Cinema Review: The Conjuring

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DIR: James Wan • WRI: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes  PRO: Rob Cowan, Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran DOP: John R. Leonetti  ED: Kirk M. Morri  DES: Julie Berghoff • CAST: Stuart Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston

It’s 1971, and Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga) are psychic investigators travelling the country and lecturing about the strange things they’ve seen. Lorrain is a clairvoyant and Ed a non-priest exorcist, and though they happily explain many of their investigations as nothing but squeaky floor boards and gurgling pipes, journalists and audiences are still skeptical about everything else – and their most famous case in Amityville is still in the future.

 

Elsewhere, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Livingston and Taylor) and their cute five daughters have moved into a big ‘ol house – and one of the first things they do is find a sealed basement, and wonder why the family dog growls and won’t go in the front door: not good signs.

 

Soon enough, Carolyn is waking up with unexplained bruises, the kids are being pulled out of bed, there are strange noises all over the place, and all the signs are there that something is haunting the house from basement to attic – but it’s much worse than that.

 

Desperate, Carolyn goes to see the Warrens and begs them for help. As soon as they arrive, Lorraine sees a dark presence surrounding the family members and knows they’re marked: but which person will this devil choose to possess?

 

Needing permission from the Vatican for an exorcism, they return armed with cameras and all sorts of equipment, and the knowledge that this was the home of a witch who sacrificed her own child before hanging herself from the tree outside – only now it’s too late for any help to arrive…

 

With the added frisson of being based on true events, this genuinely frightening and entertaining horror story harkens back to the classic domestic period horrors like The Exorcist and Poltergeist (and even the recent Woman In Black), but also brings the styles of The Blair Witch Project and even Paranormal Activity into play.

 

Australian-Malaysian director Wan cut his teeth on the original Saw and also helmed Insidious, and his innovative, tight skills – including some long tracking shots, upside-down swivels and shots where we see right into rooms and down corridors – reduces the need for cheap cut-aways that make you jump, and keeps you in the house, ratcheting up the tension.

 

 

Those jumpy moments are still here of course, but the horror is much more of the creeping, crawling kind: opening doors, banging windows, stopping clocks, rocking chairs – and it makes it more effective when the ghosts do briefly appear. In fact, when the person is possessed it’s even more terrifying – we’ve been in the house with them the whole time.

 

The writers also eschew heavy blood and gore, and show that a horror film can be made without the need for excessive violence. Less is more, and it’s always much more frightening in what you can’t see – at times, some of the child actors (all of them excellent) seem genuinely terrified.

 

It’s a high-end cast too, which helps as well. Farmiga does a great job, and Taylor – a “what is her name?” actress you recognize from things as diverse as Hemlock Grove, Six Feet UnderI Shot Andy Warhol and even Say Anything – gives a star turn (yes, in a horror movie).

 

James Bartlett

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details) 

112 mins
The Conjuring is released on 2nd August 2013

The Conjuring  – Official Website

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DVD Review: Source Code

DIR: Duncan Jones • WRI: Ben Ripley • PRO: Mark Gordon, Philippe Rousselet, Jordan Wynn • DOP: Don Burgess • ED: Paul Hirsch • DES: Barry Chusid • Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga

It ain’t going to be film of the year but it is definitely worth a look. There are some narrative flaws but Duncan Jones’ sci-fi thriller is very much engaging and explores some very interesting concepts, for example the manner in which it addresses some major issues of humanity, free will and identity. These issues are explored utilizing the central character, a soldier named Colter Stevens who is played by Jake Gyllenhaal. We learn that he has been thrust into an operation that he was forced into. The chemistry between Stevens and Christina played nicely by Michelle Monaghan made for some believable romantic moments and provided a way for us to learn more about Stevens aside from the complex, intense and crazy situation he has been planted in.

What irritated me slightly about the film is that it seemed in some ways just like a real star vehicle for Jake Gyllenhaal, however his performance is impressive and he is extremely likeable from the first scene until the complex ending, which I will not elaborate on. He wakes up in the body of another man, who seems to be just a regular guy. He is informed that he is part of a mission to source the culprit of a bomb attack on a Chicago train by becoming a passenger on that train for the last eight minutes before it blows up and to try and find the bomber so that further attacks can be prevented. He looks like himself to us but when he looks at his reflection he sees that he is in fact in another man’s body and is sitting opposite a young woman who is blissfully unaware that he is anything but this other man.
One of the main things I enjoyed about the film was the witty dialogue. The encounters that Stevens (Gyllenhaal) has with passengers made for some light-hearted humourous moments, which were badly needed given the intensity and confusion of the other part of the film, as Stevens tries to complete the mission through a simulation program called the ‘source code’ that allows him to jump in and out of a man’s body for the last eight minutes of a train journey before a bomb goes off while simultaneously trying to process how exactly any of it is possible.

