Startlingly meh: The Conjuring 2 (review)

conjuring 2 poster

I don’t really have the stomach for horror films. It’s not so much that I scare easily, but rather I am incredibly jumpy and therefore startle easily…and I don’t enjoy that sensation.

That being said, I have an idea for a horror film and decided I really needed to watch some before trying to write one. Thus, I finally acquiesced to my friends’ attempts to get me into a theatre, and last night, saw The Conjuring 2.

In many ways, including the opening scenes, this movie is a grandchild of the paranormal investigation classic The Amityville Horror. In the same timeline as that “based on” true event, a family in North London is being haunted by the spectre of an old man who is quite literally turning their lives upside down. The church sends American investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to determine the merits of the case, only to discover it is linked to haunting visions in their own lives.

Lots of booming, thrashing and screaming ensue. Faces suddenly appear over shoulders. Bodies fly around rooms. More screaming. Demons, crucifixes and biting, oh my.

You can probably tell from that last part that I wasn’t very enthused about the movie. And to a large extent, I blame that on me more than the movie. I just don’t like horror and I don’t like being startled, which is really all this movie was: a two-hour effort to make me jump. Even at that, I think I jumped about six times and was never horrified or even mildly disturbed.

My friends were more effusive in their praise. One said it was the best horror film he had ever seen; he had never been more frightened. Others said it was a solid horror film that they quite enjoyed, although almost universally they said it wasn’t as disturbing as the original The Conjuring, which they insist I watch.

The story was pretty linear. Sceptics vs believers. Haunted, possessed child with glowing eyes and altered voices. Spectral specialists who speak wooden dialogue about God while dealing with their own demons. And underneath it all, an adorable love story between the real-life Warrens that went nowhere and added nothing to the story.

Twin warrens

Lorraine & Ed Warren: real and as portrayed by Vera Farmiga/Patrick Wilson

If you can get past the dialogue, the performances weren’t too bad. Patrick Wilson (Ed Warren) and Vera Farmiga (Lorraine Warren) do what they can with relatively two-dimensional Bible thumpers. Frances O’Connor, who played British mom Peggy Hodgson, did a very admirable job of portraying a woman who has taken about all she can from a world determined to crap on her at every turn. This could easily have been two hours of her screaming insanely, but she brought realism to the role.

But my biggest praise goes out to Madison Wolfe, who played Janet Hodgson, the young girl through whom the spectre works its evil. Half victim, half conduit, Janet’s struggles first to understand what is happening to her and then cope with feelings of abandonment as her friends and school become terrified of her (rather than the evil) are heart-breaking and play out across the young actress’s face. A true example of where a performance rises far above terrible material.

Janet

So many questions in those eyes

Unfortunately, even the stellar performances of O’Connor and Wolfe cannot save a bad movie that looks and feels like so many of its genre. That it is based on a true story—the Enfield poltergeist—doesn’t make it any more real for me; it may mean more to people wrapped up in poltergeist lore.

The slide show of the actual event participants during the closing credits, however, is an interesting touch. If nothing else, it tells me the set designers did a good job.

So, by the end of the evening, I wasn’t really any further ahead in my understanding of horror films and if this is an example of what is available, no more inclined to take in other films of this genre (or at least, sub-genre).

 

See also:

The Conjuring 2 fails to raise goosebumps. Bruce Demara, The Toronto Star

The demon-hunting Warrens are back in The Conjuring 2. Richard Crouse, Metro News

The Conjuring 2 is gorgeously shot and smartly conceived. Brad Wheeler, Globe & Mail

 

It (tediously) Follows – A review

It Follows

We all remember the dire warnings from health class or worried parents: If you have unprotected sex, you run the risk of coming down with an STD.

Well, for the kids in the movie It Follows, the itch of crabs or the need for antibiotics would be a welcomed distraction from the STW they risk by having sex with the wrong partner.

Choose your partners wisely

Choose your partners wisely

STW? Sexually transmitted wraith.

