I usually have little problem accepting genre conventions. Without being a big fan of exorcism or daemon’s hunting films, I believe that I understand the rules of the genre. Something odd (and bad) happens however with The Conjuring. It takes the genre seriously.
Director James Wan has the original Saw in his directing record, and he was the executive producer of the next six films in the series. He should know something about genre rules. One golden rule is that you either need to abstract the details to give the story a more generic touch (this is what was done with Saw which could be seen as a pure horror exercise, enhanced by the claustrophobic and time bomb effects), or include a touch of humor or some other elements to allow detachment of viewers from the ‘tough’ stuff. The damaging mistake made in my opinion in The Conjuring is that not only that none of these two elements is present, but also that all the story is taken so much in serious up to the claiming that it is inspired by true events and characters. What if you are not a Roman-Catholic, if you do not believe in daemons, if you doubt (as many Internet sources do) that Ed and Lorraine Warren (the couple of demon fighters in the movie) were really anything else than story tellers at best, fraud at worst? This film does not let you room to enjoy, because if you do not accept the convention little makes sense – story, dialogues, characters.
There is some good horror cinema in this film, which tried and to some extent succeeded to paint the action in a retro early 70s atmosphere, using film means of that period. However, the weak premises of the story make everything look artificial, and when noises become more strident and bodies start being dragged faster or fly higher, the lack of credibility is so strong, that it the even more ridiculous solution comes as some kind of relief.
I liked director Nicolas Winding Refn‘s Drive. I read it as a love story disguised in a violent action movie, an uneasy combination that worked perfectly, to a large extent thanks to the presence in the lead role of Ryan Gosling, one of my preferred actors. From the same director comes now The Neon Demon a film that confirms the fame of Refn as a director who does not hesitate to create violence on screen in a manner that would almost make Tarantino blush, but yet has always another different message that provides substance to his movies.
‘The Neon Demon’ begins as the innocent-girl-in-LA genre, with Jesse (Elle Fanning) landing in California and finding pretty soon herself engaged on a stellar modeling path. All is due to her looks, she has the charisma and innocence that makes the room light and warm up when she steps in. Her beauty is her strength, but may also become soon her main liability as she becomes a threat to the other beautiful women around and they may fight back by all means. And ‘by all means’ indeed means ‘all means’ – we are in the beauty industry, and the demons can be as dark and scary as in a haunted mansion.
Much of the rest of the film is in almost pure horror genre. Some will love it, some will hate it, some will exit the screening theater at some point. My impressions are pretty mixed. I am not intimidated by explicit horror or sex on screen, I have seen worse horror in some Korean movies for example, and these actually fall within the logic (or un-logic) of the story. The film is visually striking, with plenty of beautiful video art elements, too many actually, and this is one of the aspects that I did not like. There are so many beautiful filmed scenes and they are so long that at some point the whole experience smells of narcissism. Same about the usage of electronic music. Elle Fanning is an excellent Jesse, beautiful and vulnerable, threatened and threatening. She is actually one almost sure bet for the list of the stars of tomorrow, with no less than 54 roles on record, three for each of the 18 years of her age (her first one was ‘Lucy 2 years’ in I Am Sam!). Keanu Reeves makes a short appearance, but his fans should not go to this film just to see him. The last 15 minutes of the film put in context all that we have seen until then, but I have seen better endings.
‘The Neon Demon’ is not a film all will like, and it’s not easy viewing even for those who will like it. It’s worth being seen despite its problems. For dully warned audiences only.
Iata un film care nu este prezentat de obicei in programele de Craciun ale televiziunilor, cel putin nu in orele de zi in perioada de sarbatoare desi actiunea sa se petrece in preajma Craciunului si avem chiar si o scena cu un cor de copii cantand un colind. Filmat in 1974 in Canada (din motive de impozite), Black Christmas este o combinatie intre filmele de sezon (sau cu pretext de sezon) si genul ‘horror’, si mai precis un precedesor sau unul dintre primele filme ale sub-genului ‘slash’ care descrie actiunile unui ucigas serial care macelareste de-a lungul filmului un numar crescand de victime si transforma treptat viata linistita a unei comunitati (de obicei intr-un spatiu inchis) intr-un infern.
