Skip to main content

They're calling it England's Amityville.

The Conjuring 2
(2016)

(SPOILERS) There’s a view that James Wan’s horror movies fall into the category of intelligent genre fare. And, I guess, they do, to the extent that they eschew gore and put the emphasis on character and atmosphere. But that doesn’t mean they’re any less beholden to standard shock tactics than their less esteemed brethren, or that the quality of the scripting is especially remarkable. The original The Conjuring was a decent-enough picture, making the most of its period setting and reputable lead thespians while flourishing its “based on a true story” badge with a pride that masked what should have had a “very, very loosely” preceding it. The Conjuring 2 is looser still in its authenticity, while possibly being even more enamoured of its ‘70s (England) trappings. It’s also the point where Wan’s signature moves have become entirely repetitive, even – at two and a quarter hours – exhaustingly so.


In the first scene – Amityville 1976 – our God-fearing ghost/demon/spirit busters Ed and Lorraine Warren are engaged in an attempt to contact the presence in the famous house, and Lorraine encounters a freaky-ass Marilyn Manson nun (are nuns destined to be the next clowns? Possibly best ask a Catholic, but definitely if the mooted spin-off movie materialises). A freaky-ass Marilyn Manson nun who will inform the rest of the proceedings, so rather like the device of Annabelle in the original. That’s an informative set-up for how the whole movie is going, as the sequence is chock full of whispers, ghostly creaking noises, out-of-body experiences, suddenly darkening lights, demon children, basements (naturally), sinister laughing and Dutch angles. Wan is pulling out his entire bag of tricks, but it’s a bag of tricks leading the way, not in service of a strong or original story.


There’s a reason William Peter Blatty had a reputation as an intelligent (to do the adjective justice) contributor to the genre, and that’s because his material was imbued with genuine thoughtfulness, with philosophical and religious enquiry and a desire to take a viewer on a journey – the journey the author is on. That may have meant that, without a base, crude shock tactician like William Friedkin, his work fell more often than not on deaf audiences (The Ninth Configuration, The Exorcist III), but it also emphasises how the genre very rarely manages to marry the two polar forces of scares and meditation over what lies behind those scares.


Wan has little going for him here smarts-wise, alas; he’s on a mission to redux everything in the original and his Insidious pictures, and the believer status of the Warrens has little real import (“Your visions are a gift from God” is about the extent of it). So Lorraine is haunted by something truly dreadful (“Ned, this is as close to Hell as I ever want to get”), which just happens to stylistically resemble the previous dread figures they have come across (or Wan has, at any rate). And, wouldn’t you know it, somehow the very same Amityville demon has been manipulating the spirit in the Enfield Haunting case. Small otherworld, innit?


Every tactic has become familiar to the point of banality here, be they sound attacks in the corners of rooms, a whole scene in a flooded basement that appears to be flooded just because (in a house that is truly TARDIS-like compared to its modest exterior), scary spirit Wilkins, who moves oddly but isn’t really especially unnerving, or the familiarly-possessed daughter of the house. The latter’s vocal antics are far less troubling than Frances O’Connor’s outrageous Dick van Dyke accent as mum Peggy Hodgson (the final photos of the actual protagonists in the case are an amusing reminder of how glammed up these productions are).


I go on a lot about unnecessary lengths of movies these days, but really, The Conjuring 2 has no business not topping out at 100 minutes tops. Which isn’t to say it would be suddenly a whole lot better, but it might be a recognition that an over-extended running time in a horror is no indication of respectability, or still further, depth. There’s the occasional strong scene, admittedly; Ned’s first interview with Wilkins, in which they all agree to turn away from Janet (Madison Wolfe) is effective and engaging, as he probes the spirit’s reasoning for remaining; the earlier sequence of a TV interview with the Warrens is almost self-reflexive in raising the claims of hoaxes in respect of their cases, as it also applies tangentially to Wan’s disdain for sticking to the purported facts behind his story.


Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are, as before, a quietly compelling couple (when Vera isn’t called upon to scream, at least). Which is good, as there’s precious little substance for them to work with. Most of the supporting cast, O’Connor’s accent aside, are decent, including Franke Potente as the sceptical front in the field of paranormal investigation, although Simon McBurney may look the part but is distractingly broad as Maurice Grosse.


This is another of those summer releases set at Christmas, but even watching it seasonally fails to lend it much in the way of extra buzz. The Hark the Herald Angels Sing motif is about as far as it goes, although kudos to the director for including excerpts from The GoodiesThe End of the World Show, which the outrageous spirit absolutely refuses to let Janet sit down and watch all the way through, indulging in rampant channel hopping. There’s bound to be a The Conjuring 3, as this did as well as the first movie, but someone seriously needs to service the Warrens with a good screenplay; the four credited writers here (including Wan) resolutely fail in that regard.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

Now we're all wanted by the CIA. Awesome.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
(SPOILERS) There’s a groundswell of opinion that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the best in near 20-year movie franchise. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but only because this latest instalment and its two predecessors have maintained such a consistently high standard it’s difficult to pick between them. III featured a superior villain and an emotional through line with real stakes. Ghost Protocol dazzled with its giddily constructed set pieces and pacing. Christopher McQuarrie’s fifth entry has the virtue of a very solid script, one that expertly navigates the kind of twists and intrigue one expects from a spy franchise. It also shows off his talent as a director; McQuarrie’s not one for stylistic flourish, but he makes up for this with diligence and precision. Best of all, he may have delivered the series’ best character in Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust (admittedly, in a quintet that makes a virtue of pared down motivation and absen…

Yeah, she loused up one of the five best days of your life.

Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
(SPOILERS) The zeitgeist Best Picture Oscar winner is prone to falling from grace like no other. Often, they’re films with notable acting performances but themes that tend to appear antiquated or even slightly offensive in hindsight. Few extol the virtues of American Beauty the way they did twenty years ago, and Kramer vs. Kramer isn’t quite seen as exemplifying a sensitive and balanced examination of the fallout of divorce on children and their parents the way it was forty years previously. It remains a compelling film for the performances, but it’s difficult not to view it, despite the ameliorating effect of Meryl Streep (an effect she had to struggle to exert), as a vanity project of its star, and one that doesn’t do him any favours with hindsight and behind-the-scenes knowledge.