Archive for possession

The Conjuring – James Wan – 2013

Posted in 2010's with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2013 by bookofdread

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You know that disclaimer at the end of films that says, “Any similarities between the characters here and real persons is purely coincidental”? James Wan’s The Conjuring has no such label because it’s based on actual events. The case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren have inspired several films including The Amityville Horror. These demonologist lovers were all but exorcists themselves and according to the many families they have helped throughout the years they were righteous agents of God and truly humanistic, empathetic individuals.

The film begins with what has become Wan’s signature, a doll. A potent metaphor that has served wan well, a hollow creature, an imitation of life, a shell. A pair of young women who live together are haunted by a demon that has taken up refuge in a doll. We are introduced to the Warrens as they help the girls out and explain to them with reason and faith the facts as they see them. This becomes part of a larger scene where the Warrens are seen giving a lecture on the paranormal in a college classroom. This context paints the Warrens, not as religious icons first, but rather as academics and scientists.

Next, we cut to the Perron family, Mother, Father, five Daughters, moving into a creepy as all hell Rhode Island Farmhouse. I don’t know what it is, but Rhode Island is a haunted, freaky place. Poe knew it, Lovecraft knew it, and the residents know it. Still, the family of seven get all their money tied up in this farmhouse and wouldn’t you know it a witch hung herself there after she made a pact with satan to destroy all who might inherit her land.

Before long the film is begging comparison to Poltergeist, The Entity and The Exorcist. But only in content, for the form is all James Wan. Wan keeps the cameras moving around and exploring space, always giving us room to see something just out of view of the characters. Often he will invert this rule, giving us character reactions to some fearful entity for seemingly endless moments before revealing to us some foul visage of malevolence.

The sound design and score are as crafted and precise as any horror film that came before it and I’ll be impressed if any score keeps me as on the edge of my seat this year. (Insidious 2 is coming so, eeeek.) There are huge pools of silence punctuated by the smallest of noises, yet when the creep really comes the score swirls maliciously and atonally freaking you out with madness.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are stellar as Ed and Lorraine Warren and they exude the right amount of tender familial underpinnings and ghostbusting bravado necessary. During the first act Wan cuts between both the Warren and Perron family and this device allows us time to empathize with both groups. After all, the Warrens have a little girl who is curious about the demon doll in the Warren trove of Supernatural and possessed objects. That this room exists in real life is pretty amazing, and this room looks like if every box in warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark was open and its’ contents put up on display.

All of the production design is top notch, from the farmhouse to the ghosts to the possessed people to that damn tree that I can’t tell whether is real or not. But it’s a freaky tree. Craft is what sets this film apart from others and craft is what will make it a classic.

What is really surprising and nice and old school about the film is the presence of faith and the assumption in both God and the devil and demons. The Warrens are very matter of fact about these things and despite the Perron family being an un-baptized bunch they treat them with not one ounce of hostility. This is the kind of evenhanded faith-themed approach films should have. It’s not pushy or preachy, but it kind of assumes that otherworldly powers exist and there’s not a scientist or atheist around to call bullshit and undermine our heroes.

And if this stuff is real, the Warrens appear to be heroes of the first order. They put their lives, their minds and their marriage in jeopardy to help others. They do battle with demons and devils. And, at least in the content of the film, never ask for anything and do good all out of a capacity to do so.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is its willingness to take these families and turn them against one another. As in The Exorcist and The Shining we have these incredible moments of tension where a family member is tested by threat of a possessed relation. This fear, this trouble, the fact that a protector is turning against the innocent is the greatest of all atrocities and it keeps the stakes as high as can be. That this film is almost entirely a bloodless affair and the MPAA sought to rate it R is not only a testament to how scary the film is, (which it is), but also I think to this type of context where a parent is horrifically portrayed as monstrous. I love that what makes this film scary is the context and not just the phenomena.

This brings us to Lily Taylor, without whom the film falls. Her portrayal of this mother in crisis elevates the film to soaring levels. The academy rarely acknowledges this type of work but it totally has precedent, so here’s hoping. Warner Brothers should really push for that come Oscar time, she really nails it. 

The Conjuring is a Horror Film of the highest order and the greatest work thus far of James Wan. One of our true masters of Horror, Wan summons dread and fear through a mastery of the cinematic language that few of his peers possess. I eagerly await both Insidious 2 and Fast 7, and any other films this artist in stride has on his plate. Furthermore, I hope that The Conjuring can be convincing that a classic horror style can be just as dread inducing as some instant gratification torture show.

