Lights Out


Viewed – 08 September 2016  Cinema

I was certainly intrigued by this concept.  A malevolent spirit that disappears in direct light but is deadly in the dark, who seems to be haunting a small family, that of a single mother and her little boy.  When said boy turns to his older, rebellious sister for help after one too many strange goings on, soon an investigation ensues … subsequently causing the family to look into their own past in the process.

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Whilst fairly simple in it’s idea I did find this pretty unnerving throughout what with an evil spirit seemingly capable of jumping out from any darkened corner or darkened room.  The maker’s had a field-day with this idea and I certainly got a kick out of the various ways the idea was explored, complete with an effective ‘shooting at the ghost’ sequence.  However the frights don’t exactly come thick and fast and rely a little too much on loud noises and character reactions more than being scary in their own right … which they are but the other stuff dilutes the experience somewhat.  Also I wasn’t keen on the occasional times the spirit spoke … again diluting the scariness by giving it too much character (the remake of ‘Ring’ had a similar misstep).

The casting is pretty decent, although only Maria Bello is recognisable but suitably unhinged as the troubled mother.  I also thought the young actor playing the boy was above average.  Add to this a complex turn from Teresa Palmer who manages to be more than a typical, moody twenty-something.  The final act is also solid and full of action with some novel twists on the concept.  But I did hope for a bit more light to be shed on the spirit’s origins, which sadly is ignored in place of a rather ballsy ending.  So despite good intentions, this doesn’t quite reinvent the horror movie and is a bit too Hollywood with some of its scares … but regardless this was still a suitably creepy and entertaining experience.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Conjuring 2


Viewed – 16 June 2016  Cinema

(Updated 22/06/2016).  The first movie in what appears to be growing into a horror franchise really impressed.  I was quite late to watching it but so glad I did even though supernatural ghost-story fair usually freaks me out.  But director James Wan nailed an old fashioned concept and delivered a truly unnerving and frightening experience.  So sitting down to the sequel I was both excited and a bit on edge.  Early word had it that this was going to be even scarier … and once again explored a based-on-fact true story this time set in Enfield, England in the late seventies.  Paranormal investigators Ed & Lorrain Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) are called into investigate a series of strange happenings at a family home where the youngest daughter seems to be the focus of a restless entity.

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As a UK resident this was an immediately relatable and authentic setting for a horror movie.  With recognisable east-end cockney accents, along with a street not unlike one I grew up on, I was transported back to my childhood, at least spiritually.  However this is a James Wan movie and soon the tension builds and the scares are brought on so we get freaky things going bump in the night, eerie corridors, moving furniture and a ghostly, malevolent old man.  It’s effectively creepy and unnerving but not quite as under-your-skin as Conjuring #1, relying a bit too much on jump-scares.  A prologue detailing the Warren’s involvement in the infamous Amityville house sets the tone and the involvement of a ghostly, demonic nun definitely disturbs.  However with a 2hr+ run time, the encounters do get a bit repetitive, and a boogie-man sequence that plays on childhood fears threatens to turn the movie into something else entirely.

Performances however are decent across the board especially the young actress playing tormented child ‘Janet’ (Madison Wolfe), as well as her struggling mother.  Yet this is also Wilson & Farmiga’s movie and they again add plenty of emotional weight to proceedings.  Wan cranks up the thrills especially towards the end but a bit like the last movie things wrap themselves up too easily.  However throughout I was nervously gripped and with the backdrop of a true story in mind this still made for an above average experience.  Recommended.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Conjuring


Viewed – 04 September 2015  Blu-ray

I had wanted to watch this a while back, but for one reason or another never got around to it.  Horror movies of late it seems have a funny effect on me.  I have grown up loving the genre but the more recent obsession with supernatural subjects has never been to my liking – what can I say, ghost stuff scares me.  That being said it has been a while since one has had such an effect, and the last was probably Insidious.  Funnily enough by the same director as this supposedly based on true events movie.

