July 30, 2013

The Conjuring (2013)

(aka James Wan Does it Again.)
Release Date: In Theaters now.
Country: USA.
Written by: Chad and Carey Hayes.
Directed by: James Wan.
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick WIlson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston and an incredibly creepy doll named Annabelle.

We wanted to have this review up the weekend of the 19th; you know, when The Conjuring actually opened, but someone amongst us dragged their feet and made us wait... All I'm going to say is that she think she cute, but making us wait an extra week to see this movie is not cute. Alright, maybe It's kinda cute, but not like, totally cute.

Anywho, it wasn't our fault.

The Conjuring tells one of the many stories of Ed and Lorraine Warren; you know, the infamous ghost-busting couple who were involved with the real life Amityville Horror case. Many have since claimed the whole Amityville Haunting thing to be a hoax, siting that eyewitness accounts and forensic evidence just don't back up the claims of the Warren's or the Lutz family, for that matter.

True, not true, the Warren's efforts have at the very least given us some entertaining films over the years, both with the Amityville flicks, and the endless number of Haunting flicks that they inspired, which let's face it, are nearly endless.

Now it's James Wan's turn to give us a brand spanking new tale of haunting fright from the Warren's case files, and let me tell you that with The Conjuring, the guy has made a film that is every bit as compelling as The Amityville Horror.

 
In 1971, the Perron family moves into a creepy old farmhouse in Rhode Island, apparently to live the middle class dream of the 70's. Right away we truly feel a sense of terror for the Husband, because he's living in a house with a wife and five young daughters... which means he's pretty much never going to get his way or win an argument. Poor bastard.

We couldn't help but feel bad for the poor kids either...
There's also a bunch of ghosts living in the house with them, worst amongst them a particularly pissed off ghost of a Witch (Bathsheba) who long ago killed herself for the greater glory of Satan... and that bitch right there is still trying to kill a bunch of kids to appease her dark Lord's will. I didn't know that Witches were into Satan, but, whatever.

"There are Witch feet behind me, aren't there?"
With more and more creepy shit happening to the Perron clan, they seek out the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, because in the 70's there weren't a lot of people to turn to when ghosts were trying to kill your family. The Warren's agree to help the Perron's, and it's not long before all of them look like they're going to end up dead, because Bathsheba is a vindictive bitch.

Ssh, ssh. Just let it happen.
 
James Wan knows how to make an effective Horror movie, and right now he's doing it better than just about anyone else in the genre. The Conjuring isn't perfect, nor does it in anyway feel original, but that doesn't mean that it's not compelling as hell, and that it doesn't deliver the goods on just about every level.

This is nowhere near the scariest movie I've ever seen (could be because I'm a bit desensitized to it all at this point), but it does create a tense atmosphere and delivers some pretty good scares throughout. The sound editing plays a big part in said atmosphere and scare factor, as the movie knows exactly when to be loud or dead silent.

The main reason that The Conjuring works though, is because the of the story; the characters are really likable and the actors bring them to life in such a way that you can't help but become invested in them. It also helps that the story that they inhabit is a strong one too. Not once do James Wan or his writers condescend to their audience, and give them some half-assed jump scare bullshit that is so prevalent in Horror flicks these days, nor does the movie's plot ever feel forced for the sake of pulling off more gags.

This is just a great Haunted House flick, period. James Wan has a knack for creating films with a great and believable atmosphere, and The Conjuring might just be his greatest Horror offering yet.

That creepy 'effing doll!
I wish I could wholeheartedly believe that everything Ed and Lorraine Warren claim to be true, actually happened. As a lover of all things Horror, I do my best to shut of my brain and just accept it all as "shit that really happened," because it just makes for a more fun movie watching experience. The logical part of me however just can't come to grips with the idea that things like this happen, and happen as frequently as these "based on a true story" movies would have you believe.

Then again I don't believe in Vampires exist, or that Zombies are ever going to rise from the grave and eat humanity to extinction, but I absolutely buy into both concepts, so I digress.

These people are way too good looking to be ghost nerds.
 I've seen some reviews of The Conjuring, both "Professional" and by moviegoers, that say things like "this movie offers us nothing new" or "It's no scarier than a Scooby Doo cartoon" and it vexes me.

