Tag Archives: Lin Shaye

Trying Not to Hold One

The Grudge

by Hope Madden

Any time a film is remade, you have to ask why. Not to be cynical, but because it’s a legitimate query. Is there a compelling reason to watch this new one?

Nicolas Pesce hopes there’s reason to watch his retooling of The Grudge.

The Grudge began in 2000 with Takashi Shimizu’s Japanese horror Ju-on, which spawned three Japanese sequels and now four English language reworkings, two of which Shimizu directed himself. His 2004 version starring Sarah Michelle Geller became a tentpole of our J-horror obsession of the early 2000s.

Pesce, working with co-writer Jeff Buhler (The Midnight Meat Train—that was your first problem), pulls story ideas from across the full spate of Ju-on properties and braids them into a time-hopping horror.

Is there room for hope? There is, because Pesce landed on horror fanatics’ radars in 2016 with his incandescent feature debut, The Eyes of My Mother.  He followed this inspired piece of American gothic in 2018 with a stranger, less satisfying but utterly compelling bit of weirdness, Piercing.

And then there’s this cast: Andrea Riseborough, John Cho, Lin Shaye, Betty Gilpin, Jacki Weaver, Frankie Faison, Damian Bichir—all solid talents. You just wouldn’t necessarily know it from this movie.

Pesce’s basically created an anthology package—four stories held together by a family of especially unpleasant ghosts. But that one sentence contains two of the film’s biggest problems.

Let’s start with the ghosts. Shimizu’s haunters—Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki—were sweet-faced, fragile and innocent seeming. The perversion of that delicacy is one of the many reasons Shimizu’s films left such a memorable mark. Pesce’s substitute family loses that deceptive, macabre innocence.

The way the film jumps from story to story and back again undermines any tension being built, and each story is so brief and so dependent on short-hand character development (cigarettes, rosaries, ultrasounds) that you don’t care what happens to anyone.

Jacki Weaver, who seems to be in a comedy, is wildly miscast. Go-to horror regular Shaye has the only memorable scenes in the film. Riseborough, who is a chameleonic talent capable of better things, delivers a listless performance that can’t possibly shoulder so much of the film’s weight.

Jump scares are telegraphed, CGI and practical effects are unimpressive, editing is uninspired and, worst of all, the sound design lacks any of that goosebump-inducing inspiration Shimizu used to such great effect.

So, no. There was no reason to remake The Grudge.

Don’t Open the Door

Insidious: The Last Key

by Hope Madden

The Insidious franchise—like most horror series—began missing a step about two films in. The fourth installment, Insidious: The Last Key, starts off with promise, though.

Thanks in large part to a heartbreaking performance from Ava Kolker, the newest Insidious opens with a gut punch of an origin story.

By Episode 3, we’d abandoned the core family of the first two films to follow ghost hunters Elise (Lin Shaye), Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell, who also writes the series). As this film opens, we glimpse the beginnings of Elise’s gift, the troubles it brings, and the demon she unwittingly released into the world.

Though the minor characters are full-blown clichés, director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) and his young actors create a compelling opening.

Can Insidious: The Last Key deliver on that promise?


Is it the tedious jump-scare-athon with none of the exquisite delivery we’ve come to expect from James Wan (director of the original Insidious, and producer here)? Is it the mid-film move from spectral thriller to police procedural and back? Is it the creepy attention Elise’s goofball sidekicks pay to her young and pretty nieces?

Or is the problem that the whole cool sequence from the trailer—you know, with Melanie Gaydos and all the ghosts coming out of the jail cells?—is missing from the movie.

Yes—it’s all that and more. The film is a jumbled mess of backstory and personal demons, clichés and uninspired monsters. All of this is shouldered by the veteran Shaye, who is, unfortunately, no lead.

Shaye has proven herself to be a talented character actor in her 40+ years in film, often stealing scenes out from under high-paid leads. (Please see her in Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary, she’s genius.) But she doesn’t have the magnetism to carry a film, and The Last Key feels that much more untethered and pointless for the lack.

Everything runs out of steam at some point. Here’s hoping this franchise has run out of doors to open.

Third Time Lacks Charm

Insidious: Chapter 3

by Hope Madden

Mid-budget, R-rated horror can land a surprising punch. Sinister, The Purge, Paranormal Activity and others benefitted from filmmakers’ dark imagination and the freedom to explore unsettling territory.

Similarly budgeted PG-13 horror is more of a mixed bag. The younger target audience frees filmmakers up to steal from older films, and the family-friendly rating sometimes means sterilized scares. There are exceptions: The Ring, The Grudge, Insidious.

The first film in this trilogy offered a wildly imaginative take on ghost stories and possession. A spooky if somewhat traditional haunted house tale turns insane as director James Wan articulated writer Leigh Whannell’s concept of “the Further” – the realm beyond ours where creepy spirits play pipe organs and tiptoe through tulips.

It is tough for a filmmaker to show us something that phantasmal. Generally, leaving it up to the audience’s imagination is the better bet, but Wan and Whannell took a chance and it paid off with disturbing success.

The two returned for a sequel, with lesser results. For the third chapter, Whannell – longtime horror writer, first time director – takes the helm for an origin story.

Elise (Lin Shaye) has retired from the psychic biz after a personal tragedy and a spectral scare, but she’s drawn reluctantly back into the game when spunky teen Quinn (Stefanie Scott) finds herself dogged by a nasty entity she’d mistaken for her dead mother.

As a director, Whannell relies heavily on jump scares, and his image of “the Further” lacks all the panache and terror of the original.

He’s replaced this with a hero/victim that better suits a younger audience. Rather than watching desperate parents struggling to save their children, we follow the increasingly more helpless adolescent as her angsty high school drama turns into something far more sinister.

There’s no depth to the emotional turmoil and the supernatural element is far less clever. This is not a film that will haunt you as you turn out the lights, but it will make you jump while you’re watching, which is sometimes success enough.