From Leigh Whannell

Cooties: It’s Okay to Kill the Children

Cooties. 2015. Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell & Ian Brennan.
Starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Miles Elliot, Morgan Lily, Sunny May Allison, and Armani Jackson. Glacier Films/SpectreVision.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Action/Comedy/Horror

★★★★
2490326_bigOfficially out now on iTunes, Cooties was announced a little over two years ago. I remember seeing the premise alone and thinking this would be, at the very least, a bit of a good laugh. Admittedly, I’m not actually huge on horror-comedies. Funny that I love comedy and I am way in love with horror, yet the combination of both isn’t something that immediately appeals to me.
That being said, there are definitely instances of horror-comedy I’ve loved. Like Shaun of the Dead, which is almost the pinnacle to me of the sub-genre. There’s also Dead Alive, Gremlins, pieces of An American Werewolf in London are definitely full of comedy, Return of the Living Dead, House (a favourite of mine), and many more.
Cooties isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best horror-comedy films to come out in awhile. There are lots of good laughs, solidly executed horror, and a pretty excellent script. This movie never takes itself too seriously; not to a fault, but enough to make it feel genuine. Some good performances help the whole film succeed, even in its slower moments. Rainn Wilson, of whom I’m not a fan, actually is pretty awesome. Not just him: Elijah Wood is great, Alison Pill cracked me up almost constantly, Nasim Pedrad played such an amazingly satirical character and proves she’s a real good comedian, and even the other much smaller roles had me in stitches.
But it’s the horror I love – the sweet, sweet horror.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.25.24 PMThe opening sequence of the film is pretty spooky, as well as nasty. Like churn your stomach nasty. Tainted nuggets… need I say more?
After this opener, Cooties shifts into comedy/dark comedy mode for a little portion. Which works extremely well. From a screenplay by Ian Brennan and Leigh Whannell, the comedy is genuine. It’s not awkward comedy, as some might expect seeing Rainn Wilson, however, it isn’t at all. There are some hilarious moments, especially from Elijah Wood whose character has a boyish charm while carrying the weight of the adult world on his shoulders; a writer trying hard to be whats he wants, stuck teaching when he’d rather be writing a novel as he says he is.
Still, things get intense fairly quick once the horror rears its fierce head. What I love is that the movie is only an hour and a half, not even, so the plot kicks in and runs wild without enough preamble to numb you. For a horror-comedy, this is an efficient technique and certainly made me enjoy Cooties even more than I might normally enjoy other movies in the sub-genre.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.17 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.35 PMKiller kid movies always freak me out. Something about the innocence of children combined with evil – and in this case an illness/virus – really just gets to me, in an awfully heavy way.
The kids in Cooties are creepy. Plain and simple. One of the first intense scenes is when Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson) finds himself trapped on the basketball court, surrounded by a bunch of the kids; they’re hissing, snarling, growls and blood and pus come out of them.
Something I enjoy about the killer kid sub-genre is how it subverts how we feel about children. You don’t feel any fear from them. When you see a kid, as an adult, there’s nothing threatening about them. Even when it comes to really messed up kids who might talk a good tough game, worst comes to worst you can pick a kid up and throw them if necessary. However, when the evil aspect comes into play – in film – there’s something in that subversion, something about how the children suddenly become threatening, which unsettles me at the core. It’s the innocence coming back into play, in a very sinister sense.
Even more so, Cooties pits school teachers against the kids they’re meant to be teaching, caring for, moulding into responsible young adults. There’s something even more wrenching about seeing these educators forced to kill the ones they’ve protected so long, similar to zombie films where we see parents have to kill their children or children forced to kill their parents. Something about this whole idea eats away at me. And even though there’s plenty of comedy peppered in throughout, I think there’s an absolutely relentless sense of dread happening from start to finish which never ever lets go.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.26.47 PMWhat I enjoy so much about this movie is the fact it balances so well the aspects of horror and comedy. This is the strength of any solid horror-comedy, if they can find a balance somehow that ultimately works equally on both fronts. What I found worked, for me, is that Cooties teeters back and forth between riotous moments and nasty horror. I mean, there’s a genuine dose of R-rated horror here a lot of other filmmakers would be too afraid to include in their own films.
When Johnson (Wilson) kills the first kid with a fire extinguisher, I knew it was coming but there’s still an effective scare in that moment. Particularly I love the makeup special effects, the blood spray all over Johnson and the wall behind him, speckled red dots everywhere. A true horror scene. Often times there’s a comedic aspect to kills in horror-comedy; this is not one of those kills. In the midst of the comedy comes a brutal, vicious scene. Not only that, the weight is evident on the character of Wade Johnson, as he sorts of loses his fun loving attitude afterwards and takes a bit of time alone.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.27.03 PM Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.00 PMThe cinematography all around is pretty awesome. There’s a genuine atmosphere from start to finish, which sort of evolves from section to section. Lyle Vincent is the one responsible for the camerawork here – he also did 2012’s Devoured, a decent little indie horror with some teeth, and also the downright fantastic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (you can see a marquee poster for this movie at around the 1 hour 17 minute mark, or a little after, as the survivors pass a theatre). So knowing those two pieces – liking the latter more than the former – it’s no surprise Vincent is able to give Cooties an interesting look and feel. At the start, even in the creepy/nauseating opening sequence, there’s this real bright, shiny type of aesthetic happening – this leads through a bit to when the darkness comes into play. Following the “turn” of the children, a more gritty yet still colourful scheme begins. The vividness of colour persists, only darker now, along with the shadowy halls of the school, lit here and there with neon Exit signs, and the dull, sickly makeup of the kids, bloody and diseased looking. Tons of great visual stuff happening in terms of how the cinematography is both bright and gritty.
Also, there’s a rocking score from Kreng (Pepijn Caudron) – lots of cool electronic stuff happening. Unlike many modern horror movies trying to evoke a retro 1980s style soundtrack, I found this goes for the electronic sound while not necessarily trying to riff off the ’80s particularly. It might have that type of vibe, but for me it’s not the typical modern horror score. Helps the different aspects of Cooties become more intense, along with Vincent’s cinematography, whether it be the action-horror scenes near the end or the plain creepy horror moments throughout. A great horror score, definitely a bit different than some of the other stuff as of late from the indie horror scene.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.24 PMI have to mention one of my favourite scenes. It’s very close to the end, so without spoiling anything, the group of teachers trying to fend off all the infected/zombie children wander into a sort of McDonalds PlayPlace type of building. They find the PlayPlace itself, a massive jungle gym full of infected kids, frothing at the mouth, hissing and screaming, laughing like maniacs. The part I love is the lead-up, where first the group comes inside and the dark closes everything in, the flashlights give us enough to see bright party decorations, half eaten cake and nuggets; there’s this eerie quality to the scene I found incredible. Then when the lights go up, a neon multicoloured disco light ball turns, there’s this WHOA second where you can’t get over how wildly creepy the scene has become.
Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.28.47 PMWith a decent ending, that doesn’t try to wrap things up cleanly and to a precise point, I think Cooties overall gets a 4 out of 5 star rating. I loved the excellent mix of horror (good dose of blood/gore) and comedy. Plenty of good laughs, but horror wins out above anything else. There’s a lot of great intense kid-centric horror. This doesn’t shy away from showing any kids infected, bleeding, or straight up being killed. Though it isn’t malicious in the sense of useless violence. Mostly, as I said before, the subversion of the roles of the teachers in this film really makes things interesting, and horrific at various times for both the audience and the characters.
This is out now via iTunes, so get a copy! Maybe not everyone will love it like I did, but as someone not often drawn into horror-comedies, I’d at least suggest you give it a try.

