Prisoners Review

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Well I finally got around to writing my review of Prisoners, it has been a busy couple weeks so my apologies for taking so long. Prisoners is success that I did not see coming. I had seen the trailers heavily over the past few months and thought that it looked like your pretty decent, average thriller and that the trailer was probably giving away too much of the plot. I am happy to report that I was wrong because Prisoners is a damn fine mystery thriller that happens to be a lot darker and more complex then any of the trailers made it seem. The film raises challenging moral questions that it does not necessarily answer by the end, leaving a deep impact on us as the viewers by essentially taking us through the ringer and see just how hard it can bend us before we break. Now to discuss the plot of Prisoners I may get into some minor spoiler territory though I wouldn’t dream of ruining some of the bigger surprises that Prisoners has to offer but still be warned.

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) and his wife Grace (Maria Bello) take their kids to visit a neighboring family, consisting of Franklin and Nancy Birch (Terrance Howard and Viola Davis) and their two children, for Thanksgiving. After dinner the two young daughters go out to play and vanish into thin air. The prime suspect is a mentally handicapped young man (Paul Dano) owning a beat up old trailer which they believe he used to abduct them but there is no evidence to back this up. The families of the two girls begin to fall apart and become more desperate while Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles upon a far more elaborate crime that could be related to the disappearance of the two girls. Eventually Keller Dover breaks down and kidnaps the original suspect, intending to brutally torture him until confesses. But that doesn’t even make up half of the story as Detective Loki begins to unravel an elaborate mystery surrounding the disappearances of many other children and the horrifyingly evil culprit behind it, all while Keller’s torture methods become more disturbing with each passing scene.

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When it comes to Hollywood detective movies, which Prisoners undoubtedly is, I think I have gotten a bit to good at solving the mystery long before the characters do. It’s not so much that Prisoners is predictable but that I’m just really good at paying attention. If you want to quickly solve the mystery of any detective movie, Prisoners included, you simply need to look for any information, characters, biographical details or objects that don’t really seem to have any important purpose in the story. Chances are they will resurface later as crucial plot points. By doing this I had the culprit in Prisoners pegged by the end of the first act. But the movie seems to recognize this, making a point of the film being less about the actually mystery, and more about the emotionally devastating journey that every character is forced to go through. There really isn’t a hero here, these are realistic people reacting in a realistic way to an unspeakable crime.

The entire cast is giving some of their best work yet but it’s Hugh Jackman who show steals every scene he is in with a career best performance. The role requires him to go to some really dark places and he pulls it off flawlessly with the perfect mix of brooding and complex. The fact that it still remains believable when Keller goes from sympathetic father figure to a monstrous brute really does say a lot for the excellence of both the script and Jackman’s performance. If this doesn’t at the very least get him nominated for an Oscar then I honestly can’t imagine what will. Maria Bello, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis all do fine work as the other three parents, effectively portraying the moral depths to which each of their characters sink. Jake Gyllenhaal also shows his skills playing just an average cop desperately trying to find the culprit as the pieces of the puzzle slowly begin to fall in place.

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Prisoners isn’t perfect but its problems are noticeably few. While the extra long running time is helpful for revealing every last detail by the end, a slightly too over complicated second act centered entirely around a huge red herring takes a bit too much time and is sure to try the patience of many people. This results in the movie being about twenty minutes too long. Also at times the editing isn’t quite as tight and clean as a mystery thriller of this caliber requires but that is a relatively minor gripe. These small issues don’t detract from the overall experience in any way that actually matters.

Overall Prisoners is a triumph. The direction and script  are both so good that they manage to make the use of realistic human drama and ticking time bomb tension work in ways that I didn’t think were possible. In even slightly weaker hands, this could have been a complete failure but as it stands now, with a pitch perfect cast, Prisoners is up there with fantastic mystery films like Se7en and Zodiac. It’s one of the most non-stop intense movies I’ve ever seen and it’s best films of the year so you definitely check it out.