 

The Conjuring is a masterpiece.

 

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Aenigma – Lucio Fulci – 1987

Posted in 80's with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2013 by bookofdread

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Lucio Fulci’s Aenigma is a parable about the impotence of sickness. When Fulci made this film, he wasn’t in the best health. He looks gaunt and ill in his typical cameo. He was having money troubles and troubles with producers. So here we have a story, very reminiscent of not only DePalma’s Carrrie, but even more so the Ozploitation classic Patrick. Essentially this is an astral-self attack movie, not a telekinesis movie. The differences are slight but basically make it so that the killers’ astral form can do just about anything.

Kathy is the frumpy daughter of St. Mary’s College cleaning lady, Maria. Maria’s daughter has a thing for the dance instructor. So, several of the college girls fix her up to go on a date with Mr. Hunktastic douche. Shitbag picks her up in a car and drives to remote spot where he starts to make out with her. She feels confident, kissing him back, divulging her innermost secrets and desires. But, he has placed a radio in his car. All around them, sitting in the dark, are individuals who judge her every word and mock her voice and desire. 

See, Fulci is that girl. Like most of his late films, the film distinctly echoes his disdain and insecurity. The faces in the dark? That’s the audience. Fulci gives, gives his heart, passionately to his love, and for what? To be mocked from afar? After a few moments the viewers turn on their headlights to reveal their presence. Kathy realizes she’s been had. Douchebag laughs in her face. She runs screaming from the car. 

The cars begin to pursue.

Women lean from the windows taunting Kathy. She runs frantically, headlong into the darkness as the cruel cries of beautiful faces chase her into the abyss. Then she runs into a busy street and is hit by an oncoming car.

Kathy is in a coma. Horrible machines keep her alive in a room of white light and dark blue walls. But her brain is awake, awake enough to transmit fear from afar. Awake enough to bring vengeance to those torturers who know no humanity. And this is Fulci. From even death he brings visions to our mind, through the ephemera. Though his is not a cruel spirit, this film finds him feeling very sorry for himself and very put upon. Though he is sick he is far from capable of expressing himself.

A new girl immediately arrives at the school. It could be that Kathy possesses this girl or that this girl is an Empath who funnels Kathy’s revenge. It’s hard to tell, but clearly the impulse influences the medium, not unlike the effect of watching a film has on its audience. Anywho, Eva is given Kathy’s old room and is attracted to all of her previous tormentors. The killing begins with gross dance teacher. He asks Eva out on a date, but before they meet, his reflection leaps from the mirror and destroys him. This scene, though cheaply done, very effective, and the message is clear. What do you see in the mirror? Does it create or destroy?

Fulci appears, briefly, as a stupefied police detective. There is no answer for the unreal. By appearing as this character, Fulci looks the audience in the face and basically says, “I don’t have the answers.” I don’t know how this works. I only know that it works.

A girl is killed by snails, and a doctor realizes that Kathy’s vitals have responded during the times of both of the deaths at the college. The snail death is not bloody, but there is a naked woman with tons of snails all over her, so if sexy snail stuff is your bag, then this is the film for you. Kathy’s respirator breaks and Eva has a coughing fit in class. No one puts two and two together. But here, Fulci does an interesting thing. He establishes that the two bodies share a vital link. That harm to one does harm to the other. Does this pull for the possession or ghost option? I’m not sure. Perhaps a ghost, couldn’t be harmed at all, so I guess, Eva really is possessed. And, why would you bother with possession if you could summon death snails to do your bidding?

To seduce the hot professor you were crushing on before you were in a coma, of course! That’s right! Eva comes on to the Prof, and they get it on! This is actually cool stuff, even if the scene isn’t terribly sexy. A comatose nerd uses psychic power to possess another woman and use her to seduce a man? That sounds a lot like Being John Malkovich. Just saying, that’s right, I’m comparing Aenigma to a Charlie Kaufman story.

A girl returns to an art gallery where a mock up of Rodin’s “The Thinker” comes to life and destroys the girl ultimately, by crushing her. The art comes to life and wreaks the havoc of the oppressed. The victim brings the art to life, issuing reprisal in a tangible way.

Professor dreamy begins to have a series of nightmares in which Eva, his girlfriend who is possessed by a coma girl, slays him after sex. Are his own dream visions protecting him. Fulci is know to both vilify and lionize the power of dreams and here it seems a clear case of the dreams acting as warning to the moral, (mostly?) professor.

