Final Destination 5 * * 1/2

Genre: Horror
 

Director: Steven Quayle

Writers: Eric Heisserer, Jeffrey Reddick

Cast: Nicholas D'Agosto, Emma Bell, Arlen Escarpeta, Tony Todd

Running Length: 92 minutes

Synopsis: In Final Destination 5, Death is just as omnipresent as ever, and is unleashed after one man’s premonition saves a group of coworkers from a terrifying suspension bridge collapse. But this group of unsuspecting souls was never supposed to survive, and, in a terrifying race against time, the ill-fated group frantically tries to discover a way to escape Death’s sinister agenda.

Review: By this fifth installment, the intentions of the Final Destination franchise are clear – find interesting and macabre ways to kill off all the primary actors one by one, which leaves the door open for another sequel with a brand new cast of fresh faces. Clearly this is a formula that works, because the franchise as a whole has already earned over US$600 million, making it one of the most profitable horror franchises of our time.

It truly is moot to discuss strength of the plot and the thespian skills of the actors in Final Destination 5 (although to be fair, they actually do a semi-decent job), because the film will almost be entirely judged on the death scenes. In this aspect, Final Destination 5 does not disappoint at all. Blatantly misdirecting the audience and pulling out unexpected twists as always, for the target audience these “money shots” will be what they had ponied up good money for. Personally, these sequences largely find the “sweet spot” between being shocking and being macabrely funny, but the intense situations and unabashed gore may prove too unsettling for some (which beggars the question of why they would be watching this movie to begin with).

There’s also the added bonus of some truly funny scenes, one of the most memorable starring a no-nonsense massage therapist cum acupuncturist. This is a welcome return to form as the Final Destination installments that play it straight are the ones which in my opinion fare more poorly. After all, one simply cannot take such a film too seriously, otherwise it defeats the purpose entirely.

Although there is a much vaunted new mechanic to the modus operandi of Death in this sequel, the film essentially fails to capitalize on this, and if not for the denouement, would probably have been forgotten by the second reel. However, there is quite a neat reveal near the end of the film that provides an interesting connection to its predecessors, but probably won’t be apparent to audiences who have not sat through the previous films.

The second film in the franchise to be shot in 3D, the third dimension is used in the most obvious manner possible, but really doesn’t add that much to the equation. It’s more like a theme park attraction, and this description can be expanded to include the spirit of the whole film. Final Destination 5 is designed to be a quick, entertaining ride through a veritable House of Horrors, to be forgotten almost immediately upon exit – which isn’t exactly a bad thing as long as one is mentally prepared.

Rating: ** ½ (out of four stars) 

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Let Me In * * *

Genre: Horror

Director: Matt Reeves

Writer: Matt Reeves, based on Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Cast: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Moretz, Richard Jenkins, Elias Koteas, Cara Buono

Running Length: 115 minutes

Synopsis: Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is a scrawny, timid 12-year old who is frequently bullied at school. When a new girl, Abby (Chloe Moretz) moves into his apartment block together with an older gentleman who seems to be her father (Richard Jenkins), Owen’s interest is naturally piqued, and despite Abby’s protests, a friendship soon forms between the two. What Owen doesn’t realize (until later) is that Abby is actually a vampire, and when her “father” is unable to provide for her meals, she decides to go hunting in the neighbourhood. With her indiscretions during these bloodbaths, it’s only a matter of time before the police (Elias Koteas) get too close for comfort.

Review: One might question the sense in remaking a Swedish film (Let the Right One In) that’s barely 2 years old, but casting aside the fact that Let Me In is a remake, the film actually stands very well on its own merits. Let Me In is starkly different from vampire movies of late – it’s subtle and atmospheric, yet brutally violent when it needs to be. Although there is a pseudo-romance between a vampire girl and a human boy, the soppy melodrama that permeates vampire romance franchises like Twilight are completely missing in this movie – which, to me, is a very good thing. 

