Tag Archives: Saw

Movie Review: Insidious (2011)

Well-made horror movies about hauntings are a rarity these days.  Genuinely frightening ones are almost impossible to find.  For me, Insidious was both.

Written by Leigh Whannell and directed by James Wan (the Aussie duo who kick started the Saw franchise), Insidious is a unique spin on the haunted house genre, something I didn’t expect and was pleasantly surprised by.

It tells the story of a young married couple played by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, who move into a new house with their three boys.  Weird things start happening and a tragic event occurs — but that’s just the beginning.  At some point in the film the story takes a turn and takes us in a new direction.  Some will like the fact that we are being treated to something we’re not used to seeing.  Others will despise it.

You will have to either know a little bit about what I am referring to or be able to keep an open mind in order to truly appreciate it.  If you can’t, you’ll probably write off the film as silly and farcical.  But if you can (and I could), I believe you’re in for a real treat.

For those put off by the Saw reference, don’t be, because Insidious is nothing like those torture porn films.  It’s also nothing like Paranormal Activity (also referred to on the poster because it has common producers, including Oren Peli), which I thought sucked.  Whannell and Wan have shown their versatility with this one, using clever and authentically frightening situations, escalating tension and downright freakish moments to create one of the most suspenseful ghost films I’ve seen in years.  Sure, none of the tactics are necessarily original, but the execution was undoubtedly superb.

The film does have a few shaky moments, especially towards the end, but if it’s frights you are looking for, then Insidious definitely delivers.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Loved Ones (2009)

‘The Loved Ones’ screens in Australian cinemas from 4 November 2010

I find it strange that an Australian movie with Australian actors is already on DVD overseas and it hasn’t even shown here in Australia yet.  Lucky for me I caught a media screening of it earlier this week.

Nevertheless, The Loved Ones will no doubt generate plenty of interest for one big reason: Xavier Samuel (you know, that boy Riley from Twilight: Eclipse — it seems anything remotely Twilight related will kick up a storm these days).

In The Loved Ones, Samuel (who is almost unrecognisable without his Bieber haircut from Eclipse) plays Brent, a grief-stricken 17-year-old who is asked to ‘prom’ by a seemingly shy girl, Lola (Robin McLeavy).  When Brent refuses in favour of his girlfriend,  it becomes the worst mistake he’ll ever make in his life…

The Loved Ones has been described as Wolf Creek meets Pretty In Pink, though to be honest it reminds me of neither.  It’s a teen horror that feels eerily familiar, probably because it takes elements from a lot of other torture-porn horror films like Hostel, Saw and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As a result, while there isn’t anything completely like it as far as I know, it just doesn’t feel particularly fresh or original.

That said, it still provided some very decent scares (particularly visceral ones that challenge you to not look away), and I must admit there were a couple of nice little surprises thrown in there that I hadn’t expected.  The characters, especially the antagonists, are not well-drawn out at all (we needed more time with them in the ‘normal’ world), but they certainly are twisted and demented.

Not all of the scenes and dialogue worked in my opinion — they were a little clunky in some parts when you could tell the intention was to make the characters creepy, except they weren’t.  However, later events and sequences definitely make up for it.  The film is probably a lot more clever than I give it credit for.

As far as low budget horrors go, this is certainly one of the better made ones, especially by Australian standards.  At a trim 84-minutes, it gets straight into the action, wasting very little time from start to finish.  And despite there only being a handful of characters, everyone had a purpose and all the subplots were tied together nicely.

One of the things that annoyed me for some reason was the deliberate Americanising of the school aspects of the film.  Even though it is set in an unknown part of rural Australia, for some reason the school reminds you of every American school you’ve seen on TV, from the casual clothing to the lockers to how everyone runs out a second after the bell rings.  That decision, perhaps to connect with American audiences more, took away some of the Aussieness of the film.

Ultimately, The Loved Ones isn’t anything special, but if you want to be scared and disgusted (in a kind of fun, entertaining way), it should have no problem getting the job done.  If not, just watch it for Xavier Samuel.  He’s actually very very good in it.

3.25 out of 5

Movie Review: Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Law Abiding Citizen (the film not the citizen) is one of those films that could be enjoyable if in the right frame of mind.  Don’t think about the plot holes or the political slant.  Forget the self-righteousness and accept it for what it is – an above-average thriller with big-name actors and a few solid moments, but at the end of the day, a pretty forgettable affair.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind.  To me, Law Abiding Citizen came off like a film that believed it was much better than it actually was.  With a few tweaks and in the right hands, I think it could have been pretty special.

It’s hard to describe this movie without giving away the plot.  Oscar winner Jamie Foxx plays prosecutor Nick Rice, and Gerard Butler plays engineer Clyde Shelton.  Law Abiding Citizen is part revenge-movie, part battle-of-wits.  There’s definitely a bit of Saw in there as well.  It feels like the type of film you’ve seen many times before, but you can’t quite put your finger on when or where (just off the top of my head I can sense fragments of Public Enemies and Fracture in it).

Anyway, I really liked the premise of Law Abiding Citizen, though the impact of the introductory scenes weren’t as strong as I thought it would be.  I then had to block the whole spiel on the injustice of the legal system out of my mind because it was waaay over-simplified, and more importantly, it was handled with the subtlety of a sledgehammer.  If I had let that get to me, then the whole film would have gone down the drain right there.  When it comes to the law, I think most viewers are too savvy to buy into this kind of manipulative stuff so easily these days.

Then came the first couple of notable ‘incidents’, which I thought panned out pretty well.  The two big stars were beginning to stand toe-to-toe and the film was starting to get interesting.  Their exchanges were full of tension and it made me wonder what improbable thing would happen next.

However, at some point, the excitement simply dried up.  Big problem – because once you have some time to think about it all, the holes start appearing and you realise how trite the whole thing is.  The sad way the film fizzled in the end didn’t exactly help its cause either.

So ultimately, I was a bit disappointed with Law Abiding Citizen.  Not because of its political messages or its over-simplification of some very complicated issues, but because it didn’t feel nearly as good as it should have been.  Which is a surprise because director F Gary Gray was at the helm of The Negotiator (a classic in my opinion) and the solid The Italian Job.  Writer Kurt Wimmer is no slouch either, having worked on Sphere, The Recruit and Street Kings (none of which were terrific but by no means horrible).  Even Gerard Butler and (especially) Jamie Foxx, who are both usually excellent, didn’t quite click into full gear for some reason.

I can’t explain why the pieces didn’t fall together like they should have, but Law Abiding Citizen made me wish it was much better than it really was.

2.5 stars out of 5!