James Wan’s “The Conjuring” carries forward his ideas on the emphasis of atmospheric, naturalized scares rather than the now accepted delivery of in your face gore and over-the-top jumps. While I’ve been a huge supporter of Wan’s previous effort in this vein, “Insidious”, I was less impressed by “The Conjuring” even though it amps down the horror even more than that old school thriller. I should have really loved “The Conjuring”, but I came away only slightly impressed with it. The film documents the real life haunting of an East Coast family (why do all these 70’s haunting happen on the East Coast?) and the entrance of Ed and Leslie Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), infamous clairvoyant and demon hunter who assist the family in trying to rid their home (and souls) of a devious, possessive force. Again, “The Conjuring” doesn’t do anything wrong… Wan and DP John Leonetti submerge the viewer with glorious tracking shots and a gently swishing camera that rarely fails to accurately navigate the creepiness of those old two story houses…. A few of the scares are effective, even if Joseph Bishara’s screeching violin score accentuate the moment a bit much at times…. And the set design is impeccable. Still, the horror genre, even when its toned down to the lo-fi effect, is such a precarious thing to master and my expectations were probably sky high. A good film, just not a great one.
Paul Schrader’s “The Canyons” is a confused mess. Opening with the weary images of decrepit movie theaters and then seguing into the table conversation of the uber pretty Los Angelinos of James Deen and Lindsay Lohan, “The Canyons” feels like statement on something-perhaps for the producers and their non traditional release approach?- but finishes as a statement on nothing. With a script written by Bret Easton Ellis, vapid nihilism is rampant and the “nothing” factor may be the ultimate point. Lohan and Deen are the couple in the middle of a revolving love triangle. Ryan (Nolan Funk) is involved with the movie-within-the-movie and is sleeping with Lohan. Cynthia (Tenille Houston) a yoga instructor is the on-the-side hookup of Deen and Deen and Lohan pass their nights inviting young couples to their home for orgies. All of this explodes into a ball of paranoia, sexual frustration and deceit, played out against the sunny Los Angeles hillside and chic restaurants. “The Canyons”, largely known for its bad girl casting and performance of Lohan, is ultimately a minor effort for Schrader, once so good at mining the depths of emotional confusion and sexual repression. Even the introduction of a violent third act can’t redeem or energize this DIY fashion exhibit.
Only God Forgives
The audible “what?” at the end of my particular screening of Nicolas Winding Refn’s highly stylized “Only God Forgives” doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling that hovers over this extreme film. Stretched to the outer limits of genre, there’s a minimal story of revenge as Julian (Ryan Gosling) attempts to fight back against the karaoke singing cop (Vithaya Pangsringarm) who sanctioned the death of his brother. Prodded on by his domineering mother in a delicious turn by Kristen Scott Thomas and set in the sweaty, neon-lit hell of Bangkok, “Only God Forgives” is simply an extension for Refn to develop and deepen his fetish of slow motion walks and pregnant, vacant stares into the camera. And I really liked this movie. Even though it’s dedicated to Alejandro Jodorwosky, Refn has crafted a singular work that not only looks and sounds incredible, but seems to be poking fun at the entire idea of good versus evil.