The Art of Gaslighting (The Invisible Man, 2020)

Invisible_Man_2020_PosterWhen the Tom Cruise update of the Mummy crumbled, so did the planned Dark Universe that Universal was placing hopes on. Instead, Universal penned a deal with low budget horror production studio Blumhouse.  They brought in director Leigh Whannell to make a lower budget re-imagination of the character.

Whannell moves the focus to Cecilia Kass who is trying to escape an abusive relationship with a famous optics tech scientist.  She tries to hide from him until she is informed that he has committed suicide. At first, things start to look up and improve…but suddenly, mysterious occurrences begin to occur that slowly cause Cecilia to unravel…she is convinced that her ex Adrian is still alive (the film does not hide this, both the trailers and film make it clear that Adrian is messing with Cecilia).  However, she cannot convince anyone of this.  Adrian starts to escalate things, severing her relationships and interfering with all attempts to move forward.

Moving the focus from a mad scientist to the victim of an obsessed stalker is highly effective.  Whannell constructs an incredibly intense opening sequence, with no effects beyond the use of sound and the motion of the camera.

The whole film uses angles, shots and general camera movement that causes you to distrust your eyes.  And it is incredibly impactful for the viewer as we search the screen for what is…wrong.

Moss gives a terrific performance.  We know she is not crazy, but her descent into obsession with proving Adrian is still alive is visceral and shocking.

I also really liked Aldus Hodge who is a police detective friend allowing Cecilia a home in which to stay.

The Invisible Man is an excellent thriller and I highly recommend it.

Haunted People Chapter 3 (Insidious Chapter 3, 2015)

Insidious_Chapter_3_PosterJames Wan has seen himself become increasingly in demand.  His regular collaborator is Leigh Whannell (who plays Specs in the series).  Whannell is the writer behind Wan’s Saw and the previous two Insidious films.  Adding the duty of first time director can be a risky proposition, though certainly not a new situation in horror franchises. Elise has proven a pretty popular character, and seeing as she met her demise in the first film, the creators kind of painted themselves in a corner.

The solution, of course, is to set this film in a time before Elise came back to help Dalton and his parents.  Set between her first meeting with Josh and the first film, Elise is now “retired”.

But a young woman asks for her help.  Quinn states she has tried contacting her dead mother.  Elise relents a little, trying to reach out, but when she realizes it is not Quinn’s mother, she is quick to end things.  But nothing has ended for Quinn.  After getting hit by a car, Quinn is stuck at home with her father and brother.  There is a growing dark threat in the house, and finally, after having exhausted his skepticism, her father Sean pleads with Elise to help free his daughter from this threat.

While there are some borderline silly moments (Elise has some action hero moments while in the spirit realm) the film stays pretty close to it’s predecessors. Visually, the spirits are every bit as unnerving and creepy.  The makeup and use of shadows shows Whannell to have learned a lot from his close work with Wan over the years.  The sound design is not quite as top notch as the prior two entries, but it is strong enough to keep the film’s identity as part of this franchise.

What we get with Chapter 3 is a well told scary story, built within the existing world of the Insidious films that feels very much a part of that world, allowing for a series that remains cohesive and largely enjoyable.

Haunted People Chapter 2 (Insidious Chapter 2, 2013)

Insidious_Chapter_2_PosterIn the first film, it was established that part of what made young Dalton such an easy target was that his father had a similar experience with the same spirit as a boy.  Opening in the first film’s tragic aftermath, Insidious Chapter 2 jumps back to that story.

Younger Elise is helping Lorraine save her young son Josh from a frightening spiritual attack.  Here we are introduced to an associate of Elise’s named Carl. When the film picks back up in the present, Carl comes in to try and help the family finish what was started in the first film and save Josh.



The film gives us more background into the old woman (who turns out to not be a woman, but a serial killer who killed at the behest of his mother).  The ghosts and spirits are as visually striking as in the first film. The same year he released this film, he released the Conjuring.  Wan really knows what he is doing with his modernized ghost stories.  I really enjoy his sense of style and his commitment to the realities of his haunted cinematic worlds.  And again, the sound design is every bit as powerful in Chapter 2 as it was in the first film.