Now, I'm all for opinion. Everyone has one, and they tend to differ wildly on most occasions. For an average movie fan to say something like "I've seen it done before" or "It wasn't even scary at all" is fine, because maybe they just didn't like it, or feel it. Not everyone is going to like everything. Fine.

For "Professional" reviewers though, that shit is inexcusable. If you're a pro, you have to know already that there are few totally fresh ideas on old themes that ever make it to film form anymore, simply because so many have already been explored, most of them ad-nasuem. Furthermore, if you're going to review a Horror movie on your site (or wherever), then have someone who actually likes the genre do the review for you; not so that they're kinder to the movie, but so that you readers can read a review that comes from someone who has a respect for the genre, which will actually make the review more honest. I'm not interested in hearing what a vegetarian thinks about the new steak place down the street, because they don't like fucking steak to begin with, so why would I care what they have to say about it?

The negative reviews of The Conjuring that I've seen all feel to me like they were written by people who think Horror is the bastard genre of the film world (which it kinda is), and that they were just not all that enthused about it from the get go. I can completely understand that. You don't see me running around reviewing Adam Sandler flicks, because as unfunny as that guy is, my review would mostly consist of me taking a shit on my keyboard, and little else. What I'm saying is, I'm not the guy to be reviewing his flicks, or other cheap, shitty, unoriginal comedies like them, because I'm already set up to hate them (because I really don't like shitty movies.)

I could be way off base here (I'm not), but this is just something that rubs me the wrong way.

There are more dead birds and bruises in this movie than there is bloodshed, but that's not to say that there isn't plenty of disturbing imagery to be had here. It's just not a gore-fest, that's all.

No, and we can understand why, but what a waste of Vera Farmiga's hotness. I mean, at least show her butt in a thong, or something, you know?

You don't need me to tell you to go see this, but I will anyhow: Go see it.

If you like a good Haunted House flick, it doesn't get much better than this. Tight direction, a near perfect sound mix, gorgeous cinematography, top notch acting from all involved, and a pretty compelling story, The Conjuring is an all around great movie that uses every bit of its near two-hour running time to great effect.

Oh, and let us not forget about the doll. Annabelle is a thing of creepy perfection, and will pretty much haunt your dreams forever. Especially if you're a girl, small child, or a very timid man.

A

We're not saying that Vera Farmiga is a dirty whore or anything, we're just saying that some people* out there wish she was, because, yum. *Not us though, we're too classy for that.

July 26, 2013

10 Found Footage/POV flicks done right


We've covered 10 Found Footage flicks (in the post below) that we thought dropped the POV ball, so it's only fair that we talk about 10 FF flicks that got it right, right?

If you like the whole "reality" thing in your Horror flicks, then the movies below are where you need to start. Some are fun, some are quietly eerie, and some are just downright panic-inducing, but all of them work on different levels, and to differing degrees.

*To read through our original reviews of these flicks, just click their respective posters.They'll give you a much more specific breakdown of each movie, plus, they're a fun read.

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Blair Witch pretty much started the whole modern day Found Footage trend, which the Paranormal Activity films took to new heights (at least in a Box Office/Successful Franchise kinda way.)

The creepiest of this bunch? That's a tough one. Home Movie is pretty superb at making the skin crawl, but the last 20 minutes or so of Megan is Missing is some of the most harrowing footage we've ever endured. [REC] (and it's superior sequel [REC2])is no slouch in the fright department either, then again neither are Evil Things or The Tunnel.

Lake Mungo packs a totally different type of scare punch than the other films on this list, but it's no less haunting. In its own way, it may be the best of these movies. Like I said, it's really hard to say.

The Troll Hunter is probably our fave here, because it's just so much damned fun and fresh, and along with Monsters, might fell like it's the most "real" of the group. Not as scary, mind you, but tonally realistic.

My advice is to see them all. Read through the reviews, and just pick one, depending on which one sounds like it will fit your mood at the time.

No matter which way you go, the movies on this list will at least expose you to the "good" side of the Found Footage sub-genre, and will give you the adrenaline rush that you seek. Flaws withstanding, they stick to the tropes that they should be sticking to, and they never feel like cheap cheaters, or false.

Really, what more can we ask for?


