Malignant

Release: Friday, September 10, 2021

👀 Theater

Written by: Ingrid Bisu; Akela Cooper; James Wan

Directed by: James Wan

Starring: Annabelle Wallis; Maddie Hasson; George Young; Michole Briana White; Jake Abel

 

 

 

 

***/*****

Horror maestro James Wan returns to his stomping grounds with Malignant, an unabashedly strange film with a concept stretched like Playdoh to imaginatively icky extremes. Though featuring the gritty detective subplot of Saw, the creaky house tropes of The Conjuring and the mental trauma aspects of Insidious, the Australian has put together a delirious reel that feels different from the rest of his filmography (and more than a little David Cronenberg) with its spectacle of body horror.

The original story, a collaboration between Wan, his wife Ingrid Bisu and one-time American Horror Story writer Akela Cooper, opens with a creepy, adrenaline-pumping prologue at a Seattle medical facility before seemingly ditching it for the present day. Madison (Annabelle Wallis — Annabelle; Silent Night) lives in the suburbs with husband Derek (Jake Abel). They’re trying to have a child but Madison is struggling with the pregnancy. It takes no time to learn Derek is not a good support system. Returning home early from work after not feeling well, her concerns are met with resentment and eventually violence, leading to Madison experiencing a series of troubling dreams that turn out to be anything but dreams; they’re visions of murders happening in real time, one even involving her husband.

After surviving an attack from what she believes killed Derek she awakens in a hospital to even worse news. Wallis does not miss the opportunity to sell a mother’s anguish. Yet Wan and company have much more suffering on their minds as they put their fully committed lead through the wringer, scaling up her torment and ratcheting up the tension in steady increments. Braving a return to the same lonely house despite the gestures of her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) and insisting it’s “the one thing that won’t be taken” from her, she continues to experience harrowing scenes of people — those in the medical field, it seems — being hacked to death in their own homes. And rather than sweaty sheets she’s constantly “waking up” in a dried pool of blood on her pillow.

Meanwhile the authorities are rubbing their eyes red trying to make sense of the attack, which has been labeled a home invasion. The problem is the lack of evidence of breaking and entering, and weirder things like fingerprints with impossible orientations. Detectives Shaw (George Young) and Moss (Michole Briana White) may not quite appreciate what they have signed up for as digging into Madison’s apparently troubled family history brings about more questions than closure.

As they search for links between the victims and Madison circumstances only become more bizarre, each twist of the directorial knife getting more personal and . . . well, more twisted. That applies on an aesthetic level as well, the filmmakers deploying a number of creative camera stunts to pull us not so much into a world but a head space that’s never less than uncomfortable. Joseph Bishara’s shrieking score amplifies the mood. Transformative VFX early on not only communicate this uniquely cinematic sensation of being “there” with Madison, the motif helps prepare us for the full-on assault of insanity Wan commits to in the final stretches.

Marking a return to horror for Wan who has spent the last several years making big budget, commercial movies, Malignant proves he is not afraid of a little experimentation. It is also proof of the amount of goodwill he has built up in Hollywood. Original stories aren’t sexy anymore. Studios and ticket buyers have an increasing lack of adventurousness in common. It is difficult to part with your hard-earned cash on an unknown entity, even one helmed by an established director, when Marvel hardly needs the word-of-mouth to convince you Loki will be fun. Warner Bros. have gambled on Wan’s concept, itself a gamble on a modern audience’s willingness to go with the flow and to become absorbed in a singular experience.

Malignant is certainly an experience, one with a knack for tattooing its bizarre imagery into the back of your brain. Though the denouement leaves something to be desired, Wan unable to tame the beast as effectively as he builds it up, the majority of the film offers a unique challenge to viewers. This is a movie that you don’t watch so much as let happen to you. Like a freakish corporeal spasm the whole thing feels a little bit out of (your) control in the way a good horror should, twisting and reconfiguring into a pretty unpredictable beast. Those looking for something that feels grounded in reality, the door is right over there. 

“Who’s this joker?”