Chapter 2 flows pretty organically from the original film, avoiding a feel of being a tacked on sequel.  Wan is a solidly dependable horror creator, giving real life to a genre of horror that was somewhat stale.

Haunted People Chapter One (Insidious, 2010)

Insidious_PosterDirector James Wan made his name in horror with Saw, which launched a thousand torture themed horror films, though often made by less skilled people.  But in 2009, Wan found himself creating a more unique form of horror.  He accomplished this be exploring an older school of fright, the supernatural thriller.

Insidious tells the story of a young family, headed by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne.  Rose’s Renai is staying home with their young baby and she is the first to notice strange occurrences.  But they start to get more frightening, to the point of seeing things and hearing aggressive and angry voices. Josh (Wilson) is struggling at work, and coming home late, all the while thinking his wife is just unnerved by the new house.  But when their son Dalton falls into a coma, things get more desperate.  Josh’s mother steps in to help the couple, but she quickly comes to believe Renai.  They call in help from an old friend of the mothers, Elise.  Elise is a known psychic and has a paranormal support team.

It is revealed that the house is not haunted, rather Dalton is.  Dalton is able to astrally project himself.  Elise explains he has been likely able to do this so long, that it never scared him.  However, it leaves his physical body available and other spirits are trying to get back to his body by keeping Dalton from returning.

The film is visually striking, with a beautiful combination of old school gothic horror and modern scary monsters.  The primary two spirits attacking Dalton are an old woman with a long black dress and veil and an old school gargoyle type of demon who looks truly ghoulish.

Along with the visual designs of the ghosts and demons, the real star of the film is the sound design.  Much like Hitchcock, Wan gets how important timing of stings and the volume of your surroundings can play in frights.  The use of sound is near perfect in this film, with noises that can be emotionally unnerving.

The film has a good cast.  Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson provide some good humor to lighten the intense atmosphere, but not at the expense of seeming competent.  Wilson and Byrne are very sympathetic as the couple.  The standout is Lin Shaye. She has a warmth and kindness, but also a strength.  This is one of her best roles (and no surprise they keep bringing her back to the films).

Insidious is a solidly made modern horror film that pays homage to classic horror and ghost stories.

You Can’t Eat the Teachers, Man! (Cooties, 2015)

cooties_posterKids are mean.  We all know that.  Cooties just takes that to the next level.  Cooties opens with the most gruesome images possible.  Chickens being ground into chicken nuggets. Because tainted chicken nuggets will cause stuff.

Then we meet Clint (Elijah Wood), an aspiring writer making ends meet as a substitute teacher.  He has no real heart for it…he uses his class to get notes on his horror novel.  In the midst of a reading, the class bully is attacked by by a girl he was teasing, getting a severe bite.

Soon, the teachers find themselves trying to survive in a school of zombie children.  They hope to hold out in a room, but this is a horror film.  Mayhem cannot be avoided.

And a hilarious massacre it is.  The film’s zombie still behave like kids, they run, they jump, they play with grown ups by ripping them to pieces.  Just like my nephews.  But seriously, the film takes an absurd premise and has a lot of fun with it.

While there is nothing truly original in the setups, the writing makes great use of cliched things like love triangles, absurdly overbearing gym teachers, clueless adults, etc.  The film has fun with it’s cliches, rather than hiding behind it to pretend to have a plot.

Along with clever writing, the film is populated with terrific comedic character actors such as Rainn Wilson, Nasim Pedrad and Jack McBrayer.  Elijah Wood and Alison Pill are terrific fun as well.  And Leigh Wannell (one of the few actor’s known for his straight up horror roles) is entertaining as an oddball science teacher.  Oh yeah, and Jorge Garcia from Lost is quite entertaining as a stoner school crossing guard.

Much like Tucker and Dale Versus Evil, the film is quite gory, yet somehow manages to not overpower the comedy.  The effects are solid and help sell the horror side of the film.  Simply put, I was laughing throughout the film, and was engaged by the characters through the entire film.

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