Eva’s mother takes her home, but she bombards Professor Dreamy with love notes. Is this still Kathy in Eva’s body? Could she not just possess another gal? 

Another gal starts banging Dreamy, the only girl who feels sorry for Kathy’s condition. I love that these figures are only as moral a professor sleeping with his students. There is no moral high ground in this movie, except for perhaps Kathy’s aptly named mother, Maria.

The cleaning lady observes Eva sneak back onto the campus to murder two more students with mania set on by horrific visions. A girl sees her boyfriend beheaded at every turn and the terror sends her flying out of a third story window where she crashes to her death. Her boyfriend shows up moments later and looks out the window to see his dead gal. The windowpane falls, sending his head down to join his lover.

The ending is a fizzle. Eva threatens Jenny, Dr. Dreamy’s new fling, with a scalpel. After slashing the late arriving Dr., Eva falls dead to the floor. We ascend, Fight Club style, through the hospital. Above the trio is Maria, who has taken her own daughters life. The camera begins to ascend through the floors, (again, Panic Room style), until it pulls out from a beautiful model of a hospital in a large city. This final shot is very surreal and beautiful and Fulci acquiesces in this moment that peace is kinder than violence. Some spirits cannot be left to roam.

 

The Exorcist II: The Heretic – John Boorman – 1977

Posted in 70's with tags , , , , , , , on November 6, 2012 by bookofdread

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John Boorman’s Exorcist II: The Heretic is both a sophisticated argument for and a worthy counter-argument against the hive mind problematic. Using brain-linking technology Richard Burton is able to locate a man on the other side of the world who may help him defeat the demon Pazuzu. He extracts this from Reagan who was previously possessed by the demon. Yet when he meets Kukumo, the scientists are teaching the locusts how not to swarm. They remove their biofeedback, that same apparatus through which the priest was even able to arrive in Africa.

Confused yet? This film is way ahead of its time. As an experience the film is enjoyable enough, we don’t really get too much demon action, and the scares are sparse if not non-existent. The pace is fine and the performances are very good.

The story is a far out sci-fi parable about the dangers of shared consciousness. This stuff is what makes the picture much more than a horror franchise entry. Unfortunately, this futuristic fable was laughed off the screen upon its release, the synchronizing device seeming ridiculous. With today’s social media, and people being arrested for crimes they premeditate on the internet it is much less difficult to believe in a device that allows individuals to share their thoughts.

So what is the plot of this crazy story? Father Lamont, a journeyman exorcist is assigned by the church to investigate the death of Father Merrin. Because Merrin wrote a bunch of stuff about demons he is posthumously being charged as a heretic because the modern church wants to deny a literal satanic entity. What a bunch of jerks. So Richard Burton goes to meet up with Regan in NYC and the frog-eating teacher from Tobe Hooper’s Invaders From Mars.

Lamont and Regan mind-sync and he learns that once upon a time, James Earl Jones defeated Pazuzu in Africa. This sequence is pretty great. Pazuzu takes the forms of a swarm of locusts, symbolizing a shared consciousness moving as a many bodies. It’s one long swooping airplane shot over the African plains and the accompanying jittering vocal music is creepy and weird. Fun stuff.

Lamont goes to Africa to meet Kukumo who is teaching locusts not to swarm. Regan begins to reach inside the minds of others and speak to them. She teaches an autistic girl to talk. Here is where the film gets super contradictory.

Father Merrin belived that individuals like Kukumo and Regan were foreshadowers of a new type of humanity destined to bind the world in a global consciousness brought forth by their psychic power. But, Kukumo, you are teaching the locusts not to swarm! And why? Because if a demon infects one locust the psychic connection between all of them will bind them in the possession!

I’m not sure how aware Boorman was of what he is saying here. Does he expect the audience to recognize this dichotomy and sort for themselves a moral role on the proceedings? Is the film pro-mass consciousness or against it? Does it simply seek to explore the idea of shared mindscapes?

This is never answered. Reagan and Lamont go to Georgetown and face off with Pazuzu and the scene is big and loud and cool, but signifies nothing but Good over Evil. The three lead characters all survive, (not a bonus in my book). We are left with all this heady stuff about shared minds floating about but Boorman offers no easy out. All in all this film remains a smart sci-fi adventure, a bit dry, and a bit easy, but compelling nonetheless.

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