Moral of the Story: The most divisive horror movie I can recall in some time, Malignant goes for broke and very nearly breaks. Or for some viewers, it might be broken fairly early on. Either way, and despite my three-star rating (which I feel is strong, but not quite a rave) I would describe James Wan’s “new vision of terror” as a must-see. It’s in theaters and on HBO Max. For something so visually intense I’d highly recommend the theater setting. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 111 mins. 

Quoted: “It’s time to cut out the cancer.”

Get a taste of the absurdity in the Official Trailer #2 here! 

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; www.hauntedmtl.com 

Aquaman

Release: Friday, December 21, 2018

→Theater

Written by: David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick; Will Beall

Directed by: James Wan

Four weeks on and the box office still hasn’t dried up for DC’s latest superhero origins story, the rise of one Arthur Curry, a.k.a. the Aquaman. Director James Wan has kinda done the unthinkable (not to mention given his bosses a nice Christmas present) by making a boatload of money — cracking the $1 billion mark this past weekend — with a movie that could not be more out of season. To me, a title like Aquaman screams summer blockbuster. Yet here we are in January, teeth chattering, talking about the highest-grossing DCEU film to date and the fifth-highest grossing film of 2018. Apparently, the fact that half the world still has months to go before they even start thinking about getting their beach bods back hasn’t been a factor.

Its release window isn’t the only thing whacky about Aquaman, a largely underwater-set action extravaganza starring Game of Thrones‘ Jason Momoa as the amphibious half-breed. Wan goes big on the special effects (as he always has, now just with more CGI pizzazz, and damn does this become a pretty thing to look at) but he goes pretty much all-out in trying to restore a little dignity to DC, proving his new employers aren’t nihilists obsessed with suffering. Aquaman embraces the absurdity inherent in its very existence, both in dialogue and in action, winking-and-nudging at the audience at every opportune moment — especially during those where bad guys are seen riding on souped-up seahorses, talking of uniting the Seven Seas and mounting an insurrection against those godless land-living creatures.

Aquaman certainly plays the part of a commercial-friendly summer winter blockbuster in terms of delivering big action spectacle, pounding the pavement immediately with an opening confrontation before moving on to successively bigger (and increasingly ridiculous) stand-offs that are as grand in scale as anything we have come across in the DCEU. If it isn’t Leviathan size, it’s the over-the-top masculinity of the combat scenes and the objects that are incorporated into them that make them larger than life — at one point I do believe the Fishboy can be seen conking an opponent on the noggin with the head of a missile. The fights are actually fairly clean — choreographically and just plain graphically — but what truly sets Aquaman apart in this regard is the exoticness of the locations, with half of the action taking place in ornate, gorgeously rendered submarine worlds where light refracts and splinters into shards of pale yellows and greens.

But (and here is the part where I expect to get laughed at) perhaps what is most unexpected from a DC film is the depth of the story, and I mean beyond the eyeball-popping pressures of the ocean bottom and gratuitous Amber Heard cleavage. (She plays Princess Mera, and aside from the predictably revealing outfits, this is probably her best role in years.) The thrust of the narrative concerns ideas of unity and cooperation and that works on scales both large and small. While the superhero thread follows the title character’s eventual acceptance of his status as a powerful leader, one who’s prophesied to bridge the two worlds (the land and the sea), the more human side finds Arthur struggling to come to terms with the consequences of his birth and the sacrifice his mother made in the interest of keeping her family safe.

As the mythology goes, Arthur is conceived out of a deep love between a human lighthouse keeper, Tom Curry (Temuera Morrison) and Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the Queen of Atlantis, a once surface-level sovereignty now damned to the oceanic depths after a catastrophic meteor strike. As that opening fight scene reveals, Atlanna isn’t quite human. Her actions — falling in love with and marrying a human man with whom she conceives a child, who will possess the ability to communicate with all marine lifeforms — have made her a traitor to the people of Atlantis, and have earned the intense ire of Orm (Patrick Wilson), her other son and the current ruler of the aquatic civilization.

When Arthur comes of age and learns about his powers — fine-tuned with the guidance of trusted confidante Vulko (Willem Dafoe), also a ‘scientific advisor’ to King Orm — and what he represents to both sides, he of course does the very un-superheroic thing and hides away from the world, rejecting Atlantis and the very notion he can be a savior to all, including his own family. He isn’t entirely incapable of doing good deeds, as we observe in an early scene where he saves a gaggle of sailors from a Russian sub hijacking. In the process he also makes an enemy in David Kane (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), whose father Arthur mercilessly leaves to drown. Whoops.