The narrative structure of Let Me In is very simple, and there really aren’t that many surprises to be had. However, what really stands out is the quality of acting of the two young leads as well as Richard Jenkins. Kodi Smit-McPhee is very credible as a frightened, socially awkward boy, and it’s very easy for audience members to relate to him. Chloe Moretz may be too attractive and girly to pass off as an age-old vampire, but there’s great chemistry between her and Smit-McPhee, and given the unique situation Abby is in (her new relationship with Owen puts her existing relationship with her “father” into jeopardy) , manages a very nuanced performance. Richard Jenkins has only a handful of scenes, but these are some of the most emotionally powerful in the movie and Jenkins manages to convey a multitude of emotions without even having to speak.

What’s most impressive about Let Me In is how Reeves treats the source material with a lot more respect than many Hollywood remakes.  He has managed to make the film “Hollywood-friendly” while still preserving much of what made Let the Right One In such a good horror film, and yet Let Me In is different enough to justify its existence. Much of the ambiguity in the original has been cleared up, and in some ways this may prove a more satisfying cinematic experience for many viewers.

One of the few problems with Let Me In is its special effects. There’s a lot of gore in the film, but some of these sequences are more cheesy than scary, and the scenes with Abby turning into a vampire are particularly unconvincing. However, it’s clear that Reeves had intended this film to be more a psychological horror film than an outright splatterfest, so it’s a rather forgivable flaw. There may not really be a reason for Let Me In to be made, but Reeves’ sophomore directorial effort is a very accomplished, solid film that deserves to be seen.

Rating: * * * (out of four stars)

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Paranormal Activity 2 * 1/2

Genre: Horror

Director: Tod Williams

Writer: Michael R. Perry

Cast: Sprague Grayden, Brian Boland, Molly Ehpraim, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat

Running Length: 91 minutes

Synopsis: Events in Paranormal Activity 2 take place between one and two months before those that were featured in Paranormal Activity. Instead of a couple, the cast has expanded to include a whole family. Kristi (Sprague Grayden) is the sister of Katie (Katie Featherstone, of the first film), and is married to Dan (Brian Boland), his second marriage after the death of his wife. Dan has a teenage daughter Ali (Molly Ehpraim), and the couple has a new baby boy, Hunter. However, things start to go bump in the night when Hunter turns one…

Review: The phenomenal box office success of the first Paranormal Activity all but assured the birth of this sequel (it’s actually both a prequel AND a sequel), but the important question is – apart from a money grab, was there any other compelling reason Paranormal Activity 2 should be made? The answer is no, and it’s quite clear as this film unfolds.

Audiences who have watched the first movie already know how this second movie is going to develop, and thus the creepiness of the first film is almost entirely obliterated. Whilst Paranormal Activity 2 has a good number of cheap “boo!” scares, it never feels as spontaneous as its predecessor. Put in another way, this movie is almost spiritually (pun not intended) identical to the first film, which is not a good thing if the only way the movie can scare its audience is by catching them off guard.

With Paranormal Activity 2, the decision was made to integrate footage from a number of fixed CCTV cameras. This reduces the contrived nature of the first film where the leads seem to be carrying their camera everywhere they went, but this artifice does not go away completely. There are still a handful of scenes which require a great suspension of disbelief: why would anyone not in a reality TV show bring along a camera wherever they went? How does a teenage girl manage to do her online research so well that she could pinpoint exactly what’s wrong in the house, and yet not manage to convince anyone in her family to get out of the house right away?

Credit should be given where it’s due, however, and at least the producers and writers (the director of the first Paranormal Activity, Oren Peli, takes a back seat and is merely credited as a writer on the second film) made an effort to integrate the events into the chronology of the first film’s events. This also allows the two leads in Paranormal Activity to return as supporting characters, and also sets in place, unsurprisingly, the possibility of a third movie.

Is Paranormal Activity 2 a true horror movie? I would have to say “not really” – much as there are many shocking moments, truly scary scenes are virtually nonexistent. The audience is fully prepared to be shocked, and there just isn’t anything new enough to pull the rug out from beneath the audience’s feet. The movie never fills one with dread, and the entire atmosphere feels watered down from the first film. It’s difficult to say if the Paranormal Activity movies can become a franchise since it’s essentially a one-trick pony, but with its first weekend box office in the USA being a runaway success, Paranormal Activity 3 is surely not far behind. Taken on its own, Paranormal Activity 2 still entertains, but as a horror film it’s a decidedly middling one. 

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

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