Month: June 2016

Neon Demon

Jesse is a young aspiring model from a small town. She is new to the big city, but she soon lands a modeling contract with a big agency. Jesse’s quick rise in the modeling industry and her rare beauty make the other models jealous. Jealousy can quickly turn to obsession. In a world where beauty isn’t everything – it’s the only thing – the most gorgeous and cutthroat will be the ones to survive.

Neon Demon has a relatively simple story that many models at various stages of their career can likely relate to. You get multiple different perspectives: the fresh meat that is quickly becoming a modeling favorite, the “has been” that has been under the knife one too many times, the model that can’t catch a break no matter how hard she tries, and the makeup artist that views it all from the fringes. The audience follows fresh-faced Jesse on her journey to stardom, but there is a constant awareness of how her rise affects her “friends”. Beyond this relatively to-the-point plot, the film greatly lacks in dialogue and proper pacing. There are large periods of time where there is absolutely no conversation between the characters. Even when there is some dialogue, the line delivery tends to be widely spaced. It makes the film seem to move at a snails pace, coming dangerously close to boring the audience. Things pick up a bit during the final act, where there is still not much talking, but there are at least some interesting events that make you laugh, cringe, and gasp all at the same time.

The moments that are devoid of dialogue are filled with stimulating artistic visuals. Many of the key moments are shown as a metaphoric display of neon lights and glitter. For example, when Jesse reaches her peak of the modeling industry, the audience is shown her internal transformation from an innocent girl into the “neon demon.” It is almost as if you are watching a piece of art move and breathe. Many of these visuals are accompanied with an amazing score. The music almost has an eighties video game feel to it, which fits in well with the use of neon lights in dark spaces throughout the film. There are even times when the makeup for the models is reminiscent of certain video games.

Since there was so little speech in Neon Demon, it makes it somewhat difficult to really judge the acting. I love Elle Fanning (Maleficent, Super 8) and think she is a fantastic actress. In her role as Jesse, however, she seemed a bit vacant through most of the film. I’m attributing this to the directing more so than her acting because it is a common theme with those playing the models. All three of the main women playing models were generally stiff, but there was a little something that made each of them different. Fanning at one point makes a change to a more seductive, menacing persona. Bella Heathcote (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) played Gigi, who is also quite rigid. On top of that, she manages to come off as both pompous and insecure all at the same time. Then there is Abbey Lee (Mad Max: Fury Road) as Sarah. What makes her stand out is her desperation to make it in the modeling world. Jena Malone (Sucker Punch) was probably the only main character that was able to show more emotion throughout the film because she wasn’t a model. She played Ruby, the makeup artist who is the first to befriend Jesse. Ruby is probably the most real and down to earth of the four main girls, but you do not want to get in the way of what she desires.

Did I love Neon Demon? No. Did I hate it? No. Would I watch it again? Most likely. Neon Demon is a film that is visually stunning, but it is lacking in substance, much like the models the film focuses on. As I was watching the film I couldn’t help but think if it had been an art installation in an upscale gallery, I would have thought it was absolutely amazing. Seeing as it was a film, I thought it wasn’t paced well enough and it didn’t have enough plot or dialogue to really keep me interested. This may sound harsh, but from the little experience I have with Nicolas Winding Refn I feel like his films lean towards being pretentious. The film tries to be a profound and artistic commentary on the modelling world, but unfortunately it errs on the side of being as vapid as that industry.


The Shallows

Nancy is on a quest to find a remote Mexican beach her mom surfed at before Nancy was born. After finding this tropical paradise she enjoys catching a few waves. Little does Nancy know there is a great white shark stalking her just below the surface. The shark attacks, leaving Nancy’s leg badly injured. Luckily she managed to get to a small rock island. Nancy must fight for her life and find a way to get to the beach that is so close, yet it might as well be miles away.

Going into this film I did not have high expectations. The first teaser trailer looked like the film would be quite a thriller, but when the full trailer came out I was unimpressed by the CGI shark leaping out of the water. I’m pleased to report that The Shallows was actually a fun, intense film. Considering this is a rather short film that takes place in the span of roughly 24 hours, the filmmakers laid out the plot in a way that allowed them to maximize the impact of events. Of course the story is rather basic (girl gets attacked by shark, girl tries to outsmart the shark, lots of bad things happen in the process), but it is still fun and exciting to watch. They even managed to fit in a bit of backstory, but they did it while other events were occurring. This makes you more invested in whether Nancy lives or dies without overdoing it with flashbacks and extra fluff that isn’t necessary. The filmmakers also did an excellent job of lulling the audience into a feeling almost like safety before a flurry of intense action. You would watch the film and be focusing on something Nancy was focusing on. That is when you least expect something to pop out and scare you, so of course that is exactly what happens.

Taking into consideration this is a PG-13 film, there were a couple scenes that were fairly graphic. After Nancy gets attacked by the great white, her thigh is badly wounded. She essentially has a flap of skin and muscle that is loose on her leg. Not only was it a bit hard to look at, but it was also an incredibly realistic looking practical effect. Since Nancy is at least partially in the water at all times her wound is also bleeding to some degree throughout the entire film. Another scene that was more graphic than I expected involved another victim of the shark. While the attack itself is strategically kept off screen, you still get to see the aftermath. Let’s just say it is some rather gruesome carnage.

