Tag Archives: friday the 13th

Movie Review: The Conjuring

Image result for the conjuring movie poster free useJames Wan’s 2013 novella was beloved by audiences, conjuring over $300 million and becoming one of the highest-grossing horror films in cinematic history.

As I’ve made my way through the depths of horror these last few years, I’ve found a lot of duds, the type of garbage that turned me off to the genre at an early age. I’ve also found some crystals such as Cabin in the Woods, Sinister, The Babadook and The Shining, films that demonstrate tension, creativity and imagination. These are the type of productions that keep the category alive. We need more of them.

The Conjuring, through and through, is an ode to original horrors such as The Exorcist, playing on high wires, shredding one’s nerves against a grater and stretching them with a rolling pin like an experienced culinary maestro. Wan has a talent for this type of film making, pairing a fascination with cinematography with a genuine care for character. The widely known pitfalls of the niche are tactfully avoided by his pen strokes. (You’ll be hard pressed to find a misplaced horror trope.)

This isn’t to say The Conjuring is revolutionary in its innovativeness. Familiar imagery is often used to give us rather blatant gestures. Wan is not trying to finesse you. He’s going to come at you. Here, we’ll play a game of hide and seek in Rhode Island before unleashing the stops in the final third. A certain bar of patience is required, though I feel the apprehension to what we all know is coming is more than enough of a reason to stick around. We’re all toys in Wan’s fantasy. We’re just being played with.

The acting is capable though nothing dramatic. Most of its success is from its authenticity. Invested characters are key to an audience’s sympathy and involvement. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring intrigue to demon hunters and paranormal specialists, a concept that is rather difficult to take seriously without our acceptance of these leads.

I feel that directors of scare stories underappreciate the value a character brings to said moving picture, whether it’s a slasher flick or dramatic mind bending. Cynics, especially like myself, are looking for any opportunity to remove themselves from the equation, which spells, “Uh-oh” for horror creationists. An audience that is not slaved by the puppeteer is hard to frighten. They still feel they have control of the situation. That’s why drawing a line from your audience to a character is so important, whether that person is a protagonist or villain. Friday the 13th is great because that line is drawn from us to Jason. He embodies emotional trauma. It’s hard to watch a film like that and not get even a little uneasy. The same goes for Michael Myers and Halloween.

So when you start the film and find yourself asking why we’re spending what seems like forever on this family, that is why. It gives us time to get to know ourselves in this pattern.

This film contains little to no jump scares. Wan is not someone to dab in the trivial. Wan would prefer to throw elements into his pressure cooker and watch them slowly rise up until its overbearing, silently laughing like a mad scientist.

This is not the type of movie to scare the daylights out of you, nor tell you a whole lot about yourself. There are shades of destiny talk here and there between the Warrens but not much in form of storytelling is going on. It is, however, a nice stamp to add to your passport of horror trips if you’ve just begun your adventures. It dedicates itself to what the origins of this storytelling based themselves on: a slice of visual grandeur, a pinch of narrative bravado and a heavy sampling of anticipation.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (SinisterOlympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the Sun)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Tommy Boy, Death NoteTrue Memoirs of an International AssassinThe Great WallRobin Hood)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No TalesPower RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsport)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (The Snowman, Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe Visit)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for The Conjuring: 84.

People might have hyped this up a tad too much for me to see it as a magnum opus, but it’s still clear that The Conjuring pulls its punches and waits for its characters’ most vulnerable moment before unleashing on them. James Wan is certainly a prodigy in the industry.

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Movie Review: Sinister

Image result for sinister movie poster free use2012’s Sinister was written and directed by Doctor Strange foreman Scott Derrickson, who has spent his career on a carousel of horror. Clearly more of a talent here than in the coliseum of superhero novella, Sinister is one of the more notable films of the genre in the last decade.

Sinister was sponsored by Blumhouse, a company that is both a beacon and blot on the brand. Blumhouse has demonstrated that the need to throw millions at a movie in order for it to succeed does not exist. A film can succeed on its merits alone, an important statement. Great ideas should not be skipped over because a major studio has no interest in producing them. It is of great value that art not be controlled by the business moguls, but by the artists themselves. In a way, Blumhouse gave that power back to them, while also giving studios a lesson in theatrical enterprise. The less your story costs, the easier it is to make a profit.

