REVIEW: The Conjuring

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The Conjuring
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes (screenplay)
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston

The Conjuring is a legitimately frightening movie without taking the gory (i.e. easy) way out.  It is at once an ode to ’70s horror like The Exorcist or Suspiria and a clever subversion of the modern “found footage” sub-genre.  The movie is so well-edited and pieced together that other people in the theater I was in shrieked and squirmed in an almost equally convincing manner as the characters.

There are two main families at play here, though the Perrons do a bulk of the screaming.  They are a beacon of working class stability, and director James Wan makes it quite clear from the beginning how temporary that is for them as they take up residence in a secluded old house.  He stalks the parents and their five daughters through the moving-in process, giving us a sense of their familial rituals while also hinting at how the script (by Chad and Carey Hayes) will later use that against them.  ,

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REVIEW: Young Adult

Young Adult
Directed by: Jason Reitman
Written by: Diablo Cody (screenplay)
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson and Collette Wolf

Mavis Gary is one of the most fully realized movie characters in recent memory, and certainly of 2011.  In the span of Young Adult’s 90 minutes, Diablo Cody’s writing, Jason Reitman’s directing and Charlize Theron’s acting fuse together seamlessly to show us her demented, delusional inner workings.

In an early scene, Mavis is going to meet up with an old flame from high school named Buddy (Patrick Wilson).  She enters this small town bar with a tight, skimpy black outfit.  As she looks around the bar, judging every other patron there, the camera shifts to a POV shot as if asking us to judge them too.  When the waiter comes to her table, she rudely tells him to take back the silverware and bring her a drink. Buddy enters, and she lights up with a grotesque fakeness that she dons almost as often as her snide glare.

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ARCHIVE REVIEW: Hard Candy

Hard Candy
Directed by: David Slade
Written by: Brian Nelson (screenplay)
Starring: Ellen Page, Patrick Wilson, Sandra Oh, and Odessa Rae

Frankenstein’s Monster has taken many forms since its inception in Mary Shelley’s novel.  A monument to its creator’s sins, the original incantation runs amok strangling and killing villagers; he is never spoken of by the doctor, and that is the source of his madness. Hard Candy reminded me of Frankenstein at its core, but it wears its film influences a little lighter.

Connoisseurs of horror will immediately draw parallels to the gruesome if meditative late 90s Japanese horror film Audition, but many will go straight for a teen version of Saw.  Hard Candy is all of these, and at the same time stakes a territory of its own. 

Ellen Page takes on one of the riskiest roles a budding teen actress can take in this industry: an interesting one.  She plays Hayley Stark, a seemingly flirtatious young girl who chats with an older man named Jeff (Patrick Wilson) on the internet and arranges a meet-up. The initial scenes focus on their Meet Cute, but here it would be more aptly titled a Meet Creepy. 

After going back to their apartment and consuming screwdrivers and exchanging further banter, the horror thrills start to set in.  Audition was a caustic, meditative look at subtle sexism’s festering beneath the surface of Japanese culture.  Hard Candy would be its rampaging, American id.  Though no single scene in this film is more violent than the climax of Audition, the tension is ratcheted up constantly, extending the Japanese film’s third act to fill nearly an entire film.

Because it’s so long, we see through the now-thinly veiled layers of psychosis in Hayley.  Page expertly keeps audience members guessing, and her performance rotates between justifiable anger and sheer madness.  We as viewers want to sympathize with her at first, and it is in that constant back-and-forth loyalty that director David Slade finds his momentum.  Choosing allegiances in a film has rarely been so difficult, and ultimately, pointless.  That is the point.

Hayley claims to be taking vengeance for all the girls Jeff has harmed.  With a palette of enhanced colors (especially the reds), she wanders this pedophile filmmaker’s house exposing his every secret with glee.  These are the best scenes because they are effective at turning the tables without going too far, which Hard Candy inevitably does.

I suppose you could read this movie as a comment on the torture porn boom, one where those filmmakers are pedophiles and screenwriter Brian Nelson is the avenging angel.  In most of these movies, Hayley would be the victim.  The movie doesn’t play that trick tongue-in-cheek, and as a result starts to overstay its welcome even clocking in under 2 hours.

You’d think a man would learn his lesson after being castrated, but alas, she must go take a shower and allow him time to realize what’s actually happened to him, escape and continue the movie for more now-pointless rounds of torture.

That faux castration scene is played to such precision that the pointlessness is even further emphasized.  Slade structures the scene like the rest of the film, sequences unfolding in real time broken up by time lapses, but his control here is more measured.  He keeps the scene moving by doing several creative pans that don’t go to the other side of the room, but to a completely different angle.  You’ll start by surveying Jeff’s bound body from the side, and a pan will take you over Hayley’s shoulder to see his front.

The varying perspectives in these shots bring up another point that needs to be made: there are no varying perspectives in the characters.  Slade’s directing is completely competent, even semi-nuanced given the story, but the screenplay doesn’t dig deep enough.  This is a revenge parable whose motives don’t make us sympathize enough with Hayley to justify her brutal means.  She symbolizes something, and that is meant to be enough, but it isn’t.

Those faults aside, Hard Candy is an overall success because the actors transport us into a flawed world.  Wilson plays Jeff as a man with no options that garners sympathy because of what is happening to him and not who he is.  Though not a lot of blood is spilled (none, really), the film can come off as too much.  That is the work of a skilled director who was ultimately just doing his job.

Page and Wilson weren’t just doing this for the paycheck, because roles like these are risky.  Page, as we all know, went on to critical fame to play Juno, another teen with word vomit who is pursued by an older man.  She handles that one a little more tongue-in-cheek.

Grade: B-

ARCHIVE REVIEW: Watchmen

Watchmen
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: David Hayter & Alex Zse (screenplay), Alan Moore (graphic novel)
Starring: Jackie Earle Haley, Patrick Wilson, Malin Ackerman, and Billy Crudup

You must give credit where credit is due: Zack Snyder knows which graphic novels to adapt to the screen.  300 was his claim to highly stylized fame, and now with Watchmen, he tackles perhaps the most important graphic novel of all time.  Of course it won’t live up to the source material, even when/especially because he sticks to it almost frame for frame.

Why storyboard when it’s already been done for you?  This appears to be the only original question Snyder poses.  His source material must do all the talking, because he is concerned with stylistic bloodshed by the gallons.  As he did in 300, he lets his characters run rampant within the frame, leaving nothing- violent or sexual -to the imagination.

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