The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Director: James Wan

Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O Connor, Madison Wolfe

Cor, blimey guvner! A sequel actually worth your sixpence piece

I remember being pretty disappointed when The Conjuring first came out. The Internet was building it up to be one of the scariest films ever made and I was getting really excited to be properly scared. I don’t usually get scared in films, but James Wan’s very own Insidious did manage to conjure up (pardon the pun) some genuinely terrifying imagery so I had every right to expect the same from The Conjuring but the film didn’t scare me at all. It wasn’t until I re-watched it recently that I realised that whilst it isn’t a scary film to me, I can appreciate it for being a very well-made horror film. If you take the hype away from it, there’s a lot to love.

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So when The Conjuring 2 reviews came out and were citing similar hype, I tried to put aside the claims of it being even better than the first film and went in with an open mind, almost expecting it to be a disappointment, but it wasn’t. The Conjuring 2 is one of those very rare sequels (even rarer in the horror genre) which manages to better the first. It still has its problems and I still don’t think it’s scary or that it outdoes Insidious, but it is a fine example of haunted house horror which can stand proudly on its own.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s simply more of the same when the film starts as it’s almost identical to the first film. A seemingly unrelated case opens the film and the title flashes up on the screen along with some jargon about the film being true and this case is yet again the scariest The Warrens’ have ever encountered blah blah blah. It’s basic scare tactics that might work for horror virgins but us aficionados will just be rolling our eyes. To be fair, the opening scene is actually very well directed and gives you some idea of the film’s overall quality.

We’re soon plunged into 1970’s England and we’re given constant reminders of this which is something that irritated me. Maybe it’s because I’m English myself but the stereotypes were often quite overwhelming, although amusing. Every car in the driveway is a Mini Cooper, The Queen often pops up on the telly and everyone has a seriously strong cockney accent. I know that it’s set in London but even so it sounds like most of the actors have moulded their accents on Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. I also found Frances O Connor a little wooden and unconvincing at times as well as a few of the kids.

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Overall the acting is terrific though. I was particularly impressed with Madison Wolfe as Margaret, the main girl, who gave off Linda Blair vibes at times. The role asks a lot of such a young actress but she tackles it head on and it’s pretty extraordinary to watch. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are also as excellent as ever as our favourite paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. I really liked how the film focused so much on their relationship so that it became the emotional core of the film. Similarly, Wan takes his time to carefully build the characters in England so that we become invested in them and actually care about what’s going to happen to them. It’s such a rarity these days to find a horror film with characters you feel involved with and this is the main aspect which makes The Conjuring 2 so strong and compelling.

The other great thing about the film is its atmosphere. James Wan clearly has a deep love for the horror genre and The Conjuring 2 is a labour of this love. The whole film is deliciously gothic and over-the-top, it’s a horror fan’s dream come true. There are a lot of spooky scenes crammed into the film and whilst they didn’t particularly scare me, you can’t help but appreciate the stylishness and effectiveness of them. James Wan really is a master behind the camera and knows how to create genuine tension. Like the first film, a lot of scenes are filmed skilfully in one fluid take and it often becomes very intense, especially combined with the striking loud score and sound design.

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Even the typical horror clichés like possession and creaky doors are done in such an effective way that you don’t care that you’ve seen it a hundred times before. With a running time of over two hours, I was still left feeling eager for more. The Conjuring 2 creates a gorgeous world of horror and allows you to sink within it. It will leave horror fans consistently grinning from ear to ear. The demon/ghost designs in this one are also much more creative than the first film. The nun character (played by the same lady who acted as the iconic bum in Mulholland Dr) was memorably creepy and a bizarre character known as the crooked man is weirdly delightful, although some might find him a jarringly out of place.

If you’re a fan of the horror genre then I can’t really see any reason for disliking The Conjuring 2, and if you’re not a horror fan then what are you bloody doing watching a horror film? Recent films like The Witch, It Follows and The Babadook may be better but that doesn’t make The Conjuring 2 obsolete. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of supernatural horror which delivers atmosphere and suspense in spades. Some of it does feel a little contrived towards the end but the finale’s so excitingly pulse-pounding and intense that you’re unlikely to care. It makes sure that the audience actually care about the people on screen so it’s never dull for one moment. A third film will definitely be on the cards and if it carries on being as solid as this one then we might be looking at the best supernatural horror franchise since… Well, ever.

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The Shining (1980) [The Yellow Kubrick Road]

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Director: Stanley Kubrick

Stars: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd

Best horror film ever?

“The Shining” is one of the best horror films ever made. It’s a classic and will remain timeless. In fact, The Shining is one of the very first proper horror films I saw. I must’ve been about 13 years-old when my mother picked up the DVD from Tesco. Me and my sister popped it on whilst we were babysitting a menopausal old dog called Sally. We kept having to pop out to help her up a step, but even with that distraction I remained transfixed. It was so slow, strange and unlike anything I’d seen before. My sister found it boring, and perhaps I did a little bit too but something about it fascinated me. There is something bubbling under the surface of the film more complex than the endless corridor of The Overlook hotel.

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I was so fascinated by the film that I ended up watching it almost every single week! I now know the film inside out. I know every movement, every line and every piece of music. Somehow though I still can’t get enough! I still have to watch the film at least once a year and I still remained completely glued to the screen. There aren’t many films you can watch over twenty times and not get bored by them. The only ones I can think of for me are: Sweeney Todd, Mrs. Doubtfire, Sister Act and Mean Girls, however most of those I have a close personal connection too through childhood.

One of the best aspects (there are many) about this film is the directing by Stanley. He manages to build up a chilling atmosphere to a masterful affect. He makes us as the viewer seem as isolated as the characters through the ominous tracking shots of the long isolated hallways, the large echoes in the halls and the sublime mountain landscape which almost seems to be devouring the characters up. It is a masterclass in how to direct a horror film. Is there a genre Stanley couldn’t master? As usual, the cinematography is often breath-taking. Just look at the infamous opening which features a perfectly smooth helicopter shot sweeping the landscape. It’s almost a Barry Lyndon level of beauty!

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Arguably the best aspect is the performance by Jack Nicholson. How was he snubbed by the Academy? It’s a bloody travesty! This will remain as one of the unanswered wonders of the world. He becomes Jack Torrance in a similar way to Daniel Day Lewis becoming Daniel Plainview. He’s completely unhinged and unpredictable. It’s no surprise really considering that Stanley shot most scenes over twenty times so that the actors themselves would turn crazy. It’s a shame that Shelley Duvall’s performance is so hysterical, but Jack more than makes up for it.

Stanley completely reinvents Stephen King’s original novel. He poses more questions and leaves more unanswered which makes the film play on your mind long after the credits have rolled. There’s even a feature length documentary (Room 237) dedicated to obsessive and slightly delusional fans who try to decode the film. Whilst many theories are overreaching and just plain bizarre, there is undoubtedly more to the film than meets the eye. There are also some genuinely unsettling moments. Most notably the bathroom scene and the man dressed up as a teddy bear from Teddy Bear Train.

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We need to talk about the music too! The music is almost like another character. It’s so intrusive, atonal and unsettling. Whether it’s piercing your ears or creating sinister chants, it always creates a mood. The film is all about mood and atmosphere really. It feels like a David Lynch dreamscape which is high praise indeed. Having seen all of Stanley Kubrick’s films it would be a tossup between this and 2001: A Space Odyssey to take the crown as “the best” for me. Although it’s difficult for me to make a balanced argument as I’ve seen The Shining countless times and 2001 just once! Both are masterpieces though and The Shining is contender for the greatest horror film of all time.

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