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.

Episode 079: Blade Runner 2049

For the second week in a row we’ve got replicant fever and are trying to answer that nagging question, “Do androids dream of electric sheep?” Blade Runner 2049 inspires us to honor its epic length with some extended conversation of our own. There is plenty to discuss in the incredible new film from Denis Villeneuve so join us for an in-depth journey as we explore the film’s emotional and philosophical impact on us.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:02:14

(Aaron – My Little Pony: The Movie)
(Patrick – Clue)

Blade Runner 2049 Review – 0:19:05

The Connecting Point – 1:34:45

Contact

Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode 


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

MOVIE REVIEW: Blade Runner 2049

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017)



GOING IN

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner holds a special place in my heart. Over countless viewings the film has continued to evoke emotional and intellectual responses from me, often times new and unexpected. It is the film that ushered in my love of a good artificial intelligence story, a sub-genre that today I consider my favorite. The ideas it brings forth and leads us to consider are hefty ones. It is brilliant in most every way and is firmly placed in my Top 5 favorite films of all-time. And now we have a sequel…

To be honest, I wasn’t excited when this film was announced. Part of what makes Blade Runner so fascinating is the ambiguity. Will a sequel ruin all of that, and could it even lower my enjoyment of the original? These are very real fears for me. Over time, though, I’ve grown more excited about this project. Director Denis Villeneuve and cinematographer Roger Deakins have the vision and style to make them a perfect artistic fit.  The casting of Ryan Gosling and Jared Leto entice me, as does the return of Harrison Ford. This film couldn’t be in better hands. But the skeptic in me remains, and Blade Runner 2049 meeting my expectations may prove a difficult task.



COMING OUT

For once, Hollywood got it right. The studios worked very hard to encourage no spoilers be released from early Blade Runner 2049 screenings and that decision will result in a much better experience for filmgoers. The story being told is intriguing and provocative, a believable next step in the evolution of replicants that continues the original film’s exploration of what it means to be alive. As it should be expected, the question of who is and isn’t human lingers and gives rise to doubt. The concept of love and what role it plays in having a soul is also examined. A particular relationship between characters, one of whom is a holographic A.I., was among my favorite parts of the film and provided an emotional center that resonated with me.

That same A.I. is one of several new technological advancements that the world has seen in its 30 years since the original Blade Runner took place. Police Department cruisers are considerably cooler and now have enhancements like a detachable drone and weaponry. Synthetic farming is briefly shown and looks fascinating. Other new tech includes things like a portable replicant scanner and what serves as an upgraded Voight-Kampff machine that helps humans keep replicants operating between the lines.

When it comes to visuals, Roger Deakins’ cinematography is incredible. This is not the hard-boiled Blade Runner of the past that was filmed almost entirely in darkness. Everything here is shiny and futuristic. It is a gorgeous film to behold and I’ll be extremely surprised if Deakins isn’t raising a golden Oscar statue at the 2018 Academy Awards. It’s clear that he and Villeueve have a passion for the material and their artistic genius is without question.

But…

Thought-provoking as it may be, I had an incredibly hard time connecting emotionally with the primary plot. The themes were not deepened in a way that moved me and the entire world felt very cold. Numerous recreations of moments from the original film seemed cheap and were distracting. This is a long film and it feels long. Many will likely be bored, and though I wouldn’t count myself among them, I definitely felt many scenes could have been shorter without losing any of their impact. When I saw Blade Runner 2049‘s running time I expected much more in-depth world-building than actually exists.

VERDICT

Admittedly, I had high expectations for Blade Runner 2049 and in some ways those were met. This is a visually stunning film and for a while it was nice exploring new, but familiar, themes in this universe. Harrison Ford’s return was wonderful and most of the performances were perfectly fine. But what I didn’t find Blade Runner 2049 to be is particularly inspired. Villeneuve shockingly plays it safe and doesn’t expand on the world in any meaningful ways. Sure, there may be some meaning for a few characters, but larger implications are left completely unexplored and some plot lines just dropped as suddenly as if the film had run out of reel and nothing could be added. While I find the original Blade Runner to be infinitely re-watchable, as of this writing I don’t see myself desiring to revisit the long slog of Blade Runner 2049 again. When graded against science fiction films in general, Blade Runner 2049 is an above average entry. But this feels now more than ever like a sequel that we didn’t need, and when graded against its compelling and great source material, it sadly falls very short.

Rating:


UPDATE

Having now seen the film a second time, I feel it is important to update this review. Upon repeat viewing, divorced from expectations of what I thought the sequel should be, I was able to enjoy the film completely for what it actually is. Instead of finding the film cold and emotionless, I experienced quite a few moments of deep connection to different characters. The unique thing about Blade Runner 2049 is that it will not draw your attention to these moments through the use of manipulative music or exposition. You have to be paying attention, and if you are, the payoff is a powerful and moving one. I also had far less problems with the thematic content of the film. The new direction that Villeneuve has chosen to take this series is a logical step forward and though questions are once again left unanswered, they made me crave and yearn for more details, not less. Yes, the runtime is exceptionally long and it’s understandable that some viewers were yawning in my theater, but I was entranced and could have easily lived inside this world for another hour plus.