Enter Princess Mera, who, despite this being the guy who actually defeated Steppenwolfe, begrudgingly convinces Arthur to return to Atlantis and face his half-brother, who has set his sights on the destruction of the surface world. Heard and Momoa share a playfully antagonistic chemistry that helps Aquaman stay afloat through its most silly moments. And while we’re on the subject, it is very awkward the way Wan crowbars in commentary on oceanic pollution in a film that really doesn’t want nor need to be taken seriously — that’s a reality that does need to be taken seriously, and inserting it here is more than corny, it’s disingenuous. As they embark on a globetrotting adventure to track down the Trident of Atlan, a powerful artifact that only the worthiest of Ocean Masters can wield, we endure the scorching heat of the Sahara Desert and then hop on over to the Italian isle of Sicily, experiencing setbacks (hello, Black Manta!) and personal revelations along the way.

Despite the patently absurd final battle and a few other sidebar items, at its core this is a family affair, with Arthur and Orm diametrically opposed in ideology yet almost one and the same in terms of conviction and what they are willing to sacrifice to win. Ultimately it is in Arthur’s longing for his parents to be together once more where Aquaman becomes arguably every bit the emotional journey as Diana Prince’s loss of innocence as depicted in Wonder Woman. His inner turmoil, expressed by a quite natural and earnest Momoa, help me more easily overlook the clunky narrative at-large, the predictable writing (who didn’t see that epic under-water kiss coming?) and cheesy dialogue: “Redheads, gotta love ’em!” [proceeds to throw self out of plane while a caged goat bleats in horror.]

Yes, Aquaman is conceptually whacky, narratively clunky and overly reliant on CGI on more than one occasion. But the numbers don’t lie. This movie is a crowd-pleasing good time that ticks the biggest Superhero Blockbuster box of all — prioritizing fun and escapist entertainment above all. Against many odds, Aquaman is a DCEU installment that swims far more than it sinks.

My trident is cooler than your trident.

Recommendation: This movie has been out for nearly five weeks as of this writing. You’ve either seen it or aren’t going to. Not much more I can really say here. (Oh, there is this: if you’ve wondered whatever happened to James Wan’s partner-in-heinous-crime from the Saw days, Leigh Whannell apparently appears as a cargo pilot in this film — which I find hilarious. The trajectories of these two filmmakers have been quite incomparable.)

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 143 mins.

Quoted: “What are we doing?”

“Hiding inside a whale. I got this from Pinocchio!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

The Conjuring 2

'The Conjuring 2' movie poster

Release: Friday, June 10, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: James Wan; Carey Hayes; Chad Hayes; David Leslie Johnson

Directed by: James Wan

The horror event of the year has arrived and no one is safe. Not the Warrens from nightmarish visions; not the British family whose home turns into a petri dish for malevolent spirits; not James Wan from criticism. I don’t want to spoil anything and say it’s all going to be okay for everyone, but at least for Wan it will be. He’s back with a fresh set of haunting images in The Conjuring 2, a literal spiritual sequel to the 2013 smash hit that found real-life paranormal activity investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) coming to the rescue of an innocent Rhode Island family.

The Conjuring established itself as elite horror in terms both commercial and critical, raking in roughly seven times its production budget ($20 million) in American box office receipts alone. Though Wan relied heavily on the jump scare tactic to rattle audiences, he compensated for familiarity by developing characters that were, for once, well worth embracing, particularly in the Warrens. The net effect? These people have become endeared to us, and now in their second outing, we dread what lies ahead because now we too are experienced.

It is true: The Conjuring 2 is really just more of the same stuff. Instead of the Perrons we are introduced to the (very British) Hodgsons. We watch as another family is torn apart without mercy. But isn’t that what we wanted anyway? Back then it became apparent, and fairly quickly, that audiences were willing to pay to become highly strung-out. And while we’re on the subject, let’s dispel a myth: the mark of a good horror film is measured by the stress it induces rather than how many times it physically startles you; if you want something scary, watch a war film or this year’s American presidential elections.