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Saw III Gets Personal

Saw III. 2006. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfadyen, Bahar Soomekh, Donnie Wahlberg, Dina Meyer, Leigh Whannell, Mpho Koaho, Barry Flatman, Lyriq Bent, J. LaRose, Debra McCabe, Costas Mandylor, and Betsy Russell. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 108 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★
saw_iii_ver2_xlgA reason I didn’t enjoy Saw II near as much as the first is due to how focused the film seemed on going for a shock rather than building up a genuinely creepy atmosphere and ratcheting up the tension like Saw did so well. Though I don’t think Saw III is nearly as amazing as that either, it’s definitely much better than the first sequel.
One major problem I had with the previous entry is how there were eight different characters stuck in the house. I mean, it just felt forced and all of the characters weren’t given proper time to be developed, even in the slightest sense. So that was something which detracted from the film’s story and the tension overall. Here in the third film, I think whittling the main focus of characters down to a couple – plus exploring the relationship between Amanda Young and Jigsaw further – is an aspect of Saw III I’ve enjoyed incredibly. There’s certainly a degree of shocking horror, for some, but I feel more so in this film than the one which came before the concentration has come back to character development and full blooded tension. Partly, I think this has to do with the fact Leigh Whannell is the sole screenwriter again, as it was in the original film, and Darrne Lynn Bousman sticks to directing as opposed to writing; as a team, I think they do a pretty good job on this film together.

Saw III tells two simultaneous stories – one concerns Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) who has become a rundown man after his little boy was killed in a hit and run car accident, Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) subjects him to many various tests in order to reach what he wants so badly: revenge; the other tells of Dr. Lynn Denlon (Bahar Soomekh), kidnapped by Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) who turns out to be Jigsaw’s helper, and made to perform surgery on the now dying John Kramer.
Rigged with a collar set to blast her head off should John flatline, Dr. Denlon is forced to do her best in order to keep the serial killer alive, all the while Amanda chomps at her like a little angry dog. And Jeff finds his sanity unravelling, confronted with the sick, twisted world of Jigsaw.
scr-9I’ve got to give it to Darren Lynn Bousman, he knows how to open a film with an exciting and grim sequence. He began the previous one with a pretty definite and impressive bang continuing to do so here. Saw III is no exception, as Bousman gives us a glimpse of Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) who has been reduced to destroying his own body in order to escape the clutches of Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). This is merely the start. Much more horror is to come after this initial scene.
One of the BEST NASTY scenes is actually just a homemade surgery, essentially. That’s actually why they didn’t cut the scene down where Dr. Denlon performs surgery on Jigsaw’s skull, because it’s the same as anything you might see on television or in a medical documentary. And still, it is a brutish sequence, in the best kind of way. There’s an amazing sense of tension and you almost sweat alongside Dr. Denlon as she works away on the dying killer. Just – WOW! Great, great scene both in writing and execution.
1193224_1363647264662_fullThere’s absolutely gory and also disturbing horror in this movie. Not in the same sense it was in Saw II, but it’s still there. No denying that. What I enjoy about the nastiness here, though, is that it isn’t the only thing the film relies on to carry its weight.
For instance, even just the story of Jeff’s character is better than most of what was going on in the previous instalment of this franchise. I like how Jigsaw’s method is switched up slightly here, as he’s essentially trying bring Jeff out of his revenge coma and into a reality, instead of merely dreaming of the act; now he is given the chance to actually HAVE revenge. So while there’s still traps and brutality, the characterization in this film is much better. Again, I’ve got the feeling most of the characters in the second movie came out of Bousman’s own script and then Whannell merely acted as a writer to flesh things out in order to connect it solidly with the Saw world he and Wan already setup (check out the history and you’ll understand). With Whannell back acting as sole screenwriter once more, his writing shines more and the characters are richer for that. You can see it easily in how things are trimmed down and each of the important characters ends up with sufficient screen time.
We’re also getting a great look at the character of Amanda, as well as her deep connection with John Kramer/Jigsaw. They’ve got a touching, emotional sort of relationship, but it’s most definitely an unhealthy, terrifying one at its most base. It’s nothing more than two psychotics bonding over psychosis.
2006_saw_3_008That leads me to another point I’ve got to make, which is in regards to the atmosphere and tone. Bousman did a decent job on Saw II trying to hold onto what Wan did with the first, but I think in the third film he’s able to tap into more of what the first did so well. There’s a better gritty atmosphere in this instalment, as opposed to the second which lacked that aspect. Each of the rooms Jeff ends up in during Saw III sort of has their own feel, again similar to the style of the first Saw.
Better than that, I love every moment of the scenes where Dr. Denlon is in the impromptu surgical operating room with Amanda and Jigsaw. There are a bunch of intense and terrifying shots, as well as scenes in general. But mostly it’s the gritty tone and the macabre atmosphere like we got in Saw which sustains so much of what’s enjoyable about Saw III. These scenes visually and aesthetically all around remind me of the dirty bathroom scenes with Dr. Gordon/Adam from the original film; not in a copycat sense, merely it harkens back to the film series origins, providing that grittiness I find so effective.
SawIII_Skull_1200_673_s saw-iii1What I like most is how the two parallel stories are happening – Dr. Denlon and Jeff – while Jigsaw himself is laid up in bed with his brain inflamed. I thought that was a genius touch because it’s not the typical type of horror movie one might expect. Of course, this is a hard movie to classify as you can’t truly call Jigsaw a typical serial killer, therefore this movie is not really a slasher. But regardless of how you want to type this into a classification, or a genre, a sub-genre, whatever, Saw III breaks the mould slightly in the way it presents its killer. We knew already once meeting Jigsaw up close and personal in the second film there’d most likely be some consequences to the fact he had a terrible disease. Now with this entry into the series, this big risk for Jigsaw actually gets enacted through its plot. At least I found it interesting, anyways. Not every day you see a film series show a whole movie concerning its killer basically dying – most of the time, the villains of the horror movies are INVINCIBLE, UNKILLABLE, UNSTOPPABLE MURDER MACHINES. Jigsaw, on the other hand, is a completely different breed of killer. Something I like about Saw and a reason I feel this is up there next to the original as one of the best in the series.
scr-8I don’t want to ruin any of the twists or anything concerning the ending. So I’ll just leave it with saying this: I think Whannell wrote a terrific script which focused on some interesting, complicated characters.
This is not as good as the first, but comes much closer than Saw II. Most definitely I feel this is a worthy 4 out of 5 star horror. There are some truly unnerving pieces of horror, though, Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell together opt for more atmosphere and genuine scares rather than ALL shock. Just don’t let me misrepresent Saw III – there are some SICK moments here, especially the PIG VAT! Beware.
A lot of the other movies in this series degenerate into excuses for increasingly depraved and nasty trap designs. Saw III manages to include lots of disturbing bits while maintaining an impressive atmosphere using character, tension and some solid directing.