Conjuring 2

James Wan has made a bit of a name for himself; a relatively young director who has gained quite a reputation, starting out with the Saw movies and then the aforementioned Insidious (and it’s sequel) and now this.  A family move into an old farm house in the early 70s, a man and woman and their four daughters.  However its not long before they realise they are not alone and strange stuff starts to occur.  Step in demonologists Lorraine & Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) who specialising in investigating the paranormal – and boy, have the family got a very unpleasant spirit for them.  Wan knows how to direct a horror movie, no doubt.  This is filled with tension, solid performances (with a stand out Lili Taylor) and slow burning atmosphere complete with quality camera work and a creepy setting.  I’m easily put on edge by movies like this, but this drew me into the characters and story, building up to the scares with genuine style and class.  We get an eerie sleep-walking girl, stuff going on in mirrors, glimpses of ghosts and a decidedly unsettling backstory.  As a subplot, we are also introduced to the possessed doll ‘Annabelle’ and the freaky looking thing gets to play it’s part … even if it seems under-utilised.

The movie is not without it’s clichés and there are riffs on The Ring, The Exorcist and Amityville – but the influences here are worn with pride and when the scares come – oh boy.  This was one of the most frightening horror movies I have seen in quite some time – it goes for the jugular where many recent horrors have chosen to play it safe (The Babadook).  A movie best watched with the lights down and the sound cranked up – as long as you don’t mind a sleepless night afterwards.

Verdict:  5 /5

Insidious


Viewed – 03 May 2011  Cinema

I wasn’t expecting this.  Going completely blind into this one, and knowing nothing but the fact it was directed by Saw’s James Wan.  So what would you expect?  Clever twists?  Wall to wall gore?  Then I hope you are sitting comfortably.  A young couple with two boys and a baby girl, move into one of those clichéd big-ass American houses that seems creepy from the off set.  Of course it’s not long until things start going bump in the night and weird shit begins to go down.  I know what you’re going to say, this is just like Amityville or Poltergeist, which was certainly my impression, but as the story progresses it takes a much more weirder and disturbing path, and to say it scared the hell out of me, well…

Starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, along with an appearance by the increasingly freaky Barbara Hershey (just see Black Swan, you’ll know what I mean), this is well executed and incredibly effective, with jump-scares that don’t take the viewer for an idiot, and a nail-biting tension, helped by the eerie lighting and mostly hand-held camera work, that kept this viewer permanently nervous.  Ok, some moments of comedy seem out-of-place and towards the end the movie did sink into an extended Ghost Train ride, but by then you’re already glued, and in a crowded genre of torture porn gore flicks, sequels and remakes, this was a breath of fresh air, and shows that James Wan clearly didn’t fluke Saw and his follow-up, Death Sentence, making him one of the most assured horror-talents in the business.

Verdict:  4 /5

Death Sentence


Viewed – 08 May 2008  DVD

Kevin Bacon is one of my favourite actors – a versatile former heart-throb (Footloose) turned often controversial character-actor (Sleepers, The Woodsman), although admittedly it’s his impressive thespian skills I applaud and not his choice of dodgy roles. So with this film, he really goes for the jugular.

Bacon plays a respected family man whose life is turned upside down after a tragedy (I wont spoil you with the details), and soon vengeance and retribution consume him as we are treated (if thats the right word) to a deeply stylish and very exciting, no-holds barred movie with plenty of bite.  Director James Wan follows up his impressive debut Saw with an equally dark and sinister jolt-to-the-spine with impressive camera work, plenty of dark and moody lighting and an atmosphere of pure dread that proves him the real talent behind the Saw franchise and not that Darren-guy who went on to ruin it all.  I will be very interested to see what he comes up with next!

My only gripe is more a matter of opinion, as some turn-of-events make you wonder if Bacon really would go to such extremes – yet this still grabbed me regardless.

Verdict: 4 /5