic literature, I never read a single Agatha Christie novel. A travesty, I know. Arguably her most famous work, Murder on the Orient Express features the famous reoccurring detective Hercule Poirot. The story tells of thirteen stranded strangers on a luxurious train ride, one of them a murderer who Poirot must discover and stop before they kill again. As intriguing as the story is, I’ve intentionally avoided reading the novel or seeing the 1974 film that came before, and therefore will be able to go into this mystery spoiler-free. Branagh’s work is never short on panache and the all-star cast assembled points to an exciting cinematic game of whodunit, reminiscent of the board game Clue.


COMING OUT

For me, the success of movie mysteries is largely measured by the answer to two questions: “was it entertaining” and “did it keep me guessing until the end? ” Unexpectedly, the film is very much not a thriller. The style is theatrical in nature, which should be no surprise with Branagh directing, combined with some modern stylish cinematography. It felt very much like Branagh’s tone in Cinderella and made for a weird experience, which to be honest, did not always work for me. At many times I expected the energy of the film to increase as suspects were considered and the investigation grew nearer to resolution, but aside from one or two scenes this felt more like a stage play minus the heightened drama. And that leads into question number two, because despite not knowing the story and end result, I was certainly not guessing until the end. I’ll admit that I did not know every detail until Poirot’s classic reveal speech, but the clues were easy enough to read that it felt more like I was watching to discover how the detective would deal with the outcome versus whether he would learn the truth or not. The “whodunit” simply wasn’t filmed in such a way that lived up to my expectations for an exciting mystery and at times was downright boring.

So far, by my standards, Murder on the Orient Express does not succeed. What saved the experience for me, however, was the story itself. Though I don’t feel like this is a great adaptation, I was definitely intrigued by the moral implications that arose once the killer’s identity was revealed. The questions about justice, and what is right versus wrong, were compelling and it is easy to see why this is one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved stories. Talking through the implications of the ending on the drive home with my 14-year old made for great conversation.

With regards to the stellar cast, I feel a bit cheated. We simply don’t get enough time with each of the many characters to establish much of a connection. The acting is fine, although I’m quite tired of Johnny Depp as a gangster at this point, but no one really stands out because all of the characters are equal and overshadowed by the hero detective. Branagh really just can’t help himself here and his camera keeps Poirot in focus in almost nearly every scene. Those he isn’t in are filmed from his perspective.  There are so many closeups and monologues that the film starts to feel much more about him and less about the mystery. Branagh is no doubt a stellar actor and his presence serves the character well,  but his direction creates an unevenness to the style in Murder on the Orient Express that makes it feel awkward.

Verdict

I’m glad that I now know the story of Murder on the Orient Express. Christie’s tale is fantastic and is a unique scenario in murder mysteries. It brings up questions about justice, judgment, and forgiveness. Branagh’s adaptation is good, and I don’t regret seeing it, but instead of wanting to re-watch it, I am more compelled to seek out the source material and previous adaptations. Murder on the Orient Express is just an okay film. You can see better, but you could also see a whole lot worse.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 082: The Blair Witch Project

For our 2017 Halloween episode, we are discussing the 1999 cult classic film that launched the found footage genre. The Blair Witch Project featured an incredible viral marketing campaign on its way to becoming the 2nd highest return on investment in film history. Listen for a great conversation that covers the films history, our thoughts on how scary it is, and some intriguing theories about the ending, plus much more.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:07

(Aaron – Song to Song, Nintendo Switch)
(Patrick – Scythe by Neal Shusterman)

The Blair Witch Project Review – 0:20:19

The Connecting Point – 1:36:40

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Minisode 30: Scream

For October’s Donor Pick Episode we’re discussing Wes Craven’s masterpiece that revived the slasher genre in the 90’s. That’s right, it’s the iconic Scream, with all its self-awareness, gore, and that incredible opening scene. We talk about just how great Craven really was, as well a conversation about whether or not horror movies turn people violent. Enjoy this special Halloween minisode.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Suburbicon

Suburbicon (2017)


Going In

Written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Directed by George Clooney. Starring Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, and Oscar Isaac. The truth is that I didn’t even need to know the plot to become interested in this film. Despite hearing the word “mediocre” thrown around, I find it difficult to believe that this group of supremely talented artists won’t provide an entertaining time at the movies. From the look of its trailers, Suburbicon appears to be mostly dark comedy, and though I greatly prefer the Coens’ strictly dramatic work over their more comedic efforts, every time I see a white-collar Matt Damon losing his mind and taking on organized crime it makes me grin. I’m holding out hope that there is something of substance that will elevate this beyond just satire.