Did we not want a supernatural tale that feels undeniably human and that satiates, via convincing special effects and odd camera placements, our morbid curiosity for what on the surface appears to be demons rising from the underworld? How would it not be fair for us to anticipate another signature exorcism (with apologies to William Friedkin, of course) to wrap things up? The fairly familiar beats The Conjuring 2 delivers are everything we asked for. And then some.

This is less of a retread than you might think, and its foundation isn’t built upon dollars and cents. There’s a legitimate reason we’re going through this again. The haunting in Enfield represents another terrifying case file in the Warrens’ infamous career. There’s a sophistication about proceedings absent in lesser, cheaper offerings, the sort of B-flicks that would be more fun if they weren’t so painfully obviously rushed off the assembly line. Wan, a director who lives, eats and breathes horror, seizes the opportunity to delve further into the lives of the paranormal investigators and to provide a cinematic experience that could go on to be as difficult to forget as its predecessor.

Once again he uses love, not hate, as a driving force. We already know how capable the Warrens are — their many decorated shelves back home are testament to years of dangerous, grueling work — but this time they’re genuinely vulnerable, with Lorraine having a difficult time ridding herself of visions she’s been having since their Amityville days. Her husband’s concerned though he remains keenly aware of the hippocratic oath that binds them to their duties. That’s not the only moral conundrum addressed. The Warrens’ public image comes under fire when skeptics start coming out of the woodwork, including a live television debate that incenses the Warrens and, later, Franka Potente’s Anita Gregory, who challenges the pair directly over the validity of any of their claims, past and present. Media also play a role in creating, even influencing, perception.

The Enfield poltergeist (incidentally the project’s working and far superior title) is a being of exceptional power and takes as much pleasure in tormenting the Warrens as it does single mother Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor). O’Connor, saddled with the unenviable task of mimicking Ellen Burstyn as she bears witness to severe behavioral changes in younger daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe), commits to the single-mom archetype with ferocity. Fortunately for her, her story takes a backseat to how the Warrens respond to the latest call. This particular phantom takes on many forms, both clichéd (an old bitter man named Bill Wilkins) and more novel (green-eyed nuns and crooked men who move like the Babadook). While the evil is diluted somewhat by flimsy justification — Bill just wants the family to stop squatting in his house — its physical appearance is more than enough to disturb.

As was the case in The Conjuring, where we got to know the Perron family to the point where fate and consequence actually meant something to us, this is so much more than a ghost story. The spotlight falls more intensely on the Warrens this time around. Now it’s less about their expertise as it is about unwavering faith, about the deep love and trust these people have in one another. The Enfield case has haunted England ever since 1977, and manifested as one of the Warrens’ most notable challenges, if for no other reason than how personal everything became. Lorraine is convinced taking this job could spell disaster, and she pleads with her husband that, if they are to visit, they’ll operate in a more observational capacity rather than going fully hands-on. Of course, none of that matters when push really comes to shove.

I’m with Lorraine here. I’m not sure who else is, but I can’t be alone. I’m perfectly okay with playing the part of observer. I’d rather not get my hands dirty. Sitting back and watching lives fall apart amidst typically dull England weather is emotionally taxing enough for me. Touché, James Wan. You’ve made me believe sequels to horror films actually can be good.

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Recommendation: Highly anticipated horror sequel manifests as a potent elixir featuring dramatic, thriller and even romance elements that help steer it away from films cut from the same cloth. As someone who has yet to experience the Insidious franchise, I can’t say whether these are Wan’s best efforts, but there’s little use in denying he has officially established himself as the go-to director when it comes to big-budget horror. This was so good I personally see no reason why a third and fourth couldn’t be produced. Like, I am actually asking for more for once. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 134 mins.

Quoted: “It’s so small and light!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Furious 7

furious-7-poster

Release: Friday, April 3, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Morgan

Directed by: James Wan

With James Wan behind the wheel, Furious 7 surprises by not only representing an exciting new direction for the young director but possibly the best this franchise has to offer.

