‘The Grudge’ Just Won’t End, and That’s Fitfully Fascinating

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CREDIT: Allen Fraser/Sony/Screen Gems

Starring: Andrea Riseborough, Demián Bichir, John Cho, Betty Gilpin, Lin Shaye, Jacki Weaver, Frankie Faison, William Sadler

Director: Nicolas Pesce

Running Time: 94 Minutes

Rating: R for Dismemberment, Fire, Drowning, Stabbing, and Gunshot Wounds

Release Date: January 3, 2020

In the spirit of experimentation, I have decided that my first movie review of 2020 will be in the form of an acrostic. The letters I will be using will be those in the title (not including the “the”), that title being The Grudge, the remake of a remake (or perhaps the latest remake of the first version) about the ghostly curse that lingers in a house where an anger-filled murder has occurred. This time, it takes the form of a multi-murder mystery in which those investigating the deaths at 44 Reyburn Drive run the risk of becoming infected by the grudge themselves.

Great cast! I mean, just look at that list. That’s at least half a dozen folks that could carry a horror movie (or any movie) on their own, and here they are together. Do they elevate the material that’s on the page? Yes, and it could use some elevating.

Repeating the formula is the name of the game here, but not the Grudge formula (or not just the Grudge formula). If you’re hankering for a return to J-horror remake glory, chances are you’ve got The Ring on your mind, and so does, it would seem, The Grudge 2020, as Detective Muldoon (Andrea Riseborough) is most concerned about protecting her son from the effects of the curse that she is experiencing.

Upside-down is how you’ll be looking during one particularly grisly moment involving Lin Shaye. It’s also how you’ll be feeling when things turn metaphysical and conversations discuss how supernatural curses go hand-in-hand with time distortion.

Digits (i.e., fingers) get hacked off. In general, writer/director Nicolas Pesce is not shy about bodies becoming pummeled, ripped apart, and decayed. It’s this movie’s most effectively visceral technique.

Generosity, and a fair bit at that, is probably required to give this umpteenth entry in a long-running, occasionally ponderous franchise a chance. An effective atmosphere is met, and frankly, that is a must that must be met in this sort of challenge.

Ending… it looked like it was going to be conclusive, which wouldn’t have been a good fit for the endless hopelessness inherent in this premise. But then there’s a fakeout, and instead of a punch in the gut, you leave with more of a whoosh.

The Grudge is Recommended If You Like: Diving into the infinite reboot loop while allowing some room for hope

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Hands Popping Out of Hair

This Is a Movie Review: Insidious: The Last Key

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CREDIT: Justin Lubin/Universal Pictures

This post was originally published on News Cult in January 2018.

Starring: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Kirk Acevedo, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet

Director: Adam Robitel

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Physical and Supernatural Abuse

Release Date: January 5, 2018

It’s taken four tries, but the Insidious franchise has finally figured out to focus an entire film on its best character. Before 2011, Lin Shaye was perhaps best known for her appearances in Farrelly brothers comedies (especially There’s Something About Mary), though she did have significant horror experience, with small but memorable roles in the likes of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare. But then at the age of 67, she sauntered in as demonologist Elise Rainier, so sweet and loving but also so tapped into the darkness of the world – simply put, the role of a lifetime.

Alas, the first Insidious film ends with Elise’s death. Thankfully, however, this is the rare horror franchise resurrects its hero instead of its villain for the sequels. The series’ supernatural time-bending elements allowed her for her appearance in part 2, while the third and fourth entries have gone the prequel route. Chapter 3 introduced a new family into the series and allowed Shaye to take over as the lead about halfway through, while The Last Key wisely opts to put her front and center right from the start. I went into this film expecting to once again be in awe of Shaye, and that is exactly what happened.

The Last Key does in fact once again introduce a new family, but this time it is Elise’s own. She is called to investigate disturbances occurring in the house she grew up in Five Keys, New Mexico. The town name matches up with the m.o. of the film’s main demon in a manner that is a bit on-the-nose, but weird enough to be forgivable. Elise has been trying to forget this place ever since the horrible abuse her father laid upon her for violently disapproving of her supernatural skill set. It turns out that this house has been the locus of a cycle of abuse at the nexus of evil spirits and evil men. Could it be that the worst of humanity are just minions of the most insidious demons? Or is that already terrible people are the most susceptible to devilish manipulation? Or somewhere in between?

The Last Key employs several clever feints about what is ghostly and what is corporeal, playing around with our perceptions and those of Elise. At one point, our favorite demonologist explicitly states, “There are plenty of demons in this world who are very much alive.” Elise in many ways is psychologically equipped to deal with the most banal as well as the most fantastical forms of evil. I imagine there is a theoretical version of an Insidious film devoid of any ghosts or demons. It is perfectly fine that The Last Key is not that, but it is disappointing that it is ultimately about a rescue mission in The Further (the series’ supernatural realm), just like any other Insidious film.

The Last Key does not come anywhere close to establishing a new horror paradigm the way the first one did, but there are several small pleasures spread throughout in addition to Shaye’s expected excellence. The character design continues to be strikingly unique, with the main baddie having keys for fingers that he uses to bodily penetrate his human marks. He is played by Javier Botet, who has Marfan syndrome, giving him long and fine fingers that he has utilized for a fruitful career as supernatural creatures. The audio mix is just as memorable, though more discomforting. A whistle is frequently employed to indicate impending doom, which is a fun trick, but it is frequently so high-pitched that those with sensitive ears would be wise to wear muffs.

And of course I cannot conclude without mentioning Elise’s wacky assistants, who also get their most screen time yet in the series and successfully avoid being too much of a good thing: the nerdy, adorably awkward Specs (Leigh Whannell, who has written all four films and directed the third) and the deep-voiced, intense but harmless tinkerer Tucker (Angus Sampson). Ultimately, each Insidious film is about the power of family, and sometimes that family takes the form of the business partnership/close friendship between a seventysomething psychic and her two young male associates.

Insidious: The Last Key is Recommended If You Like: Septuagenarian Scream Queens, Horror Movies That Are More Heartwarming Than Scary

Grade: 2.75 out of 5 Psychics and Sidekicks