POSSESSION IS 9/10ths OF THE LAW: Movie Reviews of The Wailing and The Conjuring 2 by Howard Casner

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rev 5Two movies have opened of late that revolve around children being taken over by supernatural forces beyond their control. I’m sure many of you might ask, “But how can you be sure it’s not just puberty?” Well, see the films and decide for yourself.

In the last number of years, the most interesting movies have been making their way over here from two unlikely sources: the Romanian and South Korean new waves. One might suggest that one is the result of having recently thrown off the cloak of Communism and the other from living under the specter of the same. But that’s little more than speculation.

However, there is a difference in the two. While the movies we get from Romania tend to be more political and social critiques (4 Months, 3Weeks, 2Days, Police: Adjective, The Death of Mr. Lazarescu), the ones from South Korea tend to be more genre focused (The Host, Thirst, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance).

Writer/director Hong-jin Han is one of the more interesting of the new set of Korean filmmakers. He started out with a psychological thriller (The Chaser, about a serial killer targeting prostitutes), and followed it up with a political thriller (Yellow Sea, about a man set up as a fall guy for an assassination, in a style worthy of Alfred Hitchcock).

His new film is of the genre horror, about a small town that becomes victim to a series of horrifying and inexplicable, and with enough blood to make Sweeny Todd proud, deaths. But is the cause a Japanese man new to the area (Jun Kunimura, known here for Kill Bill, Vol. I and II and Audition, so it’s understandable that there are those who would be of the suspicious sort); an odd, but beautiful young woman in white who appears to appear and disappear (Chun Woo-hee, who can also be seen in the wonderful Bong Joon-ho thriller, Mother); a demonic spirit; or some combination of the above.


rev 6The Wailing is a more than fairly frightening film that has the build of a slowly boiling tea kettle. It’s filled with its fair share of jump and go boo moments; ominous scenes of creepy alters, religious and otherwise; and a constant reoccurrence of a murder of crows.


And blood, lots and lots of blood.


The central character is Jon-goo, a plump and sweaty faced police officer who at first seems to be the sort who is willing to do as little as possible when it comes to his job. But though he starts out somewhat lazy and unambitious, as the story goes on, he is the only officer who really comes across as not just wanting to solve the mystery, he’s the only one who seems to make any progress on it, as his private investigation focuses on that mysterious Japanese gentlemen who has set up shop far in the midst of the nearby forest. But when it seems his daughter may be possessed, he stops at nothing to save his only child.


It’s a wonderfully impressive and powerful empathetic, panicky performance by Do Won Kwak.


rev 4The build to the climax is marvelous, but the ending is a bit of a letdown. Jon-goo finds himself caught between the Catholic Church’s attempts to help and a shaman who doesn’t come cheap (he’s sincere, but in Jung-min Hwang’s performance, he has the feel of a snake oil salesman—I mean, he wears a turtleneck, for God’s sake).


But when all is said and done, there is no help, not really. The resolution, whether intentional or not, is pretty nihilistic. Jon-goo is given a choice, but no way to know which option is the correct one. In the end, it feels as if no matter what decision he makes, or who he chooses to believe, his daughter is doomed. He has to roll the dice, even though he’s most likely to come out craps.


The problem is that it’s difficult to tell whether this is intentional or Hong-jin Na just wasn’t sure how to end it.


rev 3Ed and Lorraine Warren are the Ozzie and Harriet of the ghost hunter set. Based on real people (they made their name with their involvement in The Amityville Horror), they first made their screen appearance in The Conjuring about a house haunted by Salem witches (huh, I guess those Puritans were right after all—I mean, who’d a thunk it).


As played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, they are the most ruthless of ruthlessly normal, an average, devout middleclass couple who could be played by Carl Betz and Donna Reed. Of course, this also means they are also mercilessly dull. I only hope that Wilson and Farmiga’s performances were a deliberate acting choice, and not a sign of their thespianic future.


But still, they’re young, they’re in love, they exorcise houses.


The Conjuring 2 (as well as The Conjuring) is the kitchen sink version of The Exorcist, taking place as it does in a council flat in England inhabited by a family that can barely afford biscuits (that’s cookies to you Yankee heathens). However, as in The Exorcist, the cause is the same: a single parent household, and the cure is the same: the Catholic Church.


It sounds like the devil is the great equalizer.


rev 1The Conjuring 2 is a perfectly acceptable jump and go boo movie. Its aim is to scare the bejesus out of, as well as into, you, which it does quite satisfyingly thank you veddy much.


Its main pleasures are the gritty, realistic background (like The Conjuring, the working class sets and costumes add immensely to the story). And it’s backed by a first rate performance by Frances O’Connor as the mother and a great group of kids who probably won’t be cast in a version of The Sound of Music anytime in the near future, especially Madison Wolfe as Janet Hodgson, the center of all demonic activity.


It’s written by four people, including the director James Wan, the result of which is to make you think, “It really took four people to write this? Really?” I mean, the far superior The Wailing only took one author, and he directed it as well.


rev 2Wan and the writers try to create some tension by building up to what might be a bad end for Ed Warren. However, anyone who goes to the movies on any sort of regular basis (and even those who don’t), knows that the future of a franchise is far more powerful than any agent from hell (if they’re not the same thing), and since there have been no stories in the Hollywood press about Wilson wanting out or demanding too much money, we already know what the outcome is going to be.


With Maria Doyle Kennedy as a sympathetic neighbor and Simon McBurney as a parapsychologist, both always a welcome sight in movies these days.


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