It Follows tells the story of Jay, a sexually active late-teen who finally succumbs to the charms of her newest beau Hugh, only to learn that not only did she accept his penis, but she also accepted a curse that involves a plodding ghost trying to kill her.

As long as Jay stays alive, the ghost leaves Hugh alone. The best advice, he suggests, is for Jay to pass the curse onto someone else as soon as possible, hooking up like he did with her. If the wraith gets Jay, it then comes after Hugh and then continues up the line of transmission.

Complicating life is the fact that only the cursed can see the wraith, which can transform from a urinating half-naked mutilated woman to a senior citizen to someone you know. Thus, even when Jay enlists her sister and friends to help her, they are largely useless other than as a source of comfort and uncontrolled screaming and running.

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Crazy kids hatch a plan

Now, I don’t like horror movies. I am a jumpy person by nature, and so sudden surprises bother me. Thus, when my horror-loving friends suggested we see It Follows, I was reluctant. But I am trying to expand my genre repertoire and so joined in.

As it worked out, there was no reason to worry.

(HEREAFTER THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.)

Throughout the entire 100 minutes of the movie, I jumped only once, and as it turned out, at nothing that had anything to do with the story.

None of the appearances of the wraith (okay, maybe one) were particularly startling or unexpected. And aside from the musical cues to the audience to become anxious—music that would not have been out of place in any classic 80s horror—the movie offered little suspense. And after more than a few musical feints, even that ceased to make me uneasy.

Aggravating the lack of tension was an excruciatingly plodding pace to the story, which triggered more yawns in me than shudders. The only thing slower than the pace was the plodding approach of the wraith.

My friends—the horror aficionados—suggested that this gave the demon (and the movie) a relentless feel…the wraith was often shown slowly approaching from a distance in wide-angle shots. But to me, the movie was relentless in the way a train travelling at one mile per hour is unrelenting.

It will crush you…eventually…once it reaches you…assuming you don’t simply step off the tracks.

What I will admit was relentless was that truthfully the story could only end one way. (I am trying not to tell you how the movie ends.)

Because the wraith will always move up the chain of transmission, Jay is fated to die. Even if she passes the curse onto another. She will die. It is simply a matter of when.

Not taking the news well

Not taking the news well

The writer and/or director essentially painted themselves into a corner from the outset.

This is not to say that the kids only run away, but they also had no information to help stop the wraith…if possible. And no one seemed interested in determining what is was or why it was.

This is yet another reason why I could not engage in the movie. It gave me nothing to do but wait, and watch the kids attempt roughly the same actions time and again.

Maika Monroe

Maika Monroe as Jay

Given the nature of the beast—horror movies, that is—the performances were solid. The acting was quite good—Maika Monroe as Jay was quite effective—and the relationships between the characters felt real. Aside from a few subtextual set-ups that had no payoff, most of the character interactions satisfied.

Sadly, the actors were completely let down by the writer and/or director.

With the wraith largely incapable of harming her sister or friends (it only wants the cursed), all of Jay’s (our hero’s) actions were self-serving. Simply put, Jay did everything not to die.

And while this is understandable and even compelling early on—again, Maika Monroe is very likeable—it eventually lacks nobility. There were no other stakes, and how do you raise the stakes from gonna die? After a very short period, I was ready for Jay to die simply so my friends and I could get to the pub.

I appreciate that I am in the minority here (and at the pub).

It Follows will inexorably spawn a sequel—no doubt entitled It Still Follows—and possibly a third (Yep, Still Following) and fourth (Hunh, Where’d It Go? Oh, Jesus, There It Is) chapter.

For me, however, I’ll just go back and watch Poltergeist (the original, thank you) and have nightmares about clown dolls.

Now THAT is scary

Now THAT is scary

Now, if you want a good (and shorter) counterpoint to my antipathy for It Follows, check out a post written by another friend Danny F Santos, which can be found here.