Sometimes expectations can thoroughly derail a filmgoing experience and I believe that is what happened to me. Discussing both that topic and the many emotional/philosophical story beats of Blade Runner 2049 on our podcast helped me to realize just how much I appreciate and adore this film. I love it. I cannot wait to see it again, and again, and again. I want more from Villeneuve. I want resolutions and new characters and new mysteries. Blade Runner 2049 is an exceptional work of art and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

New 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 078: Blade Runner

Few movies have had as profound an impact on our thoughts of what it means to be human as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. We welcome first time guest James Harleman, Blade Runner superfan, to the podcast and spend some time unpacking the film’s numerous themes and questions about identity.

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:31

(Aaron – Battle of the Sexes)
(James – Jeepers Creepers 3)

Blade Runner Review – 0:18:00

The Connecting Point – 01:11:36

Contact:

Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode 


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

MOVIE REVIEW: Infinity Chamber

Infinity Chamber (2017)


Going In

A man trapped in an automated prison must outsmart a computer in order to escape and try and find his way back to the outside world that may already be wiped out.

Rarely does a cerebral science fiction film  slip beneath my radar. I have a deep love of contemplating the complexities of life, human emotion, and decision making while exploring realistic future  technologies. So when I learned of Infinity Chamber’s existence AFTER its release straight to VOD, I was a bit surprised. Granted, this is not a big studio picture with A-list actors. Formerly titled Somnio during a failed Kickstarter campaign, it is written and directed by Travis Milloy, who previously penned 2009’s space horror Pandorum (which I quite enjoy). Knowing that, and coupled with the incredibly intriguing synopsis above, I couldn’t miss seeing this one at the first opportunity.



COMING OUT

Imagine, if you will, that you wake up with a massive headache and a foggy memory. Before you is a talking eyeball who introduces himself as “Howard”, informs you that you are not being charged with a crime, but rather being “processed”, and says that his job is to keep you alive.

I don’t know about you, but that would definitely give me cause for concern, and Frank Learner is no different. This interaction sets forth in motion a very slow-burn, thought-provoking story. For those that have seen Duncan Jones’ fantastic film Moon, its inspiration is unmistakable. That’s not to say that Infinity Chamber can’t stand on its own. It can. But the feel is similar, so using that as a reference point may help in determining whether this is your kind of flick.

As the plot unfolds, Frank (Christopher Soren Kelly) tries to figure things out, all while working towards a solution for release… or escape. Kelly’s performance is very good and requires quite a bit of silent acting. Due to the film mostly taking place in a single location and clearly made on a very low budget, the heavy lifting falls on his ability to both physically and emotionally carry each scene. Other human actor performances are good, as well, but most of the movie is Frank interacting with “Howard,” and this is where the film doesn’t win me over quite as much.

In movies like Moon and 2001: A Space Odyssey, the artificial intelligence is as much a character (thoroughly developed) as the human actors, and I just didn’t get that feeling from “Howard.” Not that the voice work is particularly bad, it just wasn’t anything… special. I did not develop empathy or understanding in the way that I did for HAL or GERTY in the aforementioned films. Unfortunately, that was a detractor for me since the A.I. is one of the two main characters. My other complaints are mostly minor, with the other primary one being that some scenes became repetitive and added too much time to the film. The nature of the film almost demanded that we have these scenes, and it’s a fine line to balance, but the result was that the movie loses its thriller label midway through before picking it back up in the third act.

Verdict

Infinity Chamber is a smart, well-acted, and creative story that deals with themes of isolation and identity in interesting ways. Even “Howard” wrestles with what he is and can be, providing a fresh take on the evil A.I. trope. The film tackles questions about our relationship with technology that will give fans of this genre a lot to talk about with others who’ve seen it. As of this writing the film is available to rent on Amazon and iTunes and is definitely worth a watch.

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.

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.

Contact

Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download this Episode


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Feelin’ It: The Beguiled

(SPOILER FREE) Aaron & Don give their thoughts on this wickedly entertaining remake from Sofia Coppola. We try to inform you so you can decide whether this seductively complex, yet simple, film is one for you.

Contact

Join the Facebook Discussion Group

Download the Audio Review Here


Intro/Outro Music – “Seeing the Future” by Dexter Britain

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

 

MOVIE REVIEW: It Comes At Night

Each time Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr., Birth of a Nation) picks up his lantern to wander the dark halls of his family’s  boarded up home, he strikes the image of a ghost- perhaps of a weary railroad conductor making his rounds. Tension builds with each creak of the floorboards, and the lengthening of shadows indicate that something ominous lurks. In his sophomore feature length effort, It Comes at Night, writer/director Trey Edward Shults proves sometimes less is more with horror.  Sometimes, what we don’t see is as unsettling as actually revealing the monsters that hunt us.