The shark itself was of course done in CGI. While I tend to be repelled by the use of CGI in horror films, there was really no way around it in a film like this. For the most part the audience is only shown the shadow of the shark or it’s dorsal fin. There are only a few key scenes where you see the shark in all its computer generated glory. The CGI isn’t amazing, but it is passable enough that it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a made for TV Syfy channel movie.

As far as the acting in this film, there is really only one person to discuss. Obviously the main character, Nancy, was played by Blake Lively (Age of Adeline, Green Lantern). Blake Lively isn’t what you would call an amazing actress, but she is good enough that you enjoy watching her.Lively is someone who has the look of a stereotypical surfer girl, which makes it more believable for the audience. Casting her was also a wise decision by the filmmakers as she will draw in more of the younger audience they want with the PG-13 rating. While this character isn’t necessarily a true actor, I have to mention the amazing Sully “Steven” Seagull. This was a live animal actor who remained by Lively’s side through a majority of the film. The Shallows was Seagull’s first major motion picture role.

The Shallows isn’t quite at Jaws status, but it is a refreshingly well done and exciting shark flick in a sea of low budget drivel. I can honestly say that it is the best shark horror film I have seen in at least the last decade. My hope is that this will be a trend taking us away from the likes of Sharknado and more towards the thrilling shark films of the past that actually made you fear what was in the dark depths. Keep in mind that if you go in expecting to see Jaws or something that is gore galore, you will be disappointed.  This is a film that is fun and exciting, but know that it is a PG-13 film. It is a thrill ride that is light enough for people of many ages to enjoy.


The Conjuring 2

In 1977 a single mother and her four children living in the London borough of Enfield began to experience a haunting. All the activity seemed to be focused around the daughter, Janet. As things begin to get worse the Catholic church reached out to Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are paranormal investigators, to look into the case and see if it is a true haunting or a hoax. As the Warrens dig into the haunting, they soon realize there is much more to this case than meets the eye.

James Wan has brought another compelling true story to terrify audiences. What makes the Conjuring films so fascinating is the simple fact that they are based on truth. Add to that Wan’s unique style and his talent for creating scares, and you get a very frightening film. Part of the reason that the scares are so successful is because Wan utilizes many different kinds of scares. There was of course a good number of jump scares, but there were also more subtle scares and times when your attention is drawn elsewhere only for a scare to pop out somewhere else. The Conjuring 2 delivered on bigger scares, while still keeping the classic eerie feeling that we know and love from the first film.

When making a sequel, it is important to not only go bigger than you did in the first one, but you must also build on the mythology that was started. The Conjuring 2 definitely delivered on both points. As we follow the Warrens on their investigation we are reminded of events that happened in the first film. Then of course those events are expanded upon in this film. It creates a cohesion between the two movies and it resolves some of the unanswered questions.

As I previously mentioned, the scares were definitely bigger, but they also used imagery that took the film to another level. You may have noticed from the trailer that there are some more classic makeup effects in order to create the look for the Enfield poltergeist, as well as the possession makeup for Janet. I especially loved Janet’s makeup because it felt like a nod to The Exorcist with the veins across the face and haunting eyes. Then of course there is the nun character. The look they did was so simple with pale white skin and black around the eyes, yet it was probably one of the most terrifying manifestations of evil in the entire franchise. Unfortunately this is where I have to bring up probably the only thing I didn’t like about this film. This is a story that is very much rooted in actual events that took place. That being said, there was one manifestation that the evil in the Enfield home took on that did not feel at all real to me. Without giving too much away it was very big, scary, and could not have been pulled out without the help of CGI. The CGI was well done, but it just didn’t seem to fit in with the film and took it to a realm far outside what I could believe to be real. One could easily argue that the entire film is fantasy, but it is based on truth and the advertising wanted you to know that. If this CGI evil being had been in a different film, I likely would have enjoyed it much more.

The acting in The Conjuring 2 was just as good as it was in the first film. Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring, Bates Motel) and Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring, Insidious) were fantastic as Lorraine and Ed Warren. Of course they are incredibly talented actors, but their chemistry on screen is what draws viewers in and makes us fall in love with them. The biggest surprise in this cast was Madison Wolfe (Joy, Trumbo) as the focus of these hauntings, Janet. When I looked her up to see what other acting gigs she had. I was shocked to find that she has been in many great films and TV shows. She isn’t even English and she looks COMPLETELY different in real life than she does in The Conjuring 2. Her performance was so powerful and disturbing. She is a young actress that I can’t wait to see more of.

The Conjuring 2 keeps audiences cowering in their seats while delivering one of the most frightening films in the past decade. It has the scares, the story, and the performances to push the film into the relatively small club of horror movie sequels that are actually great. There have been many who have said that The Conjuring 2 was better than its predecessor. While I disagree with that, I still believe this was a near perfect sequel. If it wasn’t for the addition of CGI that seemed out of place I may have agreed that this film surpassed the original. James Wan has created yet another masterful film that will go down in history with other classics such as The Exorcist and the Shining. Run, don’t walk, to the theaters so you can experience the frights and scares how they were meant to be seen; on a big screen with a theater full of people to scream and jump with.