One of the negatives of the film was the portrayal of Dr. Rutledge, the man who conceived of the ‘source code’ by Jeffrey Wright. He was far too mad scientist and the mystery around him and the details of his operation diluted the potential of the film as a whole as it was poor plot development.

Worth watching, perhaps not if you are very tired or hungover as you will just have no idea what is going on… A treat for Jake Gyllenhaal fans though for certain!

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary with Jake Gyllenhaal, director Duncan Jones and writer Ben Ripley
  • Cast and crew insights
  • Focal points
  • Expert Intel – The Science Behind Source Code
  • Access Source Code: Trivia track

Órla Walshe

Source Code is availabe on DVD on 18th August 2011

  • Number of discs: 2
  • Classification: 12
  • Studio: Optimum Home Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: 15 Aug 2011

 

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Up in the Air

Up In The Air

DIR: Jason Reitman • WRI: Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner • PRO: Jeffrey Clifford, Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman • DOP: Eric Steelberg • ED: Dana E. Glauberman • DES: Steve Saklad • CAST: George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey

Another Jason Reitman movie, another slick awards contender. Up in the Air, just his third directorial feature, has been building some serious buzz in Hollywood celebratory circles since it premiered at Telluride last year. Only this time, instead of tobacco lobbyists or hip pregnant teenagers, Reitman’s latest focuses on the dysphoria of the current economic climate, the dislocation of modern man. Sounds like a winning formula, right? It doesn’t hurt that George Clooney stars in a role tailor-made for his specific talents: he pours himself into it with the precision of a fully-automated Nespresso machine – potent and pleasing – but a little predictable, much like the film itself.

Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a corporate downsizing expert who flies around the country calmly and efficiently firing employees from companies that no longer require their services. He also moonlights giving seminars outlining the benefits of living a baggage-free existence. ‘Make no mistake, your relationships are the heaviest components on your life’, he tells his audience – for Bingham keeping your distance and severing ties with family, friends and lovers is the key to living well. He’s suave. In control. This guy is just asking for something to come along and turn his world upside down, and alas it does; not one, but two dynamic women threatened to break open his ‘cocoon of isolation and banishment’. The poor fella might have to learn to keep his feet on the ground.

Bingham first meets Alex Goran, a fellow (female) high-powered frequent flier, played by the effortless Vera Farmiga, with whom he instantly hits it off after catching her eye at a plush stopover bar. Their form of flirtation involves comparing loyalty club cards and exchanging elitist double-entendres, before hitting the hotel room. Slightly intimidating, she’s different from most women he’s encountered in the past – apparently unconcerned with settling down, and motivated by status. ‘Just think of me as you with a vagina’, she assures him over the phone when he’s unsure of how to sensitively proceed. Meanwhile, a motor-mouth young executive named Natalie Green (rising actress Anna Kendrick) arrives in his boardroom to shake things up at the corporation. Fresh from Cornell, she introduces a scheme to eradicate the need for travel in the company and instead fire people via teleconferencing. Concerned that this might hinder the humanity of the process (but more concerned with consolidating his position), Ryan offers to take her along on the job, to learn a thing or two before she re-structures the whole enterprise and he has say goodbye to flying high.

Once these conceits are in place, the film finds a nice rhythm and sharp spectacle, as you’d expect from a production of this calibre. There are plenty of laughs, mainly thanks to Kendrick’s uptight dramatics sparking off Clooney’s calm reserve. Bingham reveals to her his goal to reach 10 million air mile bonus, to which she replies, ‘That’s it? You’re saving just to save?’. There’s a wonderful scene in which Clooney, Fermiga and Kendrick discuss relationships and commitment – the dynamic between a yuppie and the apparently content corporate high-fliers she pertains to one day be is very engaging.