The audience isn’t given a lot to work with in regard to world building. There is the aforementioned house and the surrounding woods.  Nothing more is required.  The presence of gas masks posit some sort of airborne virus exists, and the gruesome illness that has befallen Travis’ grandfather indicates said virus isn’t screwing around.  Besides Travis, the house is occupied by his parents, Paul (Joel Edgerton, Loving) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo, Alien: Covenant), and the family dog.  Paul’s day-to-day routine is militaristic in nature- designed with safety and survival as priority.

When that safety is threatened, Paul is forced to make some uneasy decisions that will alter the dynamic he’s worked hard to sustain.  The fly in the ointment here is Will (Christopher Abbott, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), a survivor who attempts to break into the home in search of supplies for his family.  Will eventually convinces Paul that his intentions are honest, and with some prodding from his own family, Paul consents to bring Will’s wife Kim (Riley Keough, American Honey), and young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner) to live in the house and share resources.

Shults keeps traditional horror tropes at arms length.  He has no interest in burdening the audience with cheap jump scares or semi-visible ghoulies scurrying about.  The tension in It Comes at Night stems from the atmosphere Shults has created.  Most of the film is shrouded in a suffocating darkness- the fear of falling victim to the unseen virus keeping everyone on edge.  Shults doubles down on the uneasiness through his characters’ interactions.  Trust  between the families is paper thin, and one sideways glance can send the new household dynamic into chaos.

Our perspective of this story comes primarily from Travis.  The mood set by Harrison Jr.’s often unmoving gaze provides us a glimpse of a devolving world- a human condition that is gradually unraveling, fed by a lingering deceit and burgeoning mistrust.  The graphic nightmares Travis endures, perhaps symbolic of the film’s title, show us a consequence of the withering psyche of Travis as an individual that’s clearly seen too much.  Harrison Jr. sells all of it, and although we as the audience aren’t privy to any real context of what is happening in this world, the deconstructing of this one small segment of it is enough to earn our attention.

When we aren’t living in Travis’ worldview, the film treads along the interactions of Paul and Will.  Edgerton and Abbott volley their mistrust of each other back and forth, threatening their uneasy alliance almost minute by minute.  As an audience, we wait idly by for something to break.  Both actors succeed in playing off each other’s skepticisms, but each is bound by a sense of personal duty to do right be their family.  Alas, Ejogo and Keough serve little purpose beyond looking frightened and succumbing to direction from their men.

So what is Shults really playing at in It Comes at Night?  Is the virus used as a macguffin to get at a more intimate portrait of social constructs?  Does it really matter whether any of the characters fall victim to unseen horrors when the clear and present danger presents itself within their own interactions?  A lot of time is spent worrying about what lies on the other side of a creepy red door, when the true horrors may reside on the same side as the people who are doing the worrying.

No doubt there are people who will walk away confused, or perhaps even angry.  It’s a consequence of ambiguity. The ending is not conducive to filmgoers needing answers, but that doesn’t mean answers can’t be had.  Monsters don’t always need to be tangible things with sharp teeth and fangs.  But just because we can’t always see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.  Paranoia is a big motivator, and it hangs like a thick fog over this story.  How you reconcile the themes within the film, and especially the ending, probably depends on the way your own life mirrors certain aspects within- the losses you’ve been dealt- the people you’ve had interactions with.  It Comes at Night dares to play with those subconscious thoughts and invites you to explore them for yourself.  Sometimes the true horrors lie within us.

Rating:

 

Episode 5: It Comes at Night

Raw, fully spoiled, instant reactions after leaving the theater. This film is not what trailers made it seem. Instead it is a deep, psychological family drama that had the potential to leave viewers seriously confused. Aaron and Don talk through their emotions and try to figure out exactly what this film means.

Contact

Join the Facebook Discussion Group


Intro/Outro Music – “Seeing the Future” by Dexter Britain

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!

Episode 055: The Circle

This week we discuss the dangers of modernization at the heart of The Circle. This film, starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks, offers us a glance into the not-so-distant future of technological advances and provides us a LOT of ethical dilemmas to talk through. 

What We’ve Been Up To – 0:01:12
(Patrick – None)
(Aaron – Voices of a Distant Star and 5 Centimeters Per Second, The Lost City of Z)

The Circle Review – 0:17:12

The Connecting Point – 1:17:34

Download this Episode


Intro/Outro Music – “Air Hockey Saloon” by Chris Zabriskie

Support us on Patreon & get awesome rewards:

or you can support us through Paypal as well. Select the link below and make your one-time or recurring contribution.

Rate/Review us on iTunes and on your podcast app of choice! It helps bring us exposure so that we can get more people involved in the conversation. Thank you!