It’s no secret that over the last few films the stakes have been steadily rising for Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and company. Now with the blood of Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)’s brother Owen on their hands, they have never been higher for the streetwise thugs-turned-protectors. When attacks hit close to home as Deckard goes on a murderous rampage in a quest to avenge what he’s lost Dom and Brian find themselves having to once again reassemble The Family in yet another grandstand of spectacular physics-defying stunt work and globetrotting that even the most worldly Travel magazine writer would be jealous of.

In this latest installment the pavement scorches under screeching tires as well as the fiery mid-day Arabian sun, the scent of burning rubber has never been more palpable in a medium where smell is all but impossible to gauge, and the loss of Paul Walker has breathed an entirely new level of drama into a franchise where sentimentality once felt pumped in by Hollywood execs high on the fumes of one of the most financially successful action packages of the last couple of decades. With the Malaysian-born horror aficionado now shifting the gears, what could have turned out to be a deal-breaker has turned out to be the real deal.

Rare are the follow-ups that manage to perpetuate the kind of energy and emotional power that’s been generated by Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious, an adventure that, when compared, feels now like a juvenile frolicking through the streets of adolescence. When a franchise has lasted as long as this one has, it’s dually impressive that there’s this much consistency even when the narrative continues to be plagued with cliché, subpar acting and unbridled sensationalism. Furious 7 may represent inevitability 14 years in the making but there’s little sign of this ride being over.

Plot is once again mercifully undemanding as The Family — a ragtag crew we’ve come to embrace in Dom, Brian, Letty, Roman, Tej and Hobbs — joins forces with an even more ambiguous form of government (imagine a time where Dwayne Johnson’s Hobbs is second to the Person You’d Never Want to Double-Cross, and that’s where we exist now) to track down an elusive international terrorist named Mose Jakande (Djimon Hounsou). This guy is supposed to make Statham’s Deckard look like merely a pawn in a bigger game but unfortunately the emphasis there is lost amid the chaos of all the action. Nevertheless, we’re drawn into another popcorn-obliterating episode where the government has bigger plans than these street racers; where somehow they are the ideal candidates to help track down such a notorious bastard.

Kurt Russell makes his Furious debut as Mr. Nobody (actually his name is Frank, but that’s pretty anticlimactic) and he’s seeking protection for a particular hacker who invented a high-tech device called ‘God’s Eye,’ a McGuffin also known as the world’s most powerful tracking bug. If Dom will help track down the ruthless terrorist and prevent him from obtaining ‘God’s Eye’ this mysterious government entity is all-in for helping the crew bring Shaw to justice. As Dom has already been strung-out in his attempts to help Letty come back around to her former self following the events of Fast Five and Fast and Furious 6, he’s really in no position to argue. Plus, you know, there’d be no pivotal plot point otherwise.

When The Family and Russell’s slicked-back hair join forces the film hits its stride in terms of adrenaline and emotional gravitas. Actually, it’s difficult to gauge which is better: the point where these stories intersect or the earlier introduction of one of Jason Statham’s most ruthless characters ever. As a rogue special forces operative bent on revenge Statham is a one-man force of destruction that’s equal parts fun to watch as he is dangerous. He hospitalizes Hobbs in a particularly brutal fight sequence early in the film, and single-handedly almost eliminates everyone in the absolutely over-the-top finale. More than any other, Statham clearly relishes reintroducing his nastier side, as if knowing himself that his action star status has been dangerously stagnating for the last several outings.

Wan’s film will be distinguished as the most bittersweet of all the entries given the tragic circumstances surrounding Paul Walker. Though some have drawn attention to the fact his character here is an amalgamation of him, his brothers and some impressive CGI work, to focus on the presentation of his character is to overlook the spirit thereof. Fortunately the final montage doesn’t do any overlooking. Walker’s Brian has always remained a decent, loyal man — brother to Dom, now a father and husband.

It may not be appropriate to become sentimental over someone I never knew, but how can anyone imagine his fictional life not mirroring how Paul dictated his life off the silver screen? The most painful realization lies in the irony of his fate, but in some weird way perhaps it is fitting that his greatest life’s work — if it’s not his presence in this then it is what was introduced as a genuine love for cars in The Fast and the Furious — similarly mirrors the price we all pay for caring, for loving and ultimately, for living.

these-used-to-be-about-the-cars-but-now-im-not-so-sure

Whatever happened to just using a flare gun at the start of a race?

