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The Woman In Black: An Occasionally Scary Ghost Story
Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is still depressed over his wife’s passing four years ago and his work is suffering as a result. As a last chance, his boss gives him an assignment to take care of some business in a remote village; he’s to deal with a mountain of paperwork needed to put a manor on the market – one that’s owner recently died and which the locals don’t seem very eager to sell. Undeterred by the very hostile, unhelpful locals, Kipps begins to work at the house and there he starts to see the ghost of the eponymous woman in black. He slowly pieces the puzzle together, figuring out her identity and the relationship between her and the deaths, both past and present, of many of the children in the village.
The film’s selling point seems to be Daniel Radcliffe, who stars in his first role post Harry Potter, which is great except that he happens to be the weakest part of the film. He’s not bad per se, he’s just woefully miscast. He plays a depressed father to a four-year old whose mother died during childbirth. The thing is, Radcliffe doesn’t look old enough to be a father let alone to a four-year old, and the way he interacts with his onscreen child is more reminiscent of a sibling relationship, or one between a babysitter and their ward, rather than that of a father and child. Other than that, he does a good job portraying a man grappling with feelings of guilt and forced to be in a place that reminds him of his deepest fear at every turn.
What’s really different about this film, at least compared to newer horror productions, is that it allows for breathing space. The film doesn’t shy away from long, quiet shots that aim to set up the atmosphere. These scenes lull you into a false sense of complacency before boom! A shrieking head pops out, or a wind-up toy suddenly starts moving. Thankfully, the screaming humans, running around frantically, are kept to a minimum. The film is also filled with children who get up and quietly commit suicide. The opening scene – which is of three young girls playing – shows them as they get up, cross over to the window and in sync, silently throw themselves out of it. As beautiful as it is, it is also disturbing – it sets up the film’s quietly eerie tone very well.
For the most part though, this is a run of the mill ghost story where floorboards creak, doors slam at their own accord and shadowy figures pop out, scare the daylights out of everyone then disappear again. There’s nothing in it that we haven’t seen a billion times before and while it isn’t scary – not by a long shot – it will make you jumpy; the occasionally over the top score makes sure of that. The Woman in Black brings nothing new to the table but it makes better use of the generic ghost tricks than most films of this ilk.
While it may be rigged with clichés and met with the expectedly formulaic hits at every turn, there’s still something awfully endearing about watching funny-man, Kevin Hart, and wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, as they manage to keep their infectiously infectiously funny onscreen dynamics intact in the largely weak comedy, Central Intelligence.
The story is centred on Calvin Joyner (Hart); a reserved accountant who isn’t exactly overjoyed with the way his life turned out to be. In high school, he was voted as most likely to succeed and although, he is professionally successful is married to his high-school sweetheart, Maggie (Nicolet), he still can’t help but feel like a failure.
With his twentieth high school reunion just around the corner, Calvin soon finds himself crossing paths with Bob Stone (Johnson); a formerly overweight - and bullied - outcast who has grown up into a quirky ball of muscle and is now super eager to reawaken his ‘friendship’ with Calvin.
As it turns out, Bob is a CIA agent who has gone rogue; however, according to him, he is actually under-cover trying to reveal the identity of a traitor within the agency - who goes by the name ‘The Black Badger’ - before classified U.S government information is sold to terrorists. Calvin, of course, has no choice but to join him for the ride.
Predictable in nature, Central Intelligence - scripted by We’re the Millers director who shares writing credits with Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen - is definitely not the most ‘intelligent’ movies you’ll see.
Plot holes, illogical setups and uneventful action set pieces make up most a large bulk of the story, but the film benefits greatly from the casting of Hart and Johnson who pretty much carry the movie on their shoulders. Hart, taking a step back from his usual loud-self, does a great job as the insecure accountant, but it’s ‘The Rock’ who deserves most of the credit here; the ex-WWE wrestler shines brightest as the quirky, Unicorn-loving, Sixteen Candles-quoting hulk.
In the end, Central Intelligence is a glaringly flawed affair, but the clichés and lazy set-ups are, to a certain degree, endured thanks to the irresistibly compelling onscreen chemistry of the two leads who manage to make us forget just how poor the whole package actually is.
Delivering more than its fair share of scares, the follow-up to director James Wan’s 2013 hit horror-film, The Conjuring, continues its almost-flawless cinematic realisation with a aesthetically pleasing, atmospherically fitting and particularly creepy sequel.
Set in 1976, The Conjuring 2 is once again centred on paranormal investigators Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren who are living at the height of their infamy following their involvement in the highly controversial ‘Amityville Horror’ case. After encountering a horrifying demon during one of their sessions at the old Lutz home, the couple decides that it’s time to give their profession a little rest.
Meanwhile, in Enfield, U.K, Peggy Hodgson (O’Connor) and her four children are being terrorised by a mysterious and malevolent demonic presence that has developed a keen interest in her youngest daughter, Janet (the wonderful Ms. Wolfe). Enlisted by the Catholic Church to fly over and investigate the case - which at this point has been dubbed as ‘England’s Amityville’ - Ed and Lorraine find themselves against an unknown evil entity whose power is yet to be tested.
The Conjuring 2 proves to be yet another chilling and skilfully-executed horror tale from Saw director James Wan, who has allegedly turned down the opportunity to direct Fast 8 for an ‘life-altering’ amount of money, in order to continue his work here – and horror fans will be glad he did.
The biggest cliché in Hollywood is that no sequel can ever top its predecessor; but in this particular case, The Conjuring 2 bucks the trend. Expanding on the old in order to bring in the new, everything about the story feels tighter and more focused. The lingering, creepy mood is just right and the camera work in particular is remarkable, with Wan’s admiration of 70’s and 80’s horror movies evident throughout.
Wilson and Farmiga are strong in their respective roles and while Farmiga is given a little bit more to do this time around, they are both equally deserving of plaudits. Their onscreen chemistry is easy and palpable, which serves the story well, while thirteen year-old British-born actress, Madison Wolfe, is absolutely outstanding as the possessed young child whose identity is slowly being swallowed up by something from within.
Overall, The Conjuring 2 is a successfully frightening follow-up which will keep fans, and newcomers, happy and satisfied. While there are moments of predictability to be found, the story’s two-hour-plus running time never, ever feels like a chore.