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3 films make for a scary night at the movies

Posted: July 12, 2012 - 10:03am

"Insidious"
FilmDistrict
1 hour, 43 minutes

"Troll Hunter"
Filmkameratene A/S
1hour, 43 minutes

"The Innkeepers"
Dark Sky Films
1 hour, 41 minutes

This weekend at the movies offered up two films I just wasn't all that interested in. One, the tired old comedy about the slacker 30-something who just can't get motivated to get off the couch, "Ted" offers a twist in that the slacker in question is a magic stuffed bear. Somehow, the idea of Mark Wahlberg smoking pot and watching "skinamax" with his best teddy bear bud just couldn't fire me up. The other, "Magic Mike" tells a dark, fictionalized version of the early career of one Channing Tatum, who started out as a male stripper and stars in the film. Why are we all so interested in Channing Tatum all of a sudden? Everywhere I turn it's Channing Tatum, Channing Tatum. Even the new "G.I. Joe" movie was delayed for a year so they could add more, you guessed it, Channing Tatum. What kind of a name is that? Anyway, I hear the movie isn't bad, especially if your goal is to see a whole lot of Channing Tatum.

Instead, I decided to investigate a genre I usually skip, scary movies, though I avoided the Rob Zombie remakes and the torture porn and went instead for a few more atmospheric, slightly cerebral choices. One of these was a minor sleeper hit from last year, and the other two are probably ones you've never heard of. They're all available either online or at your local video store, and though they've all got something to offer, the one with the most potential unfortunately ends up being the most disappointing.

The first on the list is "Insidious," from "Saw" director James Wan, about a suburban family that moves to escape a haunted house, only to find out that it's not the house that haunted after all. "Insidious" made a little bit of a splash last year when it came out, and I think it's probably safe to say it more than made its money back, especially considering its relatively low budget. The story revolves around a little boy named Dalton who, after bonking his head in the attic, falls into a months-long coma. Except it's not a coma, the doctors are quick to tell us, because there's nothing physically wrong with the boy. He just won't wake up. Shortly thereafter weird things start happening in the family home, and after a little completely unnecessary U-Haul action, it is revealed that Dalton is a "traveller," one who can astrally project their spirit while sleeping. Dalton has astrally projected all the way into a creepy freak-fest region called "The Further," and is now lost. To make matters worse, creepy spirits and unhappy ghosts are intent on using the boy's sleeping vessel as a doorway back into the living.

As far as acting goes, the cast is adequate, with Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne holding their own. It's only when the quirky psychic team shows up that the movie really takes off, however. When "Insidious" is trying to scare, it really works. The rest of the movie is pretty silly, but as a creepy ghost story it's definitely worth your time.

The next in line is a bizarre Norwegian film called "Troll Hunter." Don't let the title of the movie fool you, this is not a dense subtext filled treatise on the Labor Party's socialist tendencies in the governing of Norway. No, this is a found-footage, POV-style thriller about a bunch of journalism students who accidentally uncover a guy who hunts trolls in the Norwegian outback. It sounds stupid. It should be stupid. In fact, my wife and I only got it to mock it -- however, it turns out to be, at turns, exciting, frightening, emotional, and pretty riveting. It's funny, too, both intentionally and unintentionally, but most of all "Troll Hunter" was surprising.

The acting is fine, the script is sharp, and the troll effects are, well, also surprising. They are at the same time, bad, good, and oddly perfect. My favorite scene of the movie is one in which the kids are sneaking through the forest at night, only to see the man they're following running break-neck down the mountain away from something huge and crashing, yelling "TROOOOOOLLLLLLL!!"

The last film on the agenda is one that had everything going for it, except a satisfying story. Director Ti West is a man who appears to know exactly what a good ghost story should look and sound like, but, in this case, can't pull it off. "The Innkeepers" tells the tale of the last days of the venerable Yankee Peddler Inn, a nineteenth-century hotel whose best days are behind it. Claire and Luke, the final two remaining employees are determined to prove a long-standing urban legend about the hotel, namely that it is home to the restless spirit of one Madeleine O'Malley, a spurned wife who hung herself in the hotel in the 1920s.

For almost an hour-and-a-half, West manages to build the tension expertly. Is the hotel really haunted? Is Luke telling everything he knows? What about the cranky medium played by none other than Kelly McGillis, looking just like Kathy Bates? "There's more going on, there's more going on, there's more going on!" the movie insists, right up to the end when the film completely fails to pay anything off.

The hotel is great, the acting from Claire and Luke is spot on, and the creepy factor is right off the charts. Unfortunately, Ti West didn't have a whole story -- merely a pitch. The last five or 10 minutes of "The Innkeepers" is incredibly unsatisfying, and that's not going to help the all-important word-of-mouth factor a movie like this so desperately needs.

Grades: "Insidious," B; "Troll Hunter," B+; "The Innkeepers," C+. 

"Insidious" is rated PG-13 for some intense scares and very little language. "Troll Hunter" is rated PG-13 for language and scary trolls, and "The Innkeepers is rated R for gruesome bloody images and language.
    
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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