THE CONJURING 2 (USA/15A/134mins)
Directed by James Wan. Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Simon Delaney, Madison Wolfe
THE PLOT: When a London family is the focus of a violent and unpredictable haunting, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren find themselves travelling across the world to try and find out whether the events experienced by the young Janet Hodgson (Madison Wolfe) and her family are real or an elaborate hoax. Battling ghosts and visions of their own, the Warrens find themselves drawn into the case, but struggle to find out what is targeting the family, and why.
THE VERDICT: ‘The Conjuring 2’ is the follow up to the immensely successful film ‘The Conjuring’, and, as with the first film, follows stories taken from the case files of real life demon hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren. ‘The Conjuring 2’ is inspired by the true story of the Enfield Poltergeist – which was first reported in 1977, as was the subject of a Sky TV drama last year – but while the true story seems to have been a hoax, ‘The Conjuring 2’ takes this ghost story and ramps it up for the big screen.
The cast of ‘The Conjuring 2’ are strong in their roles; Frances O’Connor plays Peggy Hodgson, the head of the family and a single mother struggling to cope on her own. The kids are played by Lauren Esposito, Benjamin Haigh and Patrick McAuley, with Madison Wolfe taking centre stage as the haunted and traumatised Janet. Wolfe makes Janet a compelling character, and excels in striking the balance between creepy and fear. Returning to their roles as demon hunters, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga work well together; Wilson the more strong and unwavering of the two, while Farmiga makes Lorraine’s fears and visions feel relatable and engaging. Two Irish actors, Maria Doyle Kennedy and Simon Delaney, turn up as the Hodgson’s neighbours and friends, Peggy and Vic Nottingham.
As mentioned, Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes, James Wan and David Johnson’s screenplay is inspired by the true events of Enfield in the 1970s. There are differences between the true story and the film, since everything has been heightened in the film for dramatic effect and to give the audience good, old fashioned scares. There is a lovely contrast drawn between the Warrens and the Hodgsons, as both families are fighting their own demons that are seemingly unconnected. The screenplay is also a careful look at the troubles of those on lower incomes, as the Hodgson family cannot afford to move out of their haunted house, so must either spend their time sleeping on the floor of friends’ living rooms or go back and face their fears; moving into a new home is not an option. The final act of the film amps up the scares, the jumps and the creepy kids, but although these are standard horror movie tropes, the film does not over use them, instead using these familiar themes to its advantage.
As director, James Wan takes a true story and makes it bigger and scarier for the big screen. There are less jump scares than a creeping feeling of unease that permeates the entire film, leaving the audience on edge and almost waiting for the big frights to ease the tension. The film is rather slow to begin with, with the Warrens and the Hodgsons not meeting until an hour in, and although this time is given to develop family dynamics and explore the fears that motivate the people at the centre of the story, this means that the film is drawn out to 133 minutes, and the pacing often drops and then the film awkwardly jumps through time to catch up with the haunted house tale.
In all, however, ‘The Conjuring 2’is a confident and smart horror film that tries to stay away from atmospheric tropes and obvious scares, instead being carefully infused with a feel of dread and anticipation. The cast do well in their roles, with Farmiga and Wilson standing out as they make their relationship warm and complex, and young Madison Wolfe making Janet Hodgson almost effortlessly creepy. The pacing drops from time to time, but warmer moments keep the film moving, as does the careful exploration of what constitutes a hoax.
Review by Brogen Hayes
TALE OF TALES (Italy | France | UK/15A/125mins)
Directed by Matteo Garrone. Starring John C. Reilly, Salma Hayek, Toby Jones, Vincent Cassel, Shirley Henderson, Hayley Carmichael, Bebe Cave, Jonah Lees, Christian Lees.
THE PLOT: Matteo Garrone returns to Cannes with a triptych of fairytales set in a grotesque and beautiful world. A queen (Salma Hayek) longs for a child, and goes to extreme and dangerous lengths to fulfil her dreams. King of Strongcliff (Vincent Cassel) finds his sexual appetite insatiable until he meets a woman who is not quite all she claims, and the King of Highhills’ (Toby Jones) obsession with a performing flea spells disaster for his young daughter.
THE VERDICT: It seems that Matteo Garrone has a fascination with the fantastic and mythical – his previous film ‘Reality’ starred an actor let out of prison to film, and focused on a man’s desperate attempts to get on the Italian version of Big Brother – so it makes sense that the director has turned his hand to a 17th century collection of fairy tales by Italian author Giambattista Basile in his first English language film.