Saw II Proves Bigger Is Not Better

Saw II. 2005. Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. Screenplay by Darren Lynn Bousman & Leigh Whannell.
Starring Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Donnie Wahlberg, Erik Knudsen, Franky G, Glenn Plummer, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Beverley Mitchell, Wil Burd, Dina Meyer, Lyriq Bent, Noam Jenkins, and Tony Nappo. Twisted Pictures.
Rated R. 93 minutes.
Horror

★★★
saw_two_ver2_xlgJames Wan and Leigh Whannell created a brutal and mysterious horror film with 2004’s Saw, which went on to become a wildly successful movie at the box office, so there’s no surprise a sequel was coming. No surprise it went on to become an equal in series length to the likes of A Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13th, and Halloween. The second film in the series is a little less mysterious and more full-on horror – not that the original was shy on the gory, bloody moments – but it’s also got a bit of a crime-thriller feel to it at times as the police and criminals feature heavily in the cast of characters along for the sequel.
While Saw II goes for a slightly different feel, opting for more shocking horror than building a specifically cultivated atmospheric grimness, I do think there are truly excellent horror movie moments that cannot be disregarded. However, the beginning of the slippery slope into the silly label of “torture porn” begins with this sequel and amplifies as the series goes on. Getting a look at the Jigsaw character more is one of the aspects which ultimately saves Saw II from being only focused on the torture and nastiness. Even further, I do feel that Darren Lynn Bousman works well with the tone setup in Wan’s film, allowing this essential aspect to carry through and sustain other elements of this sequel.
f99fd3d686884025aa85ea7513171b45Saw II sees Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) digging into the Jigsaw Killer case, along with Detective Allison Kerry (Dina Meyer). When they head to a crime scene, where several law enforcement officers are injured in the line of duty, they finally discover the killer himself, John Kramer (Tobin Bell), waiting for them. What begins is not only a game between the police and Kramer, a.k.a Jigsaw, it is also the fight for the lives of eight people whom the killer has trapped in huge house, stashed at some unknown location; one of which happens to be Daniel Matthews (Erik Knudsen), son of Eric.
Jigsaw reveals bits of himself, yet it’s always someone else and their transgressions which he is interested in. Things become even more confusing when Amanda Young (Shawnee Smith) wakes up in the house alongside the other seven, discovering herself trapped in another Jigsaw game all over again.
There is no telling who will make it through and out of the house, nor is there any comfort in knowing the police have Jigsaw in their grasp.
Because he also has them in his own.
image03 still-of-dina-meyer-and-donnie-wahlberg-in-saw-ii-(2005)The opening sequences in this sequel is a whopper. There’s a guy alone in a room, naturally greeted by a video of Billy the Puppet with the voice of Jigsaw speaking to him. But it’s the contraption on his head which draws the most attention: like an amped up iron maiden medieval torture chamber except confined solely to the head. I thought this was a perfect way for Darren Lynn Bousman to set the tone for his film; it’s obvious, right off the bat, this one is trying to extend that grim and macabre atmosphere that began in the first. While I don’t think this one holds up exactly to the standard James Wan’s original film set, this opener and many other scenes in Saw II definitely fight to keep up with its predecessor on the level of intensity.
SawII_Knudsen_1200_673_sA benefit to this film is that we discover more about Jigsaw, but more than that we’re getting treated to a full dose of Tobin Bell. He is a really fantastic actor and I think this character was almost MADE for him, like destiny. Honestly, when I think of iconic horror villains he is absolutely on that last, and he’s a person who – 20 years down the road – I just can’t see not being Jigsaw, you know? Much like other roles, I find it hard to see anyone else playing this guy because Bell does such great work. For instance, even with all the makeup Freddy Krueger will ALWAYS BE ROBERT ENGLUND (sorry Jackie; love your acting though), while Michael Myers can be inhabited by several actors because the body language is what’s mostly key about his character, same goes for Jason Voorhees. Now that we’re seeing Jigsaw more face to face, as opposed to the first film where we only discover who he is within the final few moments, there’s no way I can separate Jigsaw and Bell.
Not only his looks, his voice is unsettling; calm and creepy, very calculated, with purpose. He also has this weird eye contact thing I love, where he locks eyes with someone he speaks to and sort of holds them in his gaze. Works great for the character because he’s all about the humanity of everything, so Kramer strikes me as the type of guy who is interested in the connection between humans, as well; eye contact being a very intimate connection, which many are not comfortable with, which I think is what interests me about a serial killer (if you can call him that technically) who holds fairly close eye contact with most people to whom they’re speaking. Just an example of why I find Jigsaw/John Kramer an already classic horror villain, little bits like his way of watching people as they’re in conversation really give what could be a one-dimensional character much more depth.