3-5Recommendation: James Wan surprises with his seamless transition into the world of action filmmaking. Granted, it was smart of him to not tinker too much with the formula that has sustained the franchise for at least the last three entries, but this was undoubtedly a big project to take on. It successfully encapsulates everything fans have come to love about these films while building upon the character development and expanding the drama beyond racing. Furious 7 also serves as a fitting tribute to Paul Walker. If you’re a fan of these kinds of things, you by now have already bought yourself a ticket. Right?

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 137 mins.

Quoted: “I’m here for the team that crippled my brother.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: Saw (2004)

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Returning to my self-imposed hell by revisiting effective horror films from back in the day, we move onward through October rather painfully. (And of course this month would have FIVE Thursdays in it.) Still, at least today is a film that A) I’m far more familiar with than the previous entry and B) I actually really enjoy, although I don’t go back to it at all anymore. Not even in October. Nope. No siree. However, getting to review today’s film brings back some good memories from freshman year when my good friend Patrick and I, all crammed into those tiny little dorm rooms on campus with nothing but bottles of Captain Morgan and a flimsy DVD player, watched it over and over again. I guess we hadn’t really discovered it much before then. At least I hadn’t seen it until right around that time. Still, it’s a rare “horror” film — okay, more like a torture-porn — that I loved watching time and time again. The twist never got old. Not to me and Patrick. Nope. No siree.

Today’s food for thought: Saw

Screen Shot 2013-10-10 at 3.52.30 PMRelease: October 29, 2004

[DVD]

Nothing shouts ‘horror film’ more than shitty lighting, even worse acting. . . and an obvious lack of funding. Faced with all of these realities and more, then-amateur filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Whannell knew that their first stab at horror wouldn’t quite be the typical film festival entry; they also had no idea how much of a sleeper hit they had tucked underneath their armpits at the time, either. Brutal, dark and grotesquely thought-provoking, the pair’s 2004 slasher-slash-psychological thriller rose to cult-status in a hurry after its nationwide debut in theaters, later spawning a run of sequels that’s close to being unprecedented in film history (please keep it up, Fast & Furious!).

I could just as easily create a post about the entire series of Saw films here; but. . . meh. As much as I was swept off my twisted feet with the original, the immediate sequels (2 and 3 are the only ones I’ve seen) I didn’t much care for, and any subsequent releases became so painfully obvious as a marketing gimmick (annual releases around Halloween for seven years straight) that I don’t even want to acknowledge their existence.

The very mention of anything Saw– or Darren Lynn Bousman-related in the years after I witnessed the “first trilogy” conclude pretty much made me ill. The once-brilliant, granted perverted, conceit that was crafted by the Aussies had indeed succumbed to being one of its own tortured, wayward victims, soon to be corpses. A final gasp of breath offered up a 3-D gimmick in 2010. Who wants to see people getting hacked up three different ways to Sunday in such a format — is it more convincing if body parts are actually flying outward at you?

tn2_saw_11

But seriously, how can anyone enjoy such violent stories? What’s the point?

If you were into horror, 2004 was an exciting time to be accustomed to seeing blood, gore and suffering on the big screen. The arrival of the Jigsaw killer and his ‘games’ marked a new era in filmmaking; granted, the subculture that grew out of this production might be even more cause for concern. It’s a disconcerting thought to have: knowing there are crazed fans for all types of forms of entertainment and the genres within. I wonder what that implies about the die-hards of things of this nature. . . shudder

Nonetheless, this particular film is brilliant, if not rough around the edges, and might be the most polarizing film made in the last decade. Why does one like Saw? Simple. The justification behind the violence. The victims picked in this film supposedly deserve the places to which they are exiled. I suppose depending on your worldview, the number of people “who deserve” any of this will widely vary — either that or your tolerance for humanity’s capacity for erring will completely inhibit your enjoyment of it at all, which would be understandable as well. The whole point of the misery is for the betterment of those suffering; those who are in these traps are meant to survive them and learn from them.

That concept’s a tough sell for a good number of viewers, but clearly Wan, Whannell and company are not concerned about that. And neither are followers of the Saw legacy. Ha! The legacy. What a joke. At least, I’m not concerned about the criticism myself. I can really side with both parties on this movie in all honesty.