Regizorul filmului este Bob Clark, un autor aflat in anul realizarii filmului la inceputul unei cariere care avea sa mai includa inca cateva succese ale genului, inclusiv un al doilea film (A Christmas Story) avand ca tema Craciunul. Clark demonstreaza ca stapanea deja multe dintre secretele meseriei si asimilase lectiile maestrilor generatiilor precedente si in special ale lui Hitchcock. Actiunea filmului se petrece intr-unul din acele camine studentesti americane in care studentii din anii mai mari se auto-administreaza in cadrul ‘fraternitatilor’ – de fapt este vorba despre un camin de fete si echivalentul fraternitatii este in engleza ‘sorority’ – cuvant care nu sunt sigur ca are un echivalent in limba romana. Tensiunea este indusa la inceput de telefoane misterioase si amenintatoare, pentru ca scurt timp dupa aceea locuitoarele caminului sa inceapa sa dispara una cate una, si cadavrele sa se acumuleze. Mai mult nu voi povesti pentru a nu rapi placerea vizionarii celor pe care ii voi convinge sa vada filmul (accesibil in intregime in acest moment si pe youTube).
‘Black Christmas’ merita sa fie vizionat in primul rand de pasionatii genului, dar nu numai de ei. Nu pot spune ca este un film pe care timpul nu si-a pus amprenta, dar interesant este ca si partile sale bune sunt acum mai vizibile. La lansare el a fost aproape ‘distrus’ de unii critici, de exemplu cel al lui New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9504E3D71538EF34BC4851DFB667838E669EDE. Desi unele dintre obiectiile criticului sunt intemeiate (jocul actorilor si mie mi s-a parut destul de schematic), eu cred ca a pierdut din vedere constructia exacta si gradata a atmosferei, folosirea spatiului inchis pentru a crea impresia de claustrofobie, si indrazneala abordarii unor teme cu tenta sociala cum ar fi cea a dreptului femeilor de a decide in privinta avortului (in general se poate spune ca este un film feminist). Desigur, cronicarul din 1974-75 nu avea cum sa anticipeze ca acest film va deschide calea altor filme ale genului horror care se petrec in mediu studentesc cum ar fi cele din seriile ‘Scream’ si ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. Sunt insa cel putin doua scene aproape de geniu pe care nu ar fi trebuit sa le omita. Intr-una dintre ele tatal unei fete si mama altei fete, ambele disparute, participa la cautarea fiicelor lor intr-o noapte intr-un parc inghetat. Este descoperit un cadavru. Cui ii apartine? Toata scena este redata in oroarea ei profunda doar filmand fetele celor doi, nu este nevoie sa vedem niciun cadavru pentru a intelege a cui moarte a fost confirmata. Macabru si excelent psihologic. A doua scena este cea finala si nu voi povesti nimic despre ea, pentru a nu va priva de placerea unei vizionari pe care v-o recomand.
I wonder if director Carter Smith and other folks involved in the making of The Ruins have seen Tarkovsky‘s Solaris. I like to believe that it’s mandatory stuff in any school of cinema but I cannot know. I am asking the question because ‘The Ruins’ is based on a very Solaris-like idea – a monstrous Thing that is alive and mimics the behavior of the human beings it comes in contact with. Here we have a horror story, so the Thing is replicating sounds before penetrating the bodies and destroying the humans from inside. We never learn why, did it feel threatened? did the four young American trespass some sacred borders? but it does not matter too much, the fact that we are in Maya country must be enough for an explanation.
The movie was made in the period after the Blair Witch Project conquered screens and captivated audiences (and their dollars) with the adventures of teens in a tent in an hostile environment. Suddenly everybody was making films with the same story structure, putting much more money in them, relocating in exotic places and providing variation on the theme of the monsters. This is another one of these and it does not succeed as most other failed also to generate the thrill of the first time Blair film (which incidentally I see it has dropped to a 6.3 grade in the IMDB rating).
Carter Smith does a reasonable job directing a team of young actors who start by looking like vacationers, then like participants in a ‘Survivor’ show and eventually assume the role of minced meed in the wheels of the horror show. The film has its good moments (a few) and its ridiculous moments (more of these) and overall will be enjoyed mostly by the aficionados of the genre. The rest of us looking for some quality will remember just the few gems. These who remind Solaris.