Part of me finds the ingenuity in some of the traps out of Saw II innovative, in terms of horror movies, there’s also a part of me which tunes out to some of the nasty stuff happening. Anyone who has read my reviews, or knows me, understands that I do love a good gore flick as much as other hardcore horror fans. More than that, I’ve been a fan of a few terribly vicious films for years – something sick in me gets a thrill out of Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom, I recently discussed my enjoyment for cult classic Cannibal Holocaust, and then I love all sorts of other disturbing or gory movies, from American Psycho to Martyrs to Anthropophagous, and many more.
STILL – somewhere I draw a line to the limit of shock horror I find useful or sensible in one film. Certain movies can pull it off and there are many ways to do so. The aforementioned Anthropophagous is straight up madness, however, there are so many weird horror elements within it I find the movie underrated. In opposition, I think Saw II tries to simply go bigger on both plot and shock simply for the sake of it. Though I do find the premise of having Jigsaw throw these eight people into a house, there’s also the fact it’s a bit contrived, and that it seems at times like an excuse to amplify the amount of torture/traps shown onscreen. Saw went for a little more of a contained, smaller style all around from the gore and violence, most of which came offscreen and what didn’t relied on a tensely cultivated atmosphere. Just as I love how Saw III goes back to that dynamic; it still has plenty of torture and nastiness, but sticks with a more manageable amount of characters.
still-of-emmanuelle-vaugier-in-saw-ii-(2005)-large-pictureThis brings me to my biggest problem with Saw II. I don’t think the acting holds up. Most of all, there are too many characters being tossed around in the script from Darren Lynn Bousman and Leigh Whannell. Not entirely sure, in my opinion, so many characters were required. As I mentioned, part of this I think comes entirely from the fact the filmmakers, and no doubt the studio, wanted to include more gore, more torture, more violence, so adding more characters only seemed natural. MORE MORE MORE!
But more is not always best. I’m not saying less is more, either. I’m just saying: more doesn’t work all of the time. While Bousman tries to hold onto the atmosphere and tone which Wan came up with in this film’s predecessor, part of what hinders their build-up is having too much time dedicated on the many characters included. Especially considering the fact this sequel is exactly 10 minutes shorter than the first. In my mind, this one could’ve benefitted greatly from being ten minutes LONGER than the original Saw, as I could’ve used more reliance on that atmosphere and tone than on the excessively expository dialogue at times and the mounds of additional characters amped up significantly here.

This sequel is only about 3 stars for me. It’s a little better than mediocre, only because I love Tobin Bell so much and I do feel as if Darren Lynn Bousman did a fairly decent job with his first feature working off bits and pieces of what James Wan did in Saw. Added to that, Shawnee Smith’s return is both wonderful in terms of the plot and also for the fact she does great with the role of Amanda Young. I like where everything went thematically, as well as how Jigsaw’s methods become more and more clear now with the people he chooses to put into his traps. My enjoyment of this sequel doesn’t extend much further.
Unfortunately this movie suffers from two incurable problems: 1) the need to include a bunch of extra characters who are frankly not written overly well, and 2) relying too heavily on trying to shock and repulse us with nasty horror/gore than actually genuinely, effectively SCARING US. These prevent this movie from rising above most other horror out there and it’s no better than most of the non-Saw films trying to imitate its style. I don’t suggest this one as a good addition to the series. Like I said, though, I’m a fan of the third particularly above this one; I feel it returns slightly to the simplicity of the first, while also opting for plenty nastiness. See this entry in the series mainly for Tobin Bell and Shawnee Smith, as well as some grim trap designs.

Saw: Raw Modern Indie Horror

Saw. 2004. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell, from a story by Whannell & James Wan.
Starring Leigh Whannell, Cary Elwes, Danny Glover, Ken Leung, Dina Meyer, Mike Butters, Paul Gutrecht, Michael Emerson, Benito Martinez, Monica Potter, and Shawnee Smith. Twisted Pictures. Rated R. 103 minutes.
Horror/Mystery

★★★★1/2
Saw_posterThere are plenty of people who say Saw is so-called “torture porn”. I can most certainly see how, as the series progresses, someone might find the movies a bit heavy on torture, fetishized torture almost. But here? There’s definitely a good heaping portion of horror, no doubt. What we get most of all here, as opposed to the other films afterward (a couple of which I do actually enjoy though), is mystery.
Granted there are certainly problems. I can’t say this is a perfect horror movie. However, I think that what Saw lacks slightly in logic at times, it more than makes up for with the atmosphere and tone James Wan creates in the film’s 103 minutes.
We also can’t ignore how Wan’s film, working off a grimly fun and intense script from Leigh Whannell, spawned an entire flock of copycat movies attempting to capture a glimmer of the success of Saw by focusing heavily on torture horror aspects to drive their stories. Not many, if any, were able to come close to what Wan and Whannell accomplished here, and it’s because – as I mentioned already – the horror is peppered in nicely amongst a primarily dark mystery story. There’s more than enough to satisfy many of the gory horror hounds out there, but Saw pays its dues as a great horror mystery that changed the game in 2004 by not being everything typical we expect from most horror movies. While it’s not perfect, I do think the first film in this series is worth its weight in BLOOD.

