This past week I managed a couple of trips to my local cinema to see Independence Day: Resurgence (Dir. Roland Emmerich, 2016) and The Conjuring 2 (Dir. James Wan, 2016). Here are a few thoughts.
INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE
Normally I’m a pretty fluid typist/speller, but Independence is one of those words I have to stop and say out loud to get it right. I’m all like “tap-a-tap-a-tap………….. IN-DE-PEN-DENCE”. Even now it doesn’t look right.
If you have lived under ground with the mole people for the last two decades Independence Day (Emmerich, 1996) was an action-romp about aliens coming to invade the Earth and Jeff Goldblum saving the day with the help of some good-looking young people.
Resurgence does little to shake up the formula and brings with it all the good things about the original but all of it’s flaws as well. Resurgence- much like it’s predecessor- feels a little unfocused, trying simultaneously to be a war film, a hard sci-fi thriller and a special effects extravaganza but the balance feels a little off.
The fight scenes are a little too elaborate and rushed for their to be a proper progression. We see one battle early on where the humans get their arses kicked, before a handful of survivors are able to turn the tables despite the odds being even more stacked against them about 20 minutes later with no practical progression. There are too many characters, too few arcs and too many convenient things happening for it to be taken seriously as a thriller.
Seriously, at one point Jeff Goldblum might as well have said: “We have no chance… Actually nevermind, I’ve worked it out!”
It’s as a special effects spectacle that Resurgence really shines. Normally I don’t rate films by post-production effects but sometimes even I have to admit that when the planets are aligned in exactly the right way and you’ve got a competent cinematographer it just works. The White House scene from the first film still looks good now and I’ll admit I was blown away by the scene in Resurgence where London was obliterated, seeing Big Ben hanging upside down in the air and the level of detail in the old clock tower was staggering.
But really this film is just a by-the-numbers sequal.
Brent Spiner being kooky? Check.
Jeff Goldblum conveniently saving the day? We got ’em.
Crazy old man heroically sacrificing himself only to expose a bigger threat? Bingo was his name-o.
The tagline for this film is: “We had 20 years to prepare. So did they.” I put it to you, dear reader, that a more accurate tagline would have been: “We had 20 years to come up with ideas for a sequal. But we didn’t.”
What bothers me the most is that I feel like this film has some sort of message or moral, but I’m not entirely sure what it is. I went to see this with a friend and asked them what they thought the moral was and they said it was that we should all come together for the betterment of all humanity, but this point is somewhat undermined by the world being saved by four photogenic, young pilots, three of whom were American and who had no problems working together. It seemed like it was trying to set up tension between Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher’s characters but as soon as the aliens turned up it was like “Okay, let’s work together now.” Which I guess is realistic but I want that lovely build-up and release that gives me waves of pleasure throughout my body.
It might seem like I’m bashing the film but honestly I quite enjoyed it. If you can look past it’s flaws there is an entertaining, if somewhat shallow, film somewhere and if you felt the original needed to be two hours longer then good times.
The Conjuring 2
James Wan you scary, scary mother fucker.
I’ve followed the career of Mr. Wan closely since the first Saw film came out and I have to say that future generations will probably regard him as the finest horror director of the early 21st century. To me, horror can be divided into visceral jump scares that fade as quick as they happen and atmospheric horror that creeps you out into the bone and stays with you long after the credits roll. Wan has somehow mastered interweaving both together to really scare the pants off of his viewers.
There are a lot of unwritten rules in film making that directors will strictly adhere to, but horror is a genre where those rules can be bent or full on broken in the name of creating a scare. Normally in a typical movie scene, you will go from shot A to shot B then go to shot C before returning to A. Wan likes to jump from A to B fairly rapidly, but with cut the light and shadow will be slightly different, or objects will be moved slightly. A cynic would put this down to poor continuity, but it’s so subtle and deliberately done that it creates a feeling of creepiness and uncertainty. Every shot used is slightly off centre and lingers just a little too long, again very slight and subtle, almost beyond notice. But it’s done to make angles sharper, spaces smaller, creating a claustrophobic feeling of being watched.
All of this combines together with the sound design so masterfully that even something as banal as a character entering a silent room sets up the expectation that all hell is about to break loose. When the scene finally ends with nothing happening it’s almost worse than if the ghost had jumped out. It carries on like this to the point that when the first jump scare finally happens about 45 minutes in my bowels evacuated so hard that I ended up on the moon.
One scene particularly stood out for me as the creepiest. As Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) is trying to communicate with a spirit that is possessing a young girl he tells her to hold a mouthful of water so he could prove it wasn’t just her putting a voice on. The ghost won’t talk while he’s looking, however, so he turns his back to her. What follows is the 5 of the most gripping moments ever captured on film, as the focus pulls onto Wilson in the foreground, as the girl goes out of focus in the background, slowly morphing into some kind of monster behind him. A monster we never truly see. Holy crap, was that tense.
Unlike Resurgence, this film is about subtlety. Manipulating the audience and whispering in riddles rather than slapping them across the head with the events on-screen. Well, the last sort of 10-15 minutes kind of throw that out of the window, but you know what? By this point the film has earned the right to go a little wild, like someone coming off of a 12 hour shift then heading straight to karaoke night.
The child actors involved were great, pulling off scared and rambunctious in equal style. The performance of the night award, however, goes to the always stellar Vera Farmiga. If I was making a film and could have anyone I wanted, I’d have Vera Farmiga. Then afterwards I’d ask her to be in my film.
The USP of The Conjuring series is that it is based on the real case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two real life paranormal investigators who operated and paved the way for people like the Ghost Adventures Crew. They most famously investigated the Amityville house, and I give credit to the film makers for choosing to use some of their lesser known cases as the basis for the films. It would be easy to use Amityville and make a quick buck off of that but it’s done to death by now so kudos.
One thing I will say though is that the film is wildly inaccurate to what allegedly happened in the real event. If you want an accurate account of events I’d recommend tracking down the 3-part British drama The Enfield Haunting starring Timothy Spall of Peter Pettigrew fame, but if accuracy isn’t a problem for you and you fancy a good scare then I recommend The Conjuring 2 one million percent. Actually, I recommend The Enfield Haunting a million percent too, fantastic series.
So that’s it for this week. Hopefully we can get back on schedule, but you should know better by now.
Thanks for reading, see you next time xx