July 25, 2013

10 Found Footage/POV flicks done wrong

Having just finished watching the new Found Footage Horror flick, Evidence, we decided that we needed to stop and take a measure of the hot new "go-to" sub-genre in Horror.

The idea of Horror going all Cinema Verite' began way back in the 1980 with Cannibal Holocaust, but it wasn't until a little flick called The Blair Witch Project came along that everything changed. BWP proved that you don't need millions of dollars to make an effective movie, although to be fair, it was a fresh new idea for a Horror flick at the time, and that's part of why it became so mega huge. I wonder how it would play if it were released today.

Since BWP, there have been an ever growing number of Found Footage flicks that have tried to capture that same magic, and in recent years, it seems as if they're multiplying like Tribbles.

Most of them are not very good.

Below we have 10 examples of Hand Held/POV/Found Footage/Cinema Verite Horror flicks that we've watched, reviewed, and pretty much hated. *Click the posters to check each film's original review.

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So what makes for a bad Found Footage movie, Horror or otherwise?

Well, for a FF/POV flick to work, the audience needs to buy into the story, get sucked into it's creepy atmosphere, relate to and care about the characters on some level, and the ride has to be thrilling and effective. Same goes for any type of movie, really, but with FF, the ante is upped in those departments. Oh, and if it ends for shit, it kills anything good that may have come before, so that's important too. 

-First and foremost, is believability. If you're going to sell us on the idea that your film is a real document of real horrific events, can you at least try to include some realism in there somewhere? With films like this, you have to be able to suck your audience in, and make them believe that what they're seeing is, or at least could be, real.

In this sub-genre, every premise is basically the same; a small group of friends heads out to some remote place or abandoned location to either party, or investigate something, and are never seen again. Fine, that's kinda the point, but can you at least give us something a little bit different in the set up department? Take The Troll Hunter for example; the filmmakers took what should have been a ridiculous story (by title alone), and made it feel real, because they took the time to construct a believable plot structure. Not once did I think, "this is ridiculous," and that's why that movie worked.

-Characters are important too. If you can't make your characters likable (or at the very least, tolerable) within the first ten minutes of the movie, what happens to them from there on out ceases to matter. Too many characters in FF/POV flciks (and Horror in general) are such completely moronic assholes, that it distracts us from the point of the film itself. Take the recent V/H/S/2 for example; in the last segment titled "Slumber Party Alien Abduction", the kids are so obnoxious and hateable, that we no longer cared what happened to any of them. Tension comes from identifying and caring, and at the point where you start rooting for the evil forces to kill the protagonists, a movie anchored in supposed reality loses its point for existing.

Which brings us to...

-The fact that these characters, who are thrust into truly horrifying and potential deadly circumstances, have the presence of mind to film everything that happens to and around them. Why are they still recording? Aside from the movie depending on it, why are these everyday "real" people recording every step they take during such traumatic and chaotic events? Use the camera for light, use it as a weapon, or drop it, but to try and sell me on the idea that the average person would film things movie-style under those circumstances is nothing more than a cheap cop out.

-Shaky Cam is rarely a fun thing to endure. Bouncing, frenetic, back and forth camera movements may fit in with the "reality" of a movie, but too much of it can be jarring. I really think that one big reason for the success of the Paranormal Activity films is that the camera is stationary, thus making things not only less vomit-inducing, but far more plausible. Over-use of Shaky Cam absolutely killed Seventh Moon for us, which otherwise was a pretty cool little movie.

-Nothing kills a film quicker than a shitty ending. Stop with the crazy twists, the jump scare/cut to black thing, and by all means do not have your ending negate the previous 90 minutes of your film. You know how to end a Found Footage flick effectively? Shit just cuts off, that''s how. If you don't have a wrap segment in which someone finds or is viewing the FF, then it's absolutely logical that at some point, whatever someone is recording is just going to stop abruptly.

Most FF flicks are made on the cheap by newer filmmakers and amateur casts, so you go into them expecting a certain lack of quality or finesse. A solid, believable story with relateable characters and an effective atmosphere can makes things like bad acting and limited budget a non-issue though.

With a little more care, some of these bad examples of the Found Footage sub-genre could easily become good ones, or at the very least, tolerable ones.

So there is a quick rundown of the problems that we find in a lot of Found Footage flicks, and 10 examples of movies that just plain get it wrong.

