Category Archives: Horror

The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring (2013)

Typically, when a film begins by stating it’s based on a true story then you expect some grounding in the truth. When it comes to the supernatural and the skepticism that runs parallel, it feels an injustice to describe the film so. A true account, perhaps. But a true story? No. However, in a movie that delivers spooky goings on as fact, its veracity is always going to be questionable. Such is The Conjuring (2013, 112 mins.), a movie by James Wan that takes on the haunted house horror trope and delivers a sturdy but generic scarefest that rises above other horror offerings by virtue of their lesser quality.

After an opening gambit involving a possessed doll that serves as introduction to main protagonists, paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the story quickly moves on to the Perron family, a couple (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) with five daughters and a dog. It’s Rhode Island, 1971, and the family have picked up an old farmhouse at auction and are in the process of moving in. Minutes barely pass before secret areas are discovered and the dog, exercising a sixth sense, refuses to come inside. Thereafter the disturbances come thick and fast — unnatural bruising, clocks stopping in harmony, doors opening unaided — although the pace never feels rushed. Eventually it all becomes too much for the Perrons, now sleeping communally in the living room, and they call in the Warrens to help.

Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson), a demonologist and clairvoyant wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), whose case files inform the story, move in with the family, seeking evidence of the supernatural so as to convince the Vatican that an exorcism is more than certainly necessary. Some research on the house provides back story to all things bumping in the night. And from there it’s event after event, either supplementing the back story or ratcheting up the frights until the denouement.

Areas where The Conjuring succeeds are twofold. First is the main cast, in so much as they put on convincing displays. Even the children, when experiencing the horrors around them, are individually given time to let their distress shine. When the actors believe, the audience believes too. As a result of this, the quality of acting is greater than can typically be expected from a horror film — perhaps because as a franchise stretches itself thin, with its stars long since abandoning it, roles are filled with lesser actors. Secondly, the scares, while not original, are for the most part solid. While the unsteady camera roams the house, offering up unnerving angles or the sense of always watching or being watched we get traditional scares such as ghosts reflected in mirrors, whispering voices, and doors slamming shut. We’ve seen them all before in countless horror movies. For the most part, they just work better here.

The steadfast focus on scares works however to the movie’s detriment. In looking to frighten his audience Wan neglects to offer a deeper thread that can resonate with the viewer long after the end credits. Perhaps that’s just wishful thinking but it’s a consideration that shouldn’t be brushed aside. With the current slew of horror remakes and spin-offs mostly treading familiar ground, there’s a need for an The Exorcist (1973) to suit our times. A film that goes deeper into exploring the nature of horror. The Conjuring is definitely not that film. Its characters go no deeper than being involved in its action. Possibly because, being angled from the Warrens’ point of view, the Perrons are just another case. What they do and where they go from here is not their concern. But even the Warrens, for all the actors’ efforts, need an extra dimension to truly flesh them out.

In one early scene, while the Warrens lecture a university crowd on their investigations, they suggest that people refer to them as both ‘ghost hunters’ and ‘kooks’. The Conjuring takes a side on this debate, opting for the former description. However, while it’s risible to suggest that the supernatural events depicted in this movie actually happened, a willing suspension of disbelief works in the movie’s favour. It’s a finely seasoned stew of horror tropes that too many kooks don’t spoil.

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Sharknado (2013)

Sharknado (2013)

In 1975 when Spielberg’s Jaws hit cinemas, it came with the tagline “Don’t go in the water!”. That warning is no longer applicable thanks to Sharknado (2013, 86 mins.) as the sharks now come to you. So crazy is the film’s premise — a tornado filled with sharks! — that its tagline opts out of any promotional pretence and blatantly acknowledges its daftness with ‘Enough said!’ It’s just as apt as the premise certainly leaves one speechless.

The film opens with a dodgy deal going down on a boat. Two men eye each other suspiciously as one hands over the money. Does any of this matter? Not really, as the scene is never referred to again. If anything, it’s solely a means to show the brewing storm before we make landfall with the main cast and to seed the notion that sharks could possibly be capable of the Fosbury flop. Needless to say the deal goes awry and the bloody scenes that follow set the tone: ridiculous ideas played straight.

When the movie starts proper we are treated to a typical west coast beach scene. Here it’s all volleyball, surfing, skateboarding, and blatant posing. It’s not long though until the storm comes inland, bringing sharks in its wake. More blood. While the sharks take bites out of those in the water, the storm — dubbed Hurricane David — exercises its power with the local pier. The wind picks up, the waves lash in. A ferris wheel becomes unhinged and rolls into a nearby building. There’s mass hysteria.

From this display of nature’s power emerges the merry band that will be our companions for the duration. Led by the best surfer ever, Fin Shepherd (Ian Ziering, playing it completely straight), the crew consists of friends Nova (Cassie Scerbo) and Baz (Jaason Simmons). With the radio providing them with regular weather updates — as is always useful in disaster movies — they set about first picking up Fin’s estranged wife (Tara Reid) and his daughter before heading on to rescue his adult son, whether they need rescued or not. All the while the water levels rise, sharks swim along the streets, and all manner of silly set pieces occur.

Where the comedy comes from is in equal part the seriousness of the premise and then its subsequent execution. The CGI is quite poor, but given the low budget is acceptable. Many a film has endured on less. The characters are fond of cheesy, knowing wisecracks. “Need a lift,” Fin asks after abseiling off a bridge to rescue kids from a school bus he wasn’t sure was even populated. Apart from the chances of having abseiling gear to hand, it’s the realisation that the scene is really only there to both provide a shark-related dramatic moment and to introduce a new character that, like most others that aren’t in Fin’s gang, become fish fodder almost straight away. Almost, because they really need to get a joke in first.

The continuity is all over the place, too, which likely adds to the movie’s ironic appeal. Stock footage is spliced with the film’s, meaning the sky’s temperament is prone to rapid changes between scenes. An airport is destroyed by the freak weather, only for the planes to appear unscathed in a later scene. A house atop a hill is flooded with water only for the water to be nowhere near during an external shot. Away from continuity, it’s also mildly amusing to see the economy wrung from the repeated shot of a bomb’s fuse alight. Or to witness some strange perspectives in the CGI. Or even to listen to a girl reeling off dumb questions so as the guys can exposit their plans to target the latest developments with the sharknado.

The plans are just as dumb as the girl’s questions. We can’t go up in the helicopter due to the storms, it’s made clear, so the solution is simply to go up in the helicopter because Nova will help. There’s a nod to Jaws when it’s suggested that they are going to need a bigger chopper. With a plan of action to end the weather — seriously! — Fin talks of standing and fighting. It’s unclear who he sees as the enemy here. Is it nature itself, with its brutish tornado wreaking havoc on his city? Or is it the poor sharks innocently caught up in the local weather? When the denouement comes — all chainsaws and gore — there’s a striking set piece notable both for its ridiculousness and its unforgettable imagery. It sort of makes you wonder why surfers don’t fend off shark attacks with a chainsaw.

Yes, it’s B-movie schlock and its laughs come from the straight-laced approach to its ridiculousness. It’s a triumph of imagination over execution, certainly. You’ll laugh at all the wrong places. You’ll cringe at the lines delivered. But it is an empty kind of enjoyment. With announcements having been made about producing a sequel, the question of how to better Sharknado must be one of special effects than storyline as the premise is quite rigid. The team behind this are probably already thinking they are going to need a bigger budget.

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