Film ReviewNoelKrista

Krista: I will first get one gripe out of the way. There are two female supporting characters who fit too easily into the binary categories of ‘slut’ and ‘pure’. I’d like to say that it’s a self-aware critique of the way social perceptions entrap anyone, but the women are simply there to either support or motivate the action, leaving boyhood friendship dynamics as the central theme. Unfortunately, the female characters felt expendable.

Noel: The female characters are very much up in the air, shallow, and abstracted concepts that are thinly fleshed out. As you pointed out, they are little more than unimaginative props that work around the murder mystery plot. Thematically, they don’t make much sense and come across as half-baked (at best).

K: Does it work on the crime-thriller level? Being a two-hour film it’s over-long. If it were to rely on the ‘suspense’ of its ‘whodunnit’ plot, the solution is pretty obvious early on, given the shortage of suspects.

N: I loved the bits where the film became a sort of Carry-On Demon. I loved the scene with the doctor and the nurse. These moments were funny, poignant, and had a point to make. They reminded me of early John Landis films: light, campy, and with something interesting to say, extremely tongue-in-cheek.

K: The premise is inherently comical and the film embraces that for a while. It then seems to swing between bitter-sweet sentimental extended flashbacks and the ridiculous. The tone feels unsettled. The film was at its best when it was indulging the ridiculous streak. I wanted more of the shamelessly over-the-top parts and less of the cringe-inducing Richard Marx doing Hazard vibe which firmly entrenched the woman in a sentimentally teary haze. The more delightful parts reminded me of Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981). In that film the community-pariah was excluded for a crime he didn’t commit, revenge transformed him into a monster. (On a side note: the soundtrack features a great music selection.)

N: The film started off well but then it didn’t seem to know where to go next. It resorted to a clichéd approach—seemingly, director Alexandre Aja’s preferred way of doing things. He started off as one of the bad boy French directors—High Tension (2003) was daring in many ways. Few films had dared to empower women with so much savagery as he did. Then he embarked on two remakes that are more miss than hit, Mirrors (2008) and Piranha 3D (2010). Both of them share the run-of-the-mill, textbook scare-by-numbers approach as Horns.

K: Verdict? Like you, I enjoyed the over-the-top aspect interrupted by the over-earnestness in the overly extended flashback sequences that were too drastic a change of tone.

N: I see it as a missed opportunity. This film could have been really good if only the filmmakers had the guts to pursue its campy, mischievous premise.

K: Agreed.


You’re Next — Film Review


A home-invasion movie with the possible tag-line ‘they got more than they bargained for’. No, it’s not Home Alonethough you may be forgiven for thinking that.

From part of the team that gave us V/H/S, You’re Next bears Adam Wingard’s trademark playful-violent stamp (think Home Alone’s cartoonish violence, with lethal contraptions thrown in). Wingard makes an appearance in both V/H/S and as himself in his segment for The ABCs of Death (‘Q’); though he doesn’t appear in You’re Next, the latter film incorporates a characteristically self-conscious knowing wink, featuring writer Simon Barrett and fellow film-makers Ti West and Joe Swanberg in supporting roles — Ti West’s Tariq introducing himself as a ‘documentary film-maker’, with high ‘intellectual’ (and short-lived) aspirations.

Adam Wingard self-consciously plays with conventions, without quite overturning expectations. The ‘final girl’ slasher convention is here taken a little further, Sharni Vinson’s Erin is not a scream queen fleeing danger, with a dash of luck on her side, she is resourceful and an equal match for the ‘invaders’. The villains’ usual resistance to death is here transferred to a less likely character, in a ‘why won’t you hurry up and die already?’ moment that is brilliantly played up for comic effect.

Little nods to other home-invasion movies frame particular moments: such as an animal-masked figuresimultaneously disconcertingly jarring and ridiculoussitting on a couch beside a propped-up dead body in an upper-middle class setting, for a quiet Funny Games pause in the action, with an added cartoonish element.