Next, we'll give you 10 examples of FF flicks that get it right, so see you in a bit...


July 24, 2013

The Quick Word- Evidence (2013)

Evidence is a police-procedural Thriller that dabbles  in the realm of Found Footage. It's nice to see a movie come along that shows what the police do with found footage for a change, and how they use its "Unblinking Eye" to help them solve a mass murder. Kind of a best of both worlds thing, you know?

Too bad it worked better on paper than it did in practice.

If you're a True Blood fan (which I absolutely am not), then you're most likely interested in this movie because you love Stephen Moyer, aka Bill Compton. Don't worry, he's good enough in this, it's the movie that sucks here.

I actually found this movie oddly entertaining on some level, which I shouldn't have, considering how sloppy and bland it is. It's not a total train wreck; it's more like being on a slow, overly-familiar train, which breaks down on the way to your destination, and and you end up having to disembark and walk the rest of the way. While walking, you die. Painfully.

So it's more like a train breakdown. Still, there's nothing really fun about that, is there?

A bunch of people are massacred at an abandoned warehouse out in the middle of BFE, and the only evidence that the PO-PO have to work with, is in the form of various videos taken with various recording devices found at the scene of the crime.

Enter Stephen Moyer as a burnt out Cop who has been on leave for some unexplained reason, wanting on the case, because "I need this!" Radha Mitchell plays his boss who tells him "you're not ready!," but lets him on the case in about 12 seconds, because the movie has to move along.

Along with a portly video tech (nothing cliche' about that), they sit down and begin to sort through the  "evidence," doing their best Police Procedural "OMG!" faces every five minutes or so, because everything in this movie is such a shocking revelation.

"Oh... my... God!"
The evidence in question is mostly footage of two chicks -one a wannabe actress, another a wannabe director- kind of documenting their lives as a sort of sizzle reel; because God knows movie producers want nothing more than to sit though amateur home movies as a means to find new talent. These girls get on a bus with a bunch of other random people, heading on a trip to somewhere, when the bus suddenly flips over in the middle of the desert! Of course cell phones don't work, and the bus has no radio, so the stranded group hikes to a nearby abandoned warehouse(?) to take refuge. Then, someone starts picking off people one by one...

You get the idea.

Like they'd honestly show footage like this on TV?
Evidence just has too many issues for it to be able to work as a good film. The plot is a bit rushed, and the characters aren't fleshed out at all, so in that respect, the movie feels very generic and even cliche' at times. The script is just weak, making the Police Procedural aspect of the film feel as if it were tacked on to the Found Footage side of things, "just because." The stale "taken from every Police TV Show/Horror Movie ever" The dialogue doesn't help things much either:

"He knew we'd be watching. He's challenging us!"
"This whole thing was planned."
"It's just been revoked!"

It all comes off as clunky and hokey. 

A lot of the evidence footage pixelizes far too often, which doesn't add tension at all (as I'm guessing it was intended to do), but rather becomes annoying and took us out of the movie even more so. The spinning camera (freeze-frame or otherwise) felt a bit odd too.

Scary, ain't he?
Steven Moyer does an admirable job playing a determined Cop (he really tries his ass off here), as does the ever-hot Radha Mitchell. Problem is, they don't have much material to work with, so it feels as if they just kinda showed up, read their lines, frowned a lot, and called it a day. True Blood fans will no doubt be upset that Moyer doesn't get to stretch his legs a bit more here, and so were we.

The twist ending, and the reveal of the killer and their motivation for doing what they did, just made me shake my head. I'm not going to spoil anything, but good lord was the payoff not only nonsensical, but almost cringe-worthy. This movie is a great example of why I hate twist endings.

Evidence is a great premise that is executed rather poorly. If this movie had been a TV pilot, it would not have been picked up for series.

"I'm only here because True Blood was on hiatus. I promise."
You can see how hard Evidence is trying to be clever; what with its combining two sub-genres and throwing plenty of red herrings at us, it really did try. In the end though, it's all just a painfully generic movie that could have been as clever as it thinks it is, had they given a better treatment to the script.

If you're curious about seeing this movie, I say wait for it to pop up on cable, and spend your rental dollars on something else.

D

Not even the hotness of these lovely ladies could make Evidence and good watch, and that's saying an awful lot.