Tag Archive: James Wan


A lot of horror films aren’t great, so it’s even more rare to find a horror sequel that gets the job done. The Conjuring was a huge hit back in the summer of 2013, scaring the pants off of critics and making over $300 million worldwide in the process. A sequel to this supernatural shocker was only inevitable, but no one expected it to be almost as good as the original. Returning to the director’s chair is James Wan, who has essentially become a horror juggernaut, making franchises out of Saw, Insidious and now The Conjuring. While most of the sequels to his hit films have been misfires – including the dreadful Conjuring spinoff AnnabelleThe Conjuring 2 is the rare horror sequel that works. Utilizing effective jump scares and frightening imagery, it’s a legitimately scary horror film that’s perfect to see with a crowd.

Six years after their investigation into the haunting of the Perron family, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) continue investigating the paranormal. Having just looked into the haunting of Amityville, there are still many skeptics who don’t believe the claims made by the Warrens. But that might all change when Ed and Lorraine travel to England to help a mother (Frances O’Connor) whose home is being terrorized by an otherworldly force that’s formed an attachment to her daughter Janet (Madison Wolfe). The evidence that this is a real haunting seems strong, but the church wants the Warrens to dig a little deeper to ensure that this isn’t a hoax. What they discover is one of their most terrifying and dangerous cases yet.

The biggest problem with The Conjuring 2 – and really the film’s only major misstep – is that it’s way too long. Unless you’re making an epic horror film like The Shining or The Exorcist, every director should try to generally keep their horror films less than two hours. The Conjuring 2 clocks in at an egregious two hours and fourteen minutes, which is over twenty minutes longer than its predecessor. A large chunk of these extra minutes are devoted to developing the characters of Ed and Lorraine Warren and while that’s fine in theory, a lot of their individual scenes should have ended up on the cutting room floor. Not only does this cause the film to overstay its welcome, it also severely disrupts the flow of the movie. There’s at least one large segment of the film without any legitimate scares and this means that the sequel is unable to match the near-continuous dread of its predecessor.

But if this film had been shorter and tighter, there’s a chance that it could have ended up better than the original. There are some really great scares here that are both subtly scary and in-your-face obvious. One of the best scenes in the movie involves a painting depicting a demon nun. Lorraine Warren chases a spirit into a dark room and finds a painting of the being hanging on the wall. In the darkness, the painting looks like it could be real, but Wan ensures that the audience is never certain. It’s a great scene of anticipation; we know the scare is coming, but we don’t know when. Scenes like this one show how Wan is so great at manipulating an audience for maximum effect. He toys with our anticipation and knowledge of horror films, thus playing the audience like a frightened fiddle.

There are also some quieter scares in the film that work like gangbusters. The aforementioned nun is incredibly discomforting and its appearance at the end of a long hallway is easily the scariest image in the film. If anything is going to frighten you once the movie is over, it’s this. But another great scene occurs when the Warrens are attempting to discover if Janet is really being haunted. Janet tells them that the old man who is haunting her will only appear if everyone in the room turns their backs to her. They comply and while the camera is focused on Ed Warren, a sinister presence slowly begins to transform in Janet’s place. It’s a creepy effect that isn’t initially obvious, but it’s definitely one of the most unique scenes in the film.

Not every scare is quite as effective and one of the monsters feels strangely reminiscent of 2014’s The Babadook, but this is definitely a notch above most modern horror flicks. Wan doesn’t make raw, visceral horror films, choosing instead to treat his material like an amusement park ride. It provides some great thrills while you’re in the moment, but it certainly isn’t likely to keep you awake at night. Unlike this year’s brilliant The Witch, which some