COMING OUT

Suburbicon is wild. The Coens’ signature dark comedic touch is all over this, and its trailers, come to find out, have been a bit of a misdirection. At first glance you’d think the city of Suburbicon was a clone of Pleasantville. It doesn’t take long for that idea to be blown out of the water, though, as we learn that Suburbicon residents are quite fond of their community demographics and not very accepting of change. The surprises come pretty quickly and the setup for the main plot is intriguing. In fact, if this movie had been more of a straight-forward thriller it could have worked well.

Unfortunately, Suburbicon has no idea what kind of film it is. There are two stories taking place at once and they do not coexist well. Cuts between the two result in an odd tonal shift and the satirical nature of main plot doesn’t mesh with what’s going on in the secondary one. If the movie is trying to say something important, it fails at making that clear. Suburbicon does feature moments of genuine humor and that slick Coen Bros. writing that we know and love so well. In particular, the brief time that Oscar Isaac is on screen stands out. His charisma plays perfectly in the role this film calls for. I also rather enjoyed the twists and turns the story takes, and I probably would have responded positively to the ending if it hadn’t been ruined for me by the trailer. Why they chose to show us something in the trailer that would tip us off to the exact ending of the film 15 minutes before it happens is extremely frustrating. Maybe the studio just counts on us all having very bad memories? Regardless, it was a major mistake that negatively affected my viewing and response to the end.

Verdict

The trailer for Suburbicon, sans extra story-line that didn’t fit in, is a tighter film than the finished product. Despite an incredible amount of star power attached to this project, it simply tries to be too many things at once and the result is a frustrating, confused mess. It’s not all bad, and sections of it show flashes of what could have been, but the finished (I use that word loosely) product is just not something worthy of being recommended.

Rating:


Aaron White is a Seattle-based film critic and co-creator/co-host of the Feelin’ Film Podcast. He is also a member of the Seattle Film Critics Society. He writes reviews with a focus on how his expectations influenced his experience. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter to be notified when new content is posted.

Episode 081: The Thing

On this week’s episode we cover our first of three scary movies for this October. Patrick called out sick but the show must go on and the People’s Critic, Tim Hall, fills in admirably to talk about one of his favorite movies of all-time. The Thing is well known for its incredible special effects, but there is much more to explore in this paranoia-filled sci-fi horror.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:59

(Aaron – Only the Brave)
(Tim – The Snowman, Happy Death Day)

The Thing Review – 0:13:37

The Connecting Point – 0:57:02

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Minisode 29: Watchmen

Aaron & Patch are joined by That Guy Named John from the About to Review Podcast for this September Donor Pick Minisode. We talk Watchmen, Zack Snyder’s epic 2009 cinematic adaptation of the 1980’s comic written by Alan Moore, and much like the film tackle a lot of content in a short period of time. Enjoy, and be sure to check out John’s awesome podcast and follow him on social media.

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Minisode 28: mother!

Sometimes you’ve just gotta talk it out.  Emmanuel Noisette of Eman’s Movie Reviews joins Aaron for an exploratory, therapeutic, cathartic, and hopefully insightful conversation about the many possible interpretations of Darren Aronofsky’s latest film.

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Feelin’ It: Atomic Blonde

(SPOILER FREE) Aaron and Ryan share their thoughts on the neon 80’s Cold War action spy film starring Charlize Theron. Is this truly just a female version of John Wick or something more? We answer that question and give you the details you need to decide whether seeing Atomic Blonde is for you, all spoiler free.

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