For My Moviegoing Public: Conjuring 2 and Hush

I love horror movies, the problem is desensitization is a thing and the more you watch, the more it takes to scare you (I wonder if that’s true of other genres; if you love tearjerkers with kids dying of cancer, does it take more to make you cry eventually?)  It doesn’t help when any “groundbreaking” new trick is immediately copied by ten other films, invariably with less effectiveness.

I’ve hit upon what is hopefully not a temporary solution: so far anything I watch on my tablet with headphones in bed in absolute darkness has left scars (which sounds bad but is the desired effect). Probably because it’s more immersive than a TV across the room, no matter how great your sound system is.

That’s how I watched Conjuring 2, and boy are there scars.

This is the third (? don’t yell at me if I’m wrong. I have better things to do than keep track of sequels) in the series about Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple of real life paranormal investigators in the 60s and 70s. Their work is controversial with some believing they were charlatans exploiting vulnerable people. I’m not particularly interested in all that. I don’t need a movie to be “based on real events” for it to scare me (I don’t really believe Japanese girls can crawl through my screen to murder me; terrified me all the same. And some twenty viewings later, still one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen).

The first was The Conjuring, which I really wanted to like but it went on entirely too long and got less and less frightening (though it started out strong with kids getting terrified by a dark corner of their bedroom, which is all I remember clearly).  This was followed by a prequel Annabelle, which was equal parts tedious and laughable, and the less said about it the better.

2 has an off-putting runtime of over two hours, but when you go no more than fifteen minutes between scares, that flies by.

Jump scares abound, but here’s the thing: there are jump scares, and there are cheap jump scares, and this has almost none of the latter. None of the annoying “it’s just the cat” or some other rational explanation. Every jump scare includes a good reason to jump. Directors take heed.

I don’t want to spoil. This is based on apparently a world famous case in England (actually called the British Amityville Horror), which was also famously debunked (but again, that doesn’t bother me).  There’s actually a smaller screen version called “The Enfield Haunting” on Hulu which isn’t half bad, and both of them briefly touch on the possibility the family is pulling a hoax.

Just like The Babadook, the majority of the spooky atmosphere comes from the natural haunted feeling that decaying old council row houses have even before malevolent spirits move in. This one has a nearly flooded out basement that had me thinking “NOPE” before anything bad happened (underwater horror gets me worst of all. THANKS, JAWS).  Even a DIY tent from a bedsheet looks sinister.  ​But the starring role for scary furniture goes to the manky leather chair the family bought with the house, in which the previous owner died.  You can’t pull off this kind of dread with an Ikea flat pack item–this chair has character. It’s practically an unbilled cast member (but, as an Amazon reviewer noted, why they don’t just scrap the thing after it becomes obvious it’s a problem is a mystery).

This is what James Wan is good at, and what makes me a huge fan: he’s bringing back practical effects, which in my opinion are always better than CGI (when done well).  Video games don’t scare me, and CGI monsters have no weight to them, I don’t care how expensive they are.

(There are CGI effects in this movie, but they aren’t glaringly noticeable because shadows and dim lighting forgive many sins in this department. In fact I can only think of one very obvious scene that scared the pants off me anyway.)

There’s some scary shit in this movie. Like this nun (who I swore was Marilyn Manson, incorrectly), who believe it or not isn’t even the scariest shit.

But will inspire at least one Halloween costume, I guarantee it

​There are also very very brief snatches of humor (Ed hefts a circa 1975 camcorder on his shoulder and exclaims “It’s so small and light!”), a welcome lightening of the mood before being plunged back into relentless dread.

Again, I don’t want to spoil. The acting is solid throughout (especially Madison Wolfe as the little girl at the center of the haunting), and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do an outstanding job laying down a foundation of their devotion to each other that pays off in spades when Lorraine’s vision of Ed’s death starts coming true (is that a spoiler? I’m not sure). Because James Wan knows what lesser directors don’t: horror movies are scarier if we actually care about the characters.

I’m excited to buy the Blu-ray, even though it boasts Atmos™ audio mixing,  which sounds impressive and better be, because it apparently requires a very pricey upgrade in your home theater to enjoy. But even without that, this movie is well worth owning (unlike the other two (note: you also don’t need to sit through the other two to enjoy this one. You’re welcome)).

……ΦΦΦΦ……

Hush.  This is a home invasion/slasher (kind of), which usually isn’t my thing because I already have nightmares of frantically locking windows and doors against some impending threat, and I also work third shift alone in an animal hospital so I REALLY don’t need this shit any more inside my head. But someone in a comment thread mentioned it favorably to horror fans, so I gave it a shot.

Very briefly, Maddie (Kate Siegel) is a deaf writer living in a secluded cabin in the woods who one night is terrorized by an axe murderer (actually a knife/crossbow murderer, but I’ve never heard that term).

I won’t go into any detail; it’s basically a 90-minute game of cat-and-mouse.  Which isn’t to say I didn’t like it (quite the contrary), but mistakes are made.

For instance, she’s completely deaf living alone in the middle of nowhere (which with my hatred of people would be my dream except for just this eventuality). I wouldn’t be “There’s a man in a mask with a large knife staring through my window. What do I do?  *weep weep* What do I do?” I would be “There’s a man in a mask with a large knife staring through my window.  OKAY, BATTLE STATIONS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” I’d have a PLAN for that scenario (I sometimes come up with plans at the hospital and there’s a taco joint right across the street and lots and lots of houses with people all around me).  At the bare minimum have a gun in the house, woman (and I have no love of guns).

​And DEAR GOD why is the power shut-off switch easily accessible to any knife-wielding maniac on the side of the house?  Didn’t think that through AT all.

The house is FULL of windows, so it’s obvious he can come in whenever he wants. Yet she oddly avoids the only logically safe place, the loft, which would give her the high ground and only has one point of entry (I’m telling you, I’m almost a doomsday prepper when it comes to this stuff. HAVE A PLAN).

(There’s no explanation given why she has to live alone out there, other than as a crucial (and effective) plot device.  The deaf thing of course heightens the sense of vulnerability exponentially.)

I don’t want to belabor the point. These mistakes and many others are made, but a very wise friend once said, “If people did sensible things, horror movies would be very short indeed.”

The thing is, I enjoyed it anyway. Mostly to see how she triumphs, not just to have a happy ending but because the feminist in me hated the killer just on principle as a man who clearly gets his jollies holding power over women (his first kill is shown, and he’s so casual about it, so arrogant, almost bored the way he does it — I must say, quite a good bit of acting, in a mask, for only a minute or so of film).

My only distraction was at the beginning we see her cat (and again, I’m not a dog person unless I’m living alone and completely deaf. Then I’m finding the biggest, most muscular pitbull available. Maybe several). If there’s one thing many horror movies have taught me, pets are only introduced so they can be horrifically slaughtered later. I spent the whole movie waiting for this. I won’t spoil.

Despite all its flaws, this is actually a tightly written, taut (it comes in economically under 90 minutes) little movie. It didn’t scare me, but certainly kept me on the edge of my seat (or bed).  Highly recommended, if horror is your thing.

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