Saw begins as two men, Adam Faulkner-Stanheight (screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Dr. Lawrence Gordon (Cary Elwes), wake up trapped in a small, dark, dirty room together. Each man is held by a thick metal chain to a large pipe in opposite corners of the room. When they get the lights on, a fairly fresh dead body is laying in the middle of the room, gun in hand, brain blows out on the floor. Over the course of their time together in the room, Adam and Dr. Gordon begin to discover a serial killer named Jigsaw wants to… play some games with them. Gordon is a doctor who was recently brought in for questioning, Jigsaw having planted an item of his for the police to find; Adam is a photographer, his own past revealed throughout the film, whom Jigsaw captured. Each of the men have their own demons to face, as the mysterious man named Jigsaw is less a killer and more a judge who places the job of executioner in the individual’s hands: his traps put the victim’s life at their fingertips, begging the question of how far will a person go to live?
Would you walk through Hell to come back to the light?
saw1There are numerous creepy things about this movie, so I’ll start first with the tone. One thing I’ve always enjoyed, which I found set this apart from so many other horrors of the early 2000s, is the atmosphere of Wan’s film. To start, there’s an excellent colour palette to the entire movie. For instance, I love the scenes when we’re seeing the flashbacks to Amanda (Shawnee Smith), the junkie, when she finds herself locked into the bear trap puzzle by Jigsaw; everything has a green hue, this wonderful tint and it puts you in that grimy headspace exactly where Amanda found herself. Works perfectly at some many different points. Even just the interrogation room itself where Detective Tapp (Danny Glover) is talking with Amanda, while Dr. Gordon (Elwes) watches on the other side of the glass, it has this blue filter that makes everything feel very stern, tense.
Then we have the majority of the film where Dr. Gordon and Adam find themselves stuck in that dirty room. That has a more clear look, however, the set itself (not sure if this was an actual location or a set; forgive my ignorance) has this palpably filthy feeling to it, so this plays the part of the filter, through a totally real aesthetic.
I find each of the different segments in Saw have their own aesthetic, even the flashbacks Dr. Gordon has to his family life; the house itself gives things a very dark, vibrant look. Wan could’ve easily gave each and every scene a similar look, instead they all find their own which adds something to the perspectives of the different characters and their respective situations. Even the camerawork itself is different, with Gordon’s scenes being much more steady while Adam had a more handheld, chaotic style feel. Something I love about this movie, which I think not enough people recognize. Much of what I find Wan did with this film did not carry over to many of the others, in the sense they went more for shock and awe while Wan builds up a macabre atmosphere and dark tone which gets under your skin with every passing scene.
Saw1_01Saw2MAJOR SPOILER AHEAD: for anyone who hasn’t actually seen the movie, you may want to not read this next bit.
The character of Zep Hindle, played by Michael Emerson (most know him as Ben Linus from Lost), works so perfectly as a red herring. Not that he’s a particularly innocent man, however, he has obviously been manipulated by Jigsaw. In that sense, he’s the killer’s own red herring, put in place with his own hand.
An intensely creepy scene happens as Zep takes Dr. Gordon’s wife Alison (Monica Potter) and daughter Diana (Makenzie Vega) hostage. The tension is thick while Zep puts a gun to Alison’s head, then puts a stethoscope against the daughter’s chest to listen to her heartbeat get faster and faster, thumping hard; I thought this was so disturbing in a way, there’s a sick pleasure Zep gets out of the act. Also, out of so many horror movies I’ve seen that’s a moment I can’t remember seeing too often – maybe it happened in Dr. Giggles or something equally horrible, but I think this little scary moment is a unique bit, albeit brief.
No more spoilers should come after this one.
LawrencePromisesAdamAnother awesome part about Saw is the fact this doesn’t rely on a ton of CGI effects in order to make the scares work. We get the scares, the strange creepiness of it all, then there are great practical special makeup effects that drive home all those feelings. My problem with so many modern horror films, even many which tried to capitalize off the success of Saw, is how the build-up to the scares, the blood, the gore, always gets spoiled by CGI; and the bad stuff, at that. With this film, Wan delivers on all the tension and suspenseful moments by giving the audience worthy practical effects on which they can gorge.
Added to the nice effects work, Charlie Clouser (who I know most from his work with my favourite musician Trent Reznor/Nine Inch Nails) gives everything an even creepier feeling with an at times brutal and other times unsettling score. His work is great and I’m surprised he doesn’t do more horror than he’s already done. Even on the lacklustre sequel The Collection he does some fascinating work with its music. Mostly, I love the unbelievably weird and scary intro music he did for American Horror Story. Here, there are times where the score just pounds relentlessly (think the scene where the detectives meet Jigsaw face-to-mask for the first time), others Clouser gives us that iconic Saw music with the little electronic riff which sort of floats around and haunts you after awhile, and there’s an overall great sound design too filling in the gaps between his individual pieces. Most certainly a huge aspect to the atmosphere in this film is his composing. Can’t get enough of the work he does here.
Saw (2004) Screenshot 3I think the performances are decent enough to hold all the tension, the suspense, and the horror together as a cohesive and effective unit: I’m always game for Cary Elwes, in anything, even when he’s not totally spot on there’s something interesting about his acting; moreover, surprisingly Leigh Whannell was good as you don’t often expect a screenwriter to also act well.
Above all, the atmosphere Wan is able to bring out, the bloody effects, and the mystery of the script carry this into the realm of a modern classic. There’s no doubt the rest of the Saw series strays into a ton of needless nastiness, regardless if I do like one or two of the half dozen sequels, but Wan uses atmosphere, ton, and the excellent screenplay Whannell wrote in order to make this a PURE horror film.
I can honestly say that, for me, this is a 4.5 out of 5 star film. There is enough solid creepiness that the screenplay feels well written, as well as the fact James Wan’s directing takes this to a higher level. As a team, Wan and Whannell have proved since this film, time and time again, they work wonderfully together and have the same horror movie sensibilities. Their projects usually try to challenge what’s happening in horror at that moment in time, Saw merely being their first big success (I’m a huge fan of the Insidious series), and I think that while many try to pass this off as “torture porn”, it is far more than that every step of the way.