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 What’s the deal with the Jigsaw Killer? He’s just a sick man, that’s all. . .

Again, polarizing. I bought into the set-up here, though. The fundamental principles of what this guy was doing in the very beginning (this film is maybe the best example of why sequels to horror films never should be approved) made sense to me. I wouldn’t exactly consider myself a psycho, though. Please don’t mistake me.

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is an enigmatic figure, who, after discovering he has a terminal form of cancer, goes about creating vicious traps to put people he deems “unworthy of the life they are given” into, in an attempt to save them from themselves. One can sit and argue all day whether or not the guy has any right to put people through such trials or to even judge their lives, but then that’s all part of the thread of morality spinning itself through the gory story.

By now, Jigsaw’s one of the more memorable characters ever created in horror and the acting on the part of Tobin Bell is what largely makes the complex character such a satisfying watch. Plus, the way he is introduced into the story is quite possibly one of the most inventive and hair-raising turns ever created in the genre. It’s simply amazing the first time you experience it and seems to remain riveting on each return visit.

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The traps. . .? Can someone explain this to me, this stuff is just messed up. 

This element of these films is probably the most controversial of them all. First of all, it takes something of a warped mind to conceive of such devices from a writing standpoint — so a round of therapy might still be in order for Whannell and Wan at this juncture. But I digress. The traps are the tests for each character, meant to symbolize or reveal that person’s greatest weakness or flaw.

The most classic example revolves around a woman named Amanda, who is kidnapped by Jigsaw and, upon awakening, finds a metal bear-trap-like device on her head. She must remove it in something like a minute or so, or the trap will permanently snap open. In each of the traps (at least, in the original few films that I’ve seen anyway) a television set and a recording of this creepy-as-f**k clown on a tricycle accompanies the victim, which explains to them exactly their predicament and what they need to do in order to escape. The combination of the psychological element associated with the delivery of this information and how they potentially are going to die, along with the sickening originality of their plight has tempted many a horror director to try and incorporate similar extremes into their own repertoire (The Collector/The Collection; The Human Centipede). There may have been some success, but I haven’t much been interested to investigate beyond this one.

All the same, the traps invariably became more complex as the franchise’s budget became more lavish as time went on. As such, it became increasingly difficult to believe that Jigsaw was the man behind all these fancy killings; how does he exactly construct half of these things if his motif has been to build devices out of only items he has in his warehouse?

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4-0Recommendation: Well this most definitely has its devotees and it has its strong opponents. There will be very little to convince either to switch sides; it’s not like playing Red Rover here. Even still, if you haven’t yet exposed yourself to this, and are able to handle gratuitous violence and bloodshed, Saw is worth a watch for the compelling psychological element that lurks in the background. It’s a strong debut effort for the Australians, besides.

Rated: R

Running Time: 103 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

The Conjuring

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Release: Thursday, July 18, 2013

[Theater]

James Wan applies his skillful story- and suspense-building techniques without missing a step in this intense supernatural thriller based on the first-hand accounts of world-renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) in Harrisville, Rhode Island.

Chances are, most people by now are at least aware of the infamous Saw franchise. Wan, along with Aussie Leigh Whannell, are responsible for inspiring the gore-obsessed into action — examples being the likes of The Collector/The Collection, Hostel, and Vile — by penning and directing it’s first installment in approximately two weeks. Tensely paced, poorly acted, and clearly low-budget, the original Saw was still a remarkably creative story despite it’s obvious pitfalls (aside from the bad acting, that film is incredibly gruesome).

Not long ago I had resigned Wan and company to be forever rooted in the torture-porn genre having spawned a series that ended up lasting seven (I think?) films; but The Conjuring is definite proof that Wan at least has a talent even when not spending lots of money on extra blood syrup and props that look like intestines and other body parts. His newest creation, steeped in factual accounts of real “demonologists” and real townsfolk, is maybe more disturbing than the sheer torture value of Saw. It is an incredibly realistic, believable story even for those who simply do not believe in the goings-on of the supernatural variety. The Conjuring is truly a frightening film, and I have not been this uncomfortable in my seat since watching The Exorcist.