Salma Hayek and John C. Reilly play our first set of Royals, those of Longtrellis; Reilly caring and devoted, Hayek single minded and ever more obsessed with her goal to become a mother. Both do well with their roles, with Hayek’s frosty and unscrupulous queen shining through. Vincent Cassel brings humour to the film as the sex addict king; alternating between charming and frightening. Toby Jones plays perhaps the most innocent and naïve of all the royals, making his character child like in some ways, but as single minded as the others, albeit in a different manner. Shirley Henderson and Hayley Carmichael, heavily made up, playing ancient sisters who dream of a more glamorous life. Henderson in particular, treads the thin line between comedy and tragedy with care and ease, at once frustrating the audience, and making us mourn her innocence. Christian and Jonah Lees play Elias and Jonah, the mystical children born to both the Queen and the servant who prepared her magical feast. The two work well together, and seem to enjoy their little time on screen together. Bebe Cave plays the king’s daughter Violet, and brings both strength and vulnerability to the role.
The screenplay, based on Giambattista Basile’s stories and adapted for the screen by Edoardo Albinati, Ugo Chiti, Matteo Garrone and Massimo Gaudioso focuses on the fantastical; there are elements of mystery and magic to each of the stories, as well as grotesque fascination and violence. The dialogue swings from comedic to tragic, mining the dark vein that runs through each of the stories. Although each tale focuses on Royalty – and they all come together in the end – and a theme of greed and obsession leading to ruin runs through each of them, there are times when these beautiful stories don’t seem to exist in the same space as one another. This leaves the film feeling slightly disconnected, and the promise of all three tying together with a moral or a shared conclusion never comes to fruition.
As director, Garrone has created a beautiful and fantastic film, with the three stories that clearly exist in the same world, if not the same space. The film has a feel of The Princess Bride, Neil Gaiman’s stories, and Dave McKean’s artworks about it, and Peter Suschitzky’s cinematography is beautiful, bringing this feeling to the fore of the film, playing with colour, light and striking images. Garrone has coxed strong performances from his actors, with Shirley Henderson standing out, but never manages to make the three exist in an easy union.
In all, ‘Tale of Tales’ is a beautiful collection of dark, twisted and often funny stories, individually told in a gripping manner. It is only when trying to assemble the three tales into a single film that Garrone’s vision falls apart.
Review by Brogen Hayes
GODS OF EGYPT (USA/12A/127mins)
Directed by Alex Proyas. Starring Brenton Thwaites, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Geoffrey Rush, Elodie Yung, Gerard Butler.
THE PLOT: In a fantasy version of ancient Egypt, where the world is flat, gods walk among men and almost everyone is white, the god Set (Gerard Butler) turns on the other side of his family, murdering his brother Osiris (Bryan Brown) and blinding his nephew Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), in order to take control of Egypt and enslave humanity. With the help of the tenacious mortal Bek (Brenton Thwaites), Horus regains one of his eyes and sets out to not only regain his full vision, but unseat his evil uncle from the throne of Egypt.
THE VERDICT: ‘Gods of Egypt’ is released in Irish cinemas this week, and has already been the cause of two bouts of controversy; the ‘white washing’ of the cast as highlighted by Daily Life and The Washington Post, and director Alex Proyas’ rant on Facebook calling critics “diseased vultures pecking at the bones of a dying carcass”. Not a good start.
The cast of the film, which includes Nikolaj-Coster-Waldau, Brenton Thwaites, Courtney Eaton, Gerard Butler, Rufus Sewell, Elodie Yung and Rachael Blake, do not do particularly well in their roles but they find a middle ground for their characters to exist in, which is neither particularly good or terribly bad. The exceptions to this are Geoffrey Rush who has a whale of a time playing a camped up version of the sun god Ra – but is sadly only on screen for mere minutes – and Chadwick Boseman, whose performance as Thoth, god of wisdom, is so utterly one note and bland that he stands out for all the wrong reasons.
Screenwriters Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless took their inspiration from the Egyptian myth ‘The Contendings of Horus and Set’, then set this in a world where gods and men walked the earth together. There is merit to the story in its basic form, but in trying to make ‘Gods of Egyp’t an action film, all strength of this mythical tale are lost. Add to this some ill-advised attempts at humour, dreadful dialogue and too much reliance on action, and Gods of Egypt quickly falls flat.