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Insidious: Chapter 2 Review

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I find it pretty strange that Insidious: Chapter 2 exists in the first place, mostly because of just how unnecessary it feels. The first Insidious was amazing; an intense, enjoyable and flat out scary modern haunted house thriller that had a perfectly ambiguous ending which worked wonderfully. So I was a bit apprehensive when news that director James Wan was going ahead with a sequel. With the release of James Wan’s masterpiece, The Conjuring, just a couple months ago Insidious: Chapter 2 was looking even more redundant. Much to my surprise, Insidious: Chapter 2 is a good movie. In many ways it’s actually a great movie; smart, well written, amazingly acted but still flawed enough to not quite measure up to Wan’s previous efforts. From this point it will be impossible to discuss this film without spoiling aspects of both this and the first film so be warned.

The first Insidious was an unusually clever haunted house movie. Once it became evident that there were ghosts haunting them, the family packs up and moves away. In the first of several ingenious twists, it is revealed that it wasn’t their house that was haunted, but their now comatose son who is trapped in an out of body state. This attracts dead souls who crave life to his empty body and it has also caught the attention of a particularly brutal demon. Later in the film there is a great second twist. The dad, Josh (Patrick Wilson), already went through all of this as a child and had his memory wiped to keep him safe from the ghost of a terrifying old woman seeking to possess him. Josh returns to the spirit world to rescue his son and finds her waiting for him with the ending implying that she has followed him back.

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Chapter 2 picks up right where the first one left off, with the resident exorcist of the film (Lin Shaye) dead after being killed by, presumably, the old woman. The family goes to live with grandma Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) while the police investigate her death. It’s immediately clear to the mother, Renai (Rose Byrne), that whatever is after them isn’t finished yet while Josh is obviously not acting right. While this is going on, Lorraine and the surviving exorcist team up to discover the identity of the old woman.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is actually quite scary. It shines at the building of tension and dread, which James Wan is incredible at portraying. The ghost designs, while legitimately horrifying at times, don’t quite compare to the demon from the first film. The movie is also awkwardly structured, reaching the point of exhaustion by the end but that is a side effect of Chapter 2 essentially being an extended third act. The real strength of the film is the writing. It manages to expand the self contained universe and the story from the first film in an interesting way and the characters all act consistent with the predecessor. The second half of the film reveals an elaborate narrative puzzle between both movies that is immensely satisfying to piece together. You will definitely benefit from watching the two back to back.

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Even if the writing wasn’t this smart and inventive, Insidious: Chapter 2 would still work because James Wan is amazing at directing horror. The special effects and cinematography are gorgeous, used to a minimalist effect that ramps up the tension considerably for every scene. As the camera moves slowly through the dark hallways and dimly lit rooms, you’re constantly looking over every inch of the screen, desperately trying to find where the next scare is going to come from. This kind of methodical cinematography works because the resulting scares are so ridiculously rewarding.

It’s fortunate that the entire cast is up to the challenge of acting terrified through the entire film which really can’t be an easy feat. Particularly Rose Byrne, proving herself to be one of the most underrated actress in the business though she is underused for the most part. From the trailers if you guessed that Patrick Wilson is not quite himself, your not wrong. His slow burn to darkness is expertly portrayed but when it’s time for him to actually go crazy a la The Shining, I can appreciate how hard he is trying but that’s not really his best work. The supporting cast is likable enough except for the comic relief paranormal investigators who were the worst part of the first film and are given a much larger role in Chapter 2.

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When all is said and done, Insidious: Chapter 2 is good but falls short of its predecessor. It works because it’s scary. James Wan was born to direct horror and it shows because the movie always keeps you on the edge of your seat through all of the creepiness and you will jump at times. This is the kind of horror movie that will stick with you as you try to fall asleep at night. The spooky imagery alone is enough to make your skin crawl but when combined with a seriously excellent script, Insidious: Chapter 2 becomes one of the better horror movies of recent years.

Welcome to the Cinema Station

Welcome to the Cinema Station. As long as I can remember I have always had a passion for all forms of film. I intend to provide a critical analysis of film from my own unique perspective. Everything from big blockbuster hits to independent films, I plan on exploring the many different aspects of modern cinema. My posts will generally be reviews of movies both old and new during which I will deconstruct the different elements and themes of the film, eventually examining the overall quality based on more general criteria such as direction, acting and cinematography.