Patrick Wilson

The Conjuring 2

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18/06/16

James Wan has been at it again. After the twin successes of The Conjuring and Annabelle, comes the imaginatively titled Conjuring 2, in which paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) take on a couple of ‘real-life’cases with their customary mixture of guts and cheesiness. For the film’s pre-credit sequence, we’re in The Amityville House, (the Warren’s most famous case) where Lorraine encounters the unwelcome attentions of a grinning nun and where she has a premonition that something bad is going to happen to her hubby.

After the credits, we move swiftly on to merry England (Enfield to be more precise) where single Mum, Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’ Connor) and her four kids are getting some unwelcome attention of their own, particularly young Janet (Madison Wolfe) who is the recipient of some rather scary poltergeist phenomenon. (Interestingly, the story has been filmed as recently as 2015 in The Enfield Haunting, a TV mini series which offered a much more credible version of the story. It’s probably important to mention here that in real life, the Warrens had hardly any connection with the Enfield case whatsoever.) The story is set in  1977 but the Hodgsons appear to be suffering levels of squalor more reminiscent of the 1930s – peeling wallpaper, broken furniture and the like. Furthermore, down in their cellar, they have what must be the worst case of damp in history – you don’t need a spanner down there so much as a snorkel and flippers.

Despite the inaccuracies, these early scenes are surprisingly effective; Wan manages to kindle genuine tension in the telling and there are some cleverly handled set pieces that will have even the hardiest viewer grabbing for their neighbour’s hand. But somebody needs to tell him that less is more. After the first half hour or so, the story begins to kick in and as a consequence proceedings move increasingly into the realms of the risible. What could easily have been a four star movie, slips steadily down the ratings, and by the final half hour, you’re as likely to be hooting with laughter as cringing in terror. What’s more, the Warrens turn out to be the most terminally irritating duo of God botherers ever to visit a haunted house. A scene where Ed croons an Elvis song to the Hodgson kids seems to have wandered in from a different movie entirely, while Lorraine has an annoying habit of finding herself wandering about in an alternate world, where ghostly exposition keeps rearing its ugly head.

The film’s ultimate plot twist will have you gasping not in shock but in disbelief that anybody thought we’d swallow such an unlikely idea, even in a ghost story and by then, it’s way too late to rescue this nonsense, which is a shame. Wan clearly has a real talent for scare movies and if he would just exercise a little more self control, he could be creating films of real quality. As it stands this is a major disappointment.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Bone Tomahawk

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20/02/16

Some films acquire a cult status almost by accident. Others, come galloping over the horizon, waving flags and blowing trumpets to announce that this is their greatest ambition. Much of the advance talk about Bone Tomahawk suggests that this is surely the latter kind of beast. And what a curious beast it is, an 18 certificate mash-up of John Ford’s The Searchers and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust. Let me warn those of a nervous disposition that this is an extremely visceral movie with unflinching scenes of bodily carnage.

Of course, like many other films these days, it hasn’t made it to the multiplexes, but interested parties will find it at the independent cinemas – we caught it at Home, Manchester. Set in the Wild West at an unspecified time, it tells the story of the abduction of a white woman by ‘troglodytes.’ Yes, you read that right. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler clearly thinks he’s neatly sidestepped the issue of showing native Americans in a bad light by making his baddies inbred mutants, who no local tribe wants to claim as their own. The trouble is, he’s not really fooling anyone with this approach. Presenting his villains in this dehumanised way is actually a bit of a cop-out, a way to avoid dealing with the very important issues of identity and representation.

The abducted woman is local medic Samantha (Lili Simmons) whose husband Arthur (Patrick Wilson) is currently laid up with a badly injured leg. He insists on going after his wife along with grizzled Sheriff Hunt (Kurt Russell) his likeable old deputy, Chicory (Richard Jenkins) and a local dandy, Brooder (Matthew Fox, finally finding a decent post-Lost role). The four men set out on their quest and the film’s most telling moments are concerned with the interplay between them. But as they draw nearer to the hidden valley where the troglodytes dwell, things take a particularly nasty turn…

Bone Tomahawk is by no means perfect – there are some clunky moments in there and I thought the ending was decidedly unimpressive. What’s more, Samantha seems to survive her terrible ordeal without smudging her makeup. But despite its shortcomings, I rather enjoyed the journey. Clearly shot at a fraction of the budget of a big Hollywood movie, the sheer weirdness of the film does tend to exert a hold on the viewer, even if some of the violence is of the ‘look away quickly’ variety. I can honestly say I’ve never seen another Western quite like it – and for that alone, it’s worth seeking out.

4 stars

Philip Caveney