What works to this particular horror film’s advantage is the structure of the story. This movie builds and builds and builds, creating enough tension to make even the quietest of door creaks seem like an impending disaster; when a light bulb flashes out, your stomach lurches. Then, of course, clap – clap.

The story details the events occurring on the property of an old farmhouse bought by the Perron family, wherein supposed demonic forces dwelled and had their way with virtually every resident who’s ever been unfortunate enough to live between these walls. Roger and his wife Carolyn are rather satisfied with their new slice of life in the quiet town of Harrisville, Rhode Island, but soon their five children begin seeing and feeling strange things all around the house. These incidences slowly step up from being strange bumps in the night to full-fledged attacks upon the walls — but no one can see anyone or anything in the rooms in which this is happening. Portraits and paintings come crashing off of walls, terrible looking bruises form on Roger’s wife’s skin, and one of their youngest daughters is the first to have a personal encounter with a powerful spirit.

Wan is also careful in his consideration of the inclusion of the Warrens, as he gradually weaves them into the narrative string as things go from bad to worse at the Perrons’ home. They are first shown presenting samples of their work to lecture halls, explaining that what they do is real work based on science, despite the fact that they are quite often dismissed as “kooks.” After attending one such lecture in the wake of a particularly bad night at home, Carolyn convinces the Warrens to come take a look at their property and see if there really is something to be worried about. Initially quick to dismiss their situation as simple “old house noises,” Lorraine is the first to experience first-hand the power of the supernatural presence around the yard and inside the home.

As a duo of investigators, Wilson and Farmiga are rather convincing. Often these roles in these kinds of movies are completely inept, cardboard cut-outs of real people who eventually become helpless bystanders as the spectacle of demons and evil forces unfolds. But in The Conjuring, they are real humans with real skills and real emotion. Though this movie is still not devoid of a few moments of wooden acting — it is set in the early ’70s and more than a few times the dialogue comes across clumsy and forced — everyone involved here are very good, and it’s easy to feel terrible for them as the drama and fear continue to mount. Ron Livingston as Roger Perron, while not encumbered with the heavy-lifting (that’s definitely down to Wilson and Farmiga), serves as a loving, devoted father who simply becomes speechless at the inexplicable activity in his home. Similarly, all the children are very good in their respective roles as well as they all become affected in their own ways.

The Conjuring makes a good case for the “less is more” mantra — one might not actually believe this is directed by one of the dudes who made Saw because this is a somewhat bloodless ordeal. Somewhat.

By not showing us exactly what is there (for a long time anyway); by applying technologies used by these expert paranormal investigators to pick up other aspects (audio, UV lighting, etc); by simply cutting the cameras away at the right moments 9 times out of 10, it is next-to-impossible for us to not fill our own imaginations with the worst possibilities of what is going to come next. The resulting emotions that I experienced were exhilarating, they were signs of a director really doing his job. For me, it is quite easy to overlook the typical jump-scares present in all horror films, and these are certainly littered throughout this film as well. The good news is that these are not the worst things to fear or that these are all you have to worry about. You experience some pretty messed-up things in this movie, and I really don’t want to explain it away A) for spoiler alerts and B) because I don’t like talking about it because it gives me the heebie-jeebies.

If 2004’s Saw was Wan getting his violence fetish out of his system (hey, The Purge did assert that we all have some kind of need or desire to commit or engage in violence, right?), here’s his tribute to the bizarre and unnatural. The Conjuring is a work of remarkable maturity for the young director, as well as finally being a (mainstream) horror film worth seeing. From a filmgoing standpoint, I believe this is a film that many of us have been waiting to see for a long, long time. It’s one of the shining examples of what makes horror an avenue worth pursuing if you’re involved in the entertainment industry as well.

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4-0Recommendation: This film recalled some of the chronology of William Friedkin’s masterpiece as it continued to build in suspense and drama to a point where fainting might be an acceptable audience response — but it diverged from many films in that it was bolstered by strong performances and beautiful cinematography. Those who appreciate all of the above are in for a treat here. Those who can’t get enough of horror, well, I needn’t say more. Either way, we’ve got another “Must-See” on our hands.

Rated: R

Running Time: 112 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com