Insidious: Chapter 3 is a Welcomed Creepy Surprise

Insidious: Chapter 3. 2014. Directed & Written by Leigh Whannell.
Starring Lin Shaye, Stefanie Scott, Dermot Mulroney, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Tate Berney, Michael Reid MacKay, Steve Coulter, Hayley Kiyoko, Corbett Tuck, and Tom Fitzpatrick. Blumhouse Productions.
Rated 14A. 97 minutes.
Drama/Horror/Thriller

★★★1/2
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I’m a fan of the two previous Insidious films. Reason being, I think James Wan did a pretty damn good job, together with the script from Leigh Whannell, in conjuring up a tense, suspenseful, and eerie atmosphere. Above all, I love when a horror film can carry that sort of atmosphere and tone throughout its runtime. While they’re not perfect, the first two movies were scary; to me anyways. I dig a good haunted house story and Wan/Whannell provided that with Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2.
There was no surprise Blumhouse would try and pump out another one. I waited with baited breath to see exactly what might come out of it and I didn’t exactly expect that the third in the trilogy would live up to what the first two created. However, I was slightly surprised. It isn’t great, but Insidious: Chapter 3 has a good bit of that atmosphere and tone from the first two, as well as the fact Lin Shaye returns in another stellar performance as embattled demon seeker Elise Rainier. One thing I think that helps most is the fact Leigh Whannell not only writes this entry in the series, he makes his directorial debut with the third part, which extends much of the creepiness created by himself and Wan throughout the first two movies.

Taking place a long time after Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) helped a young Josh Lambert with his problems, and just before Josh’s own son Dalton went through the same trouble, Insidious: Chapter 3 begins with Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) going to see Elise Rainier unannounced. Her mother passed away and Quinn wants to contact her. Unfortunately, while trying to help Elise is clearly troubled; she advises Quinn find someone else who does the same thing and get them to help.
At home, Quinn’s single father Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney) tries to wrangle everything by himself. Between Quinn and her little brother Alex (Tate Berney), things are hectic.
An aspiring actress, Quinn heads to an audition. She’s looking to get into a good acting school for her post-secondary studies. Instead, out of nowhere, Quinn is hit by a car. This propels her, for the briefest of time, into The Further. After she comes back quickly, out of the darkness and back to reality, Quinn has clearly seen something inexplainable, something in another world. This sets off all the mysterious events which follow.
0c37e0c2ef44b7f252477c7f3e71111f3b898ec7.jpg__0x1500_q85I thought the writing – especially the characters themselves – was fairly solid. Once again, the family is a centrepiece for all of what unfolds in terms of The Further (see my other reviews for Part 1/Part 2 if for some reason you’ve not watched the previous movies) coming into play. For instance, the teenage characters don’t come off as too forcibly written on Whannell’s part. What I mean is that they’re smart, obviously, but they don’t say these ridiculously eloquent, elaborate things NO highschooler would ever say; I can’t think of great examples off the top of my head, but you know the types, you’ve seen them before. So that’s one thing I thought Whannell did great with because too many screenwriters – especially male screenwriters trying to write female characters –

Some people say Insidious: Chapter 3 is not as scary as the others. Me, I say there’s definitely some nice, creepy stuff happening in this instalment. Even quickly off the bat, Quinn starts seeing a shadowy figure in the distance waving to her, almost calling out for Quinn to follow. First, the figure appears in the catwalk at the theatre where she’s auditioning. Then in the streets, right before she’s hit by a car, the figure – a man – waves at her from far off once more. These little bits help to make a similar dreadful atmosphere as Wan culled in the first two films. Although here it’s different, which isn’t a bad thing. Everything is still eerie, though, Whannell brings his own style to the mix.
I also liked the little quick jump-scare of the man’s face in close-up – when Quinn slips into The Further briefly while surgeons are working away on her after the car accident, the terrifying face flashes quickly. What I love most about this is how it reminds me of the quick flashes of the demon in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist; not sure if this was intentional, but it does bring that shot to my mind specifically. Also, this didn’t make me want to have a heart attack like certain jumps do. It was brief and very effective at the same time.
Insidious3-4A huge aspect of why I enjoyed this third film is because we’re getting more out of the character Elise Rainier. Even in the slightest ways – she lays down in bed and says “Goodnight Jack” and hugs tight to what looks like a man’s sweater. So there’s depth to Elise, she isn’t merely a one-note psychic sort fo woman. And I love that, not just simply due to the fact Lin Shaye is a total badass and wonderful actress (even in her slovenly role as Landlady in Kingpin which still haunts me to this very day). Elise is a big part of why I loved both movies; I’m not huge on her sidekicks, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), but I think her alone is enough to keep anyone interested. Particularly, after we’re treated to the flashbacks showing a young Josh Lambert being plagued by demons in The Further and Elise coming to their aid, doesn’t it make you just want to know everything about her? Then there’s her relationship with Carl (Steve Coulter), who showed up in the last film, which I thought was an excellent inclusion. In this movie, we see a little more of Carl and so his character/story gets a little more broad than before.
Most of all, though, it’s Elise. She is what draws me to the franchise overall, as it’s her who has dealt most closely with demons and The Further, she knows all about it and she has all the senses. I love the scene here where she’s lying in bed, hugging her obviously late husband’s cardigan (we discover later for sure he committed suicide only a year before), and then out of nowhere she feels something, a presence, she scrambles for the light – nothing’s there, yet the air feels terrifying. Good stuff showing how sensitive Elise is to the other side opposite that of the living.
insidious33The overall aesthetic of Insidious as a franchise is something which keeps me interested. It’s the whole reason – aside from Lin Shaye – I ever bothered to go see this one.
I’m a huge fan of the score in these films. I’d not – to my shame – checked on who was the composer for the music in either of the films. So doing this review I wanted to see if it was the same person. Naturally, it was: Joseph Bishara. The reason I had to check is because, while there are plenty of similarities, Bishara does bring us some new work in the score for Chapter 3. A lot of those heavy, dreaded string bursts are still present, however, he also gives us some bright and beautiful sounding stuff such as in a few scenes with Elise. Either way, he is one part of why that finely tuned aesthetic from the series keeps going.
While the look in this film was handled by a different cinematographer, Brian Pearson, I do think he is up to snuff with how he crafts the scenes visually. Just to note, Pearson did some work as D.P on the fairly excellent series Masters of Horror, as well as a recent film I’m a big fan of – the savage and excellent American Mary. He does good stuff keeping many scenes draped in darkness, as the previous films looked. So even though it isn’t exactly the same carbon copy of style, there is a ton of similar atmosphere built up through how Pearson shoots each scene in a tone down, darkened manner.
Furthermore, the art director Jason Garner worked on the previous Chapter 2, so I think his clearly excellent work there extended to this film. For those who aren’t big on the job descriptions for film work, an art director helps to create the film’s vision in terms of locations, sets, and that in turn brings about a visual aesthetic for the film. The houses and everything which are new in this movie, they really fit in with the entire Insidious franchise world. If you watched these all simultaneously, I think they’d match up unbelievably well.