As director, Alex Proyas seems to have set out to make ‘Transformers’ in ancient Egypt. Gods regularly suit up in animal shaped armour and take each other on in CGI fuelled battles that the audience struggles to engage with. Sound familiar? The performances in the film seem to be wilfully mediocre, with Proyas seemingly taking no interest in the characters and relying on action. As well as this, the film is poorly paced, badly edited and is so filled with CGI that it becomes a shiny assault on the senses.
In all, ‘Gods of Egypt’ is an ill-advised attempt to tell an ancient tale in a glittering CGI-filled movie. This is not an attempt to “peck to the rhythm of the consensus” as Alex Proyas so charmingly put it; ‘Gods of Egypt’ is entirely misguided. The characters are thin and underdeveloped – with the exception of Geoffrey Rush, who saves the movie from being utterly unwatchable – the screenplay is filled with bad dialogue and misguided attempts at humour, and the entire thing is tied in a dark, undistinguishable CGI bow.
Review by Brogen Hayes
BANG GANG (A MODERN LOVE STORY) (France/IFI/98mins)
Directed by Eva Husson. Starring Finnegan Oldfield, Marilyn Lima, Lorenzo Lefébvre, Daisy Broom, Fred Hotier, Manuel Husson, Olivia Lancelot.
THE PLOT: It’s a summer of 69s for a bunch of young French teenagers, who turn a free house into a den of sex orgies, as George sleeps with Alex, and Laetitia (Lima) sleeps with Alex, and George sleeps with Gabriel. In the heat of all the lust, jealousy and shrugs, Laetitia finds herself become a porn site hit, her first flush of sex turning another shade of depressing gay when she discovers that, whilst the rest of the gang have been busy catching various sexual diseases, she’s managed to contract the deadliest sexual disease of all – pregnancy.
THE VERDICT: Revolution is in the air for a bunch of French teenagers over one long, hot summer, but, given their relatively bourgeois lives, it’s sexual rather than political upheaving that they’re interested in. Modern love, after all, is warped somewhat by a culture where sexual promiscuity and nudity are seen as potent tools on social media, and an ever-increasing mainstream path to stardom. Or, at the very least, notoriety.
Larry Clark’s ‘Kids’ given a mildly modern twist, and some impeccable French taste – on-screen nudity just seems classier with subtitles – ‘Gang Bang’ may wear its perfectly-pert arse on its sleeve, but it still feels like indie porn, all air-brushed and aimless. Which, of course, may be all about reflecting the wide-eyed, narrow-minded teenager perspective, but this is still just arse for art’s sake.
Review by Paul Byrne
CEMETERY OF SPLENDOUR (Thailand/UK/Germany/France/Malaysia/South Korea/Mexico/USA/Norway/IFI/122mins)
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Starring Jenjira Pongpas, Banlop Lomnoi, Jarinpattra Rueangram, Petcharat Chaiburi, Tawatchai Buawat, Sujittraporn Wongsrikeaw.
THE PLOT: A sleeping sickness has struck a ramshackle country hospital, with voluntary nurse Jen (Widner) tending largely to Itt (Lomnoi), bed-ridden and suffering from nacroleptsy. As the entire hospital seems to be asleep – and we never learn why – Jen uses a psychic medium (Rueangram) to communicate with her patient.
And, er, that’s it…
THE VERDICT: One of those singular directors who dares to have a distinct, and brazenly non-commercial, voice, Apichatpong Weeasethakul is the sort of filmmaker who would give Harvey Weinstein a heart attack. And for that alone, we should be eternally grateful.
Not that this particular slaphead film critic has fallen under the Thai filmmaker’s spell as yet. The acclaimed ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives’ was a strange and wonderful film that didn’t quite so much send a shiver up my spine as simply left me cold. As with much of Apichatpong’s work, on paper, I loved the concept and the imagery of ‘Uncle Boonmee’. Up on screen, the fecker just irritated the crap out of me.
With ‘Cemetery Of Splendour’, the Palme D’Or-winning filmmaker has certainly delivered one of his more accessible film, but it still fecks with the oul’ head. In the best possible taste, of course. But, hey, Weerasethakul is an acquired taste, and staunchly so, which means fans will love this. Whereas thickos like me just don’t quite get it.
Review by Paul Byrne