Monday, April 28, 2014

The Cinema File #342: "A Haunted House 2" Review

Much of the marketing for the new horror spoof A Haunted House 2 has taken advantage of the "Number 2" designation as a scatological double entendre, no doubt to pre-empt the inevitable attempt by pun happy critics to do the same after watching it. While the original film in this found footage series was still basically terrible, it had a few saving graces that put it just above unwatchable, notably a somewhat sweet relationship between the two main leads that partially mitigated the effects of a parade of annoying and offensive side characters. This new sequel has the opposite issue, with its supporting cast providing the only source for what passes for enjoyment, while the antics of its star wear thin almost as soon as they begin.

A Haunted House 2 presents the ongoing adventures of that supernaturally plagued goofball whose name I couldn't be bothered to learn the last time let alone this time, now with a new family grappling with some slightly different paranormal problems based on whichever horror films have come out since the last go round. It seems a bit odd that the larger structure is still aping the Paranormal Activity franchise considering that this was the first year in some time that we didn't actually get a new one of those, but then maybe the comically Hispanic neighbor is meant to be a parody of the Latin-centric PA spin off The Marked Ones. Or maybe I'm just putting too much thought into this and giving the writers far more credit then they deserve, and its just a flimsy excuse to do a lot of Mexican stereotype jokes staler than Carlos Mencia's career.

Beyond that, most of the satirical juice is rung out of The Conjuring, with a bit of Sinister and Insidious thrown in on the margins. Its a pretty weak slate frankly, especially considering they could have had Oculus and The Quiet Ones if they'd just waited a few months. Does The Purge count? I figure they probably could have done something with that. Yeah, sorry, I guess I can't help but tread a little water here trying to think of the movie this could have been, since it gives me so little to work with on its own. Maybe its because the Scary Movie franchise was revived in the same year as the first A Haunted House and sucked up some of the horror spoof oxygen, but somehow this latest attempt to poke fun at movies we kind of remember but have no real emotional investment in isn't really having the same impact that it used to (which was very little to begin with).

I'll dispense with the obligatory lecture on how far the spoof genre has sunk in the era of Friedberg and Seltzer, except to say that once again the impulse to target specific films rather than more general genre tropes leaves this movie doomed to be dated, ruining whatever jokes you manage to find funny while they're current. Not that you'll have an easy time on that treasure hunt, as moments resembling the few successful attempts at humor in the last film are virtually non-existent here. Instead, we get a few Austin Powers style call backs now run shamelessly into the ground (His dog is dead, hilarious!), and an extended sequence where Marlon Wayans rapes an old timey baby doll, culminating in graphically depicted forced analingus. Ow, my sides are splitting already.

The last one lost any good will it had in the beginning through the introduction of comically stereotypical characters like David Koechner's racist tech guy and Nick Swardson's repressed homosexual medium. If only for the sake of my sanity, the sequel loses all but the least offensive of these with a brief cameo from Cedric The Entertainer's ex-con priest, replacing the worst of them with the always delightful Jaime Presley as a new (I guess if it matters) love interest, an occult expert who continually finds himself in legal trouble over Skype, and a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators tweaking the main antagonists (I'm sorry) heroes, from The Conjuring. These last two are the only solid characters in the entire movie that work, and they should have been the whole movie. If only Wayan's character had been quickly killed off in the first five minutes along with his possessed wife (Spoilers!...oh, who cares?).

With A Haunted House 2, what at one point had just a glimmer of what you might generously call charm now comes across as a lazy (and thankfully unsuccessful) cash grab that in light of its poor box office performance will hopefully not be replicated with a part 3. Its so bad that despite being a committed fan of the kinds of horror movies it targets, or at least horror movies in general, I would fully support a moratorium on the entire horror genre at least for a few years just to deprive these people of the requisite material. To them I can only issue a plea to move on to a genre I have no interest in, like romantic comedies. There's a crap load of them every year, and I'm sure they're still as terrible as they were since the last time I was tricked into watching one. I assume there would be plenty of opportunities to force someone's head into a man's ass at any rate. Actually, you know what, just stop altogether. That's probably better for everyone.

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