In regards to the plot, I like the character of Quinn and how she ended up in contact with The Further. Plus it plays into the whole subplot of her mother’s death, trying to reach her in the afterlife and such. It’s a great way to have spun things off from the central story of the first two Insidious films. A lot of these spin-offs can end up really spinning out of control, or just being nonsensical additions to a franchise simply for the sake of raking in money. With this movie, I don’t see it being that way. Sure – profit is the major concern of studios. However, I think especially with Leigh Whannell writing this instead of it being farmed out to writers/directors not already a part of the franchise, Insidious: Chapter 3 is able to hold up in quality near to its predecessors. It’s not as good, but I feel as if it’s pretty damn close.
Also thought it was great the way Whannell setup The Bride in Black as being an entity who actively wanted to kill Elise. This sort of explains their history, as well as why the Bride purposely got into Josh and then strangled Elise at the end of the first Insidious. Not as if there was a massive need to explain anything in detail there, I just find this movie’s script capitalized and added more depth to the other films.
maxresdefaultAll in all, I think this was a 3.5 out of 5 star film. It wasn’t perfect. My biggest complaint about Insidious: Chapter 3 is that there’s more unfunny comedy with Specs/Tucker – something I didn’t like about the others but here it’s even more unbearable with such forced comedy on behalf of the Tucker character. Very lame. Then, I also thought there was something missing about the possession angle involving Quinn. While I found Josh Lambert’s possession in the others excellent, plus Patrick Wilson played him well, I didn’t like the way they did Quinn’s possessed state. It was too similar to the rip-offs of Japanese horror in American movies. I liked lots of the stuff involving Josh being possessed, it just didn’t seem to carry over here.
The finale of the film was decent. Honestly, though, I prefer the first half to three-quarters of the film because I like the build up, the character development and a view into the already established character of Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Mostly the last quarter of the movie I found wasn’t as effective as the scariness of the previous two Insidious entries. It isn’t bad, just doesn’t pack the punch you’d expect. If there was a stronger final 25 minutes I’d be more impressed.
Still, this is not bad at all. There’s room for improvement, yet I think Leigh Whannell did a decent enough job keeping up with the other films to make this a pretty good trilogy. I recommend seeing this, though, I’ll still always enjoy the first two more.
My personal favourite is Insidious: Chapter 2. How about you? Let me know in the comments.

INSIDIOUS Takes Us Back to Classic Haunting

Insidious. 2010. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell. Starring Rose Byrne, Patrick Wilson, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, and Barbara Hershey. Rated 14A. 103 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.

4 out of 5 stars
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There aren’t many horror movies that feel like the classics these days, except for a few. Even some of those few are mainly retro, in that they try to cultivate that type of throwback atmosphere purposefully.
The reason why Insidious is one of the true classic-feeling horrors as of late is because it’s genuinely scary – between atmosphere, tone, and a few creepy jump scares this is the real deal.
All the same, there are a couple small flaws, but none so flawed that they can ultimately take away from the greatness of Insidious.