The generally fast-paced action is spaced out with moments of tension, and an effective balance is struck between the danger trying to penetrate into the space of the family/parents’ home, and the danger already ‘within’.

The ‘home’ itself is a newly-acquired house, territory as unfamiliar to the family and guests as it is to the uninvited invadersnot quite lived in, not quite a ‘home’ yet, just as the family-relations are themselves characterised by awkwardness. While lessening the terror that stems from the violation of a warm and safely welcoming homely space, this accentuates the unsettling absence of refuge for the characters, with vulnerable interior–exterior boundaries.

With two striking exceptions, death scenes were disappointingly standard. The premise and set-up of the movie could easily have led to more inventive devices. You’re Next is slasher, home invasion, and murder mystery, all rolled into one; yet, it remains firmly and respectfully within genre conventions. Nothing wrong with thisI’m not about to make any apologies for a genre I have so much affection for. Yet, there is a lingering sense of an opportunity missedWingard’s self-awareness and sense of the ridiculous gives a glimpse for greater potential here restrained.


The Conjuring — Film Review

Film ReviewNoelKrista

Krista: James Wan’s film is irresponsible for its appalling suggestion that the Salem witch hunt was somehow a justifiable massacre. The dead earnestness of those who ‘inspired’ it makes me shudder. The ‘true story’ malarkey is common in horror taglines but this movie seems more earnest about those credentials by basing its characters on real people.

Noel: You’ve got a point there. Even though the story revolves around female characters, most of them are either ghosts or victims. The true menace is motherhood itself. Even Annabelle the doll exploits maternal instinct to haunt its hosts. The ghost of the witch, despite being after the children, first possesses the mother then tries to make her kill the child.

K: Are you suggesting that the film distorts the maternal instinct?

N: Yes, as far as the witch’s ghost is concerned. That is why it tries to corrupt the other mothers. The males simply orbit.

K: That’s another thing: how seriously does it take itself? There’s the playfulness one associates with a Wan film, especially references to other horror movies, such as The Evil Dead (‘groovy’). Wan is a horro fan who indulges in it for its own sake.

N: I found The Conjuring very dark in tone, compared to Insidious, his previous ghost film. The geeky paranormal researchers play a less central role.

K: How does the motherhood bond in The Conjuring compare to the fatherhood bond in Insidious?

N: The fatherhood bond is tenuous there. The mother is most worried about their haunted son.

K: You are right about the mother being the emotional centre and her level of concern in Insidious. However, the problem originates from the father, who passes on the legacy of astral projection. And it’s the father who rescues the son. I thought the mother-son relationship was more peripheral. She tries to influence events but isn’t a moving force.

N: Off on a tangent: James Wan is such a good filmmaker. He’s confident and knows exactly what he wants to get across without resorting to boo! gimmickry. The scariest bits in the film happen with a static camera and no cuts. Just mise-en-scène — a visually artful way of telling a story. For example, the bedroom scene with the two sisters. One of them points at a ghost that is never seen. Since we’re watching a horror film, we know it’s there. And Wan sustains the scene long enough to get under our skin. Brilliant!

K: That’s true. Though in terms of unexpected shifts, these do occur often. Take that ‘odd’ devil scene in Insidious where it feels like a different horror subgenre. There are these shifts in tone and style in The Conjuring too, but it is more consistent than Insidious overall.

N: Insidious is simply superb up until the ‘ghostbusters’ appear; then it becomes goofy.

K: Though I’d take any Lin Shaye character over the Warrens.

N: I am with you on Wan’s playful approach. Honestly, I’d love to see a ‘mature’ James Wan film through and through. Given the right script, he would make a great film. Krista, could we say that The Conjuring is a second take at Insidious?

K: I agree with what you said when we came out of the cinema — that it refers back to his earlier film. Though I still prefer Insidious, because of those jarring shifts from subtle to unsubtle, which are tricky to pull off, but
somehow work. The Conjuring is certainly more polished, but I cannot quite see it as more ‘mature’ than Insidious, mainly because of its political irresponsibility.