The downfall to this noble approach is some expulsion of honest theater and the arrival of swindlers seeking to make a quick pay day. One of the more attractive qualities to art, at least to me, is its honesty and the pedigree to which it and its practitioners hold themselves. It’s purposefully free, restricted only by the artist’s hand. Blumhouse has unintentionally spoiled the soil.

And look, film making has never been perfect. There have always been hacks trying to discover how to cheat the system or novices that throw scripts together to get a project over with, but I find the horror scene has been overflowing with them, which is a shame, because horror used to be so good. I think it can be, but if there was a staple that needed a renaissance, it would have to be horror (with comedy not too far behind).

What made horror so great back in the day was character. Yes, there were great slasher flicks back then as well, but even character drove those. Halloween is nothing without Michael just as Friday the 13th is nothing without Jason. Character is what drives a story, no matter the mode. I’m talking about movies like The Shining and The Silence of the Lambs, movies with characters so dynamic and so twisted it made your blood flow like a river.

Sinister isn’t a classic, but it does rely heavily on lead Ellison Oswald, played by Ethan Hawke. A true crime writer with an attraction to the grotesque, Ellison moves into the house where a family was murdered with the hopes of discovering what happened to the girl who vanished from the family.

In addition to being a film about mass murders and the vile routes one will go to end a life, it’s also about the seductiveness of ambition. Ellison finds a rack of 8mm tapes, all showcasing a family execution, but driven by his desire of fame and fortune, decides not to report it to the police. Ellison once had great success with Kentucky Blood, his best work, but has been unable to find that grandeur since and he’s thrust himself into obsession chasing it. The story is as much about the paranormal and ghastly crime scene details as it is about the psychological torture that Ellison is putting himself through trying to capture this nagging feeling of resolve. It clouds his judgment and very quickly, he realizes he has screwed up. There’s a scene later in the film where Oswald is watching interviews he did following the release of his big hit, a questionnaire where he talks about how the justice of the victims is far more important than his individual accolades. It’s at this point that he realizes he’s changed, and yet still, he doesn’t turn back. This character dilemma produces a reason for Oswald to push forward in circumstances where nearly everyone else would do the opposite. The scenes where you’re asking, “Why doesn’t he leave?” or “Why would you open the door?” aren’t here. This is a genuine person whose job and life purpose has become going forward.

As seen above, Derrickson does not allow his characters to be the mortar of the story, an important distinction. Characters, in my eyes, should never be the filler. They should be the fountainhead, the first thing that comes up in word association. If you’ve ever watched a slasher flick, you know that is not always the case. Blase characters are easy to remove and almost effortless to write. A true penman possesses the equanimity to pore over his work for days on end, fine tuning his art with the compulsiveness of an addict and commitment of a soldier. With writer C. Robert Cargill molding a capacious lead and hypnotizing creation, Derrickson is free to devote his time to tone and lighting. The film features plenty of shadow work and red-tinted shots to add an unsettling atmosphere to the main cogs of the piece, only drawing you in more.

Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.  

90-100  It’s a great movie and definitely one worth buying. (Captain America: Civil WarDeadpoolAvengers: Age of UltronThe AvengersThe Babadook)

80-89   It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has FallenThe Cable GuyThe Cabin in the WoodsTears of the SunEdge of Tomorrow)

70-79   It’s okay but I’ve seen better. It has its moments, but it has its flaws, too. (Ip Man 2Ip ManKong: Skull IslandThe InvitationHush)

60-69   It’s got plenty wrong with it but I still got enjoyment out of this one. (Doctor StrangeJohnny MnemonicJason BourneSuicide SquadBatman Forever)

50-59   This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Great WallRobin HoodUnderworldThe Do-OverX-Men: Apocalypse)

40-49   This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Power RangersUnderworld: EvolutionBatman & RobinBloodsportWar, The Ridiculous 6)

30-39   Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to DieIndependence Day: ResurgenceThe Crow: City of AngelsCenturionPlanet of the Apes)

20-29   What did I just watch? Cliches, stupidity, nothingness, did I mention stupidity? Just…wow. (Avalanche SharksCatwomanThe GunmanThe VisitThe Fantastic Four)

0-19      Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie StonerThe Forbidden DimensionsCyborgOutcastSabotage)

My score for Sinister: 85.

Sinister‘s best allegory is a black hole. It is enormously dark but increasingly enticing and soon, it’s pulling you in and it’s too late to escape. Like the abyss, Sinister is complex and inquisitive, the equilibrium of curiosity and patience. It’s one of my favorite horror films of late.

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