Despite being written a year before the global economic downturn, the film does tap into the sense of despair currently felt by the American people. As Clooney fires a succession of decent folks who crumble to pieces at the news – these scenes are all the more effective with the knowledge that those made redundant are not played by professional actors, but by the actual recently unemployed. It gives the film a certain credibility…then again, it also highlights the reality that these multi-millionaire actors are coercing a reaction from ‘ordinary’ people for the benefit of their own elite product…within the realm of this story however, it works.

Unfortunately the film loses steam as it approaches the third act – the characters try to reassess their values and become more intimate, but the hollowness of the story shows through. Kendrick’s trilling becomes more irritating than endearing and Clooney’s conviction more monotone – yet Farmiga remains consistently compelling and is one of the film’s more worthwhile appeals. Sensing a deeper connection with Alex, Ryan takes what he sees as a huge step and invites her to his somewhat homely sister’s wedding. However, set against these ordinary characters, our leads seem more like caricatures, and the choice of switching to handheld digital for the entire wedding montage is very stylistically jarring.

In the end the film satisfies, but not as completely as it could – it’s a shame because for the most part Reitman deftly strikes the balance between sleek satire and genuine pathos. Certain reversals however are not adequately built up or elaborated to achieve the emotional response Reitman wants and the audience deserves. Ultimately, this is entertainment with plenty to recommend it but not much to truly remember. If you ever watch it in-flight you may start to forget it once you reach your destination.

Eoghan McQuinn
(See biog here)

Rated 15A (See IFCO website for details)
Up in the Air is released on 15th January 2010

Up in the Air – Official Website

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Orphan

Orphan

DIR: Jaume Collet-Serra • WRI: David Johnson • PRO: Leonardo DiCaprio, Susan Downey, Jennifer Davisson Killoran, Joel Silver • DOP: Jeff Cutter • ED: Timothy Alverson • DES: Tom Meyer • CAST: Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, Isabelle Fuhrman, CCH Pounder.

Orphan is a remarkable thriller, one of the most sadistic to hit the cinemas in a long time. There have been so many evil children movies that it’s hard for one to set itself apart. This bizarre mix of ridiculous schlock and intense family drama is difficult to swallow but never fails to entertain.

The Coleman family are introduced as a picture-perfect American family. A beautiful house in Connecticut, beautiful parents Kate and John and beautiful children Daniel and Maxine. Kate had recently suffered a stillbirth and in order to soothe that pain, they decide to adopt a child. They find a perfect addition to their family in a local orphanage in the form of beautiful, creative, charming Esther, a 9-year-old Russian girl. However, soon after they bring her home they start to notice some strange things about Esther.

What happens next is a series of nasty events that divide the family. The sense of ‘other’ surrounding Esther allows the audience to believe that John could keep excusing suspicious events and slowly but surely start to believe that Kate has gone mad. Esther wears strange clothes, speaks with a foreign accent and has different mannerisms to her American counterparts. This sense of ‘otherness’ is most evident with respect to the Coleman’s eldest child Daniel. He is disgusted with Esther and refuses to tolerate her quirks. Immediately a division is caused in the family.

The remarkable thing about this film is the sense of unease created by domestic dramas. The veneer of perfection at the beginning quickly starts to peel away. The resultant family drama acts as a wonderful way to build tension, as if a murderous child isn’t enough.

The third act is where things start to get really weird! Esther’s true intentions are revealed to the shock of the audience and there’s a killer twist, which in some ways explains the outrageousness of the events of the film.

This film is genuinely creepy with some delightful gore and an ice-cold colour palette that suits the tone of the film really well. The filmmakers clearly went to great pains to create a clinical and very polished world within the film. The design of the Coleman family home brings to mind 1980s David Cronenberg with its grave austerity and chilling lack of comfort. Apart from visually, the film also delivers at a stern, smooth pace. It moves slowly, but never at the expense of entertainment or drama. At almost two and a half hours, this is a slow-burner, but one that ultimately pays off as it reaches its climax.

From the stunning opening sequence to its very bizarre conclusion, this is a striking film, but be sure to check your disbelief in at the door as this is one preposterous story! Ultimately, it is enjoyable and boasts some fantastic performances from its leads particularly a 12-year-old Isabelle Fuhrman who, I must say, must have very obliging parents to allow her to play this extremely risky role. If you want a good slow-burning thriller, there’s a lot to like about Orphan. However, be warned: it gets very, very strange.

Charlene Lydon
(See biog here)


Rated 16 (See IFCO website for details)
Orphan is released on 7th August 2009

Orphan – Official Website

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