The film tells us the story of Josh and Renai Lambert (Patrick Wilson & Rose Byrne) who, along with their new baby, their two sons Dalton (Ty Simpkins) and Foster (Andrew Astory), move into a new house. It seems like a dream at first, as they begin to unpack and settle into this beautiful, picturesque type home. Shortly after the move, young Dalton is in the attic and falls off a ladder, hitting his head; though he doesn’t tell his parents about the last part. The next day, Josh goes up to wake his still sleeping son, except Dalton won’t wake up. He goes into a fugue, unconscious state, which the doctors refuse to call a coma, and can’t actually describe. Renai then begins to experience strange things – first there are unsettling noises, voices speaking in whispers over the baby monitor, then later she actually witnesses sinister apparitions in the night throughout the house. Josh doesn’t necessarily understand what his wife is going through, however, he gladly believes her; even so far as moving to a new house once the terror becomes too much for Renai.
Only after the second move, in a completely different house, Renai once again experiences the strange apparitions – a little boy appears in the house, changes a vinyl on the record player, and the runs away. She follows him, but then he disappears. Josh tries to help Renai, but doesn’t know how. In comes Lorraine Lambert (Barbara Hershey), Josh’s mother, who describes a frightening dream she had about Dalton involving a creepy dark demon. She also suggests there is someone she knows who can help. Lorraine brings Elisa Rainier (Lin Shaye) over, along with her sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) – these three claim to be able to determine if spiritual/supernatural/otherwise-inclined entities are in the house.
Needless to say, things get… different.
insidious3I’m going to start with the, very few, things I found flawed about Insidious.
Though some of the jump scares were actually awesome, I think James Wan relied too heavily on the concept to push the scary factor of this film. Insidious does not need that jumpy aspect to scare anyone. Sure, there are the tough guys who always say they’re desensitized – and that’s fine – but I’ve seen over 4,000 films, a good chunk of those being horror, and I still get creeped out. I don’t mean that I’m crying or that I can’t sleep later that night or I have to keep the lights on and my teeth are chattering and I can’t handle it – I just mean that certain imagery, ideas, dialogue, whatever it might be, still creeps me out. And the fact is Insidious has enough of that without needing to make me jump with quick cuts, people behind others suddenly.
I really liked the score, and at times it was perfect, but often it played into that jump scare tactic. The title card at the beginning and end of the movie is awesome with the sudden strings, I love that. I don’t think some of the loud and startling string/instrumental stuff throughout the score served it well. Again, the movie has atmosphere and tone enough to creep us out. If Wan kept a couple jumps, cut a good few out, the movie would be even better for me; a couple of those jump scares only worked on my fat heart, jumpstarting it, and not on my fears, my emotions.
patrick-wilson-insidiousWhat really bothered me about Insidious are the duo of Specs and Tucker. Funny enough, as most know, Leigh Whannell who plays Specs is the writer of the film, and usually I find he’s a pretty good writer at that. However, I feel like the comedic bits in Insidious – the banter between Specs and Tucker as the Odd Couple Ghost Hunters, back and forth vying to be the top investigator in their field, the techie versus the artist/writer – really did no justice to the otherwise dark, ominous atmosphere and tone Wan cultivated throughout the rest of the film. Sure, there were funny parts between Specs and Tucker; Whannell and Sampson work well together as a little team. I just don’t think the comedy, dry though it is, fits in with the rest of the movie. I mean, there are plenty horrors that are either horror-comedies or they have that dark comedy aspect which compliments the horror, and some of those work great. I’m not against horror and comedy mixing. My problem is that the rest of the movie is so dark and high on the creepscale, I just think it would’ve been best to keep the small bits between Specs and Tucker even smaller; they were already only sparse, but there could’ve easily been less. The characters work well in the context if they were simply just playing two dudes into the paranormal, helping Elise (Lin Shaye). I really loved how Specs would draw things for Elise, it added an extra creepy quality to their whole process. I feel Whannell did not do the script justice by including them in the way that he did, though, it didn’t detract enough to ruin anything.
insidious-gas-maskThe script, other than what I mentioned, is solid.
What makes the script even better are the actors playing it out, along with Wan’s excellent direction.
I think having Patrick Wilson play the part of Josh Lambert adds a lot of charisma and charm to the role, which needs it, because the character is a complex one at times. Especially nearing the end, and leading into the film’s sequel. But here, he does a great job of being that sort of skeptical father at first when his wife is claiming the strange happenings are going on, and then coming around to see the truth: a scene where Josh is in Dalton’s room after Elise has explained where the boy is, out in The Further, capable of astral projection, and he discovers drawings Dalton did which all but confirm Elise’s “diagnosis, Wilson does some incredible acting and it isn’t often you see that calibre performance when it comes to haunted house movies.
Rose Byrne is great as Renai Lambert. I felt truly bad for her right from the get-go, even worse once that one creepy ghost-like presence appeared in her bedroom, and the way she sort of unravelled at times was spot on. It was a great performance. Particularly I loved the last scene, as she goes towards Elise in the chair, and as Josh, unseen, approaches behind Renai, she turns, gasping. It put the nail in the coffin. Excellent actress.
Of course you can’t have Insidious without Lin Shaye. She is tremendous here as Elise Rainier. The facial expressions, her quaint charm and friendly manner, the emotion and energy she brings – all perfect. One of my favourite moments, still, is early when she goes into Dalton’s room and sees the demon up at the corner of the ceiling, and Specs draws out what Elise sees – the way she whispers to him, you can just hear what she says, and then coupled with the actual drawing, all made me shiver.
InsidiousI can’t not mention Barbara Hershey. She isn’t in this a great deal, only a handful of scenes, but she is solid as Josh’s mother, and I’ve always loved her acting. I bring her up specifically because I love her film The Entity, and I find that Whannell most certainly was influenced by it in his writing the script. Particularly it’s the technology and the presence of the team of “experts” which reminds me of The Entity. Not like it’s ripping anything off, but I definitely think casting Hershey had something to do with that film’s influence on Whannell and perhaps Wan as well. I’m glad, regardless, because I dig Hershey, everything from the aforementioned supernatural horror to The Stranger Beside Me to The Last Temptation of Christ and certainly Martin Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha. I only hope her involvement has something to do with The Entity because it means Whannell, or Wan, whoever, is even more awesome than I already thought.
insidious-villainEasily this is a 4 out of 5 star film. Insidious could’ve been near perfect, if only James Wan hadn’t opted to use jump scares so often, along with a healthy dose of high and heavy strings, and the Specs-Tucker duo wasn’t so comedically prominent. There are great, scary moments here without those bells and whistles. The atmosphere is dark and deep, I really found it involving and tense. A good horror has tension and suspense in spades, and Insidious has got that, if anything. You can argue against that, but I won’t believe it. The tone is set with the great atmosphere Wan sets up, from the actual camerawork to the colours of the film. It all works together.
If you’ve yet to see it, do it now. The sequel is also great, and I love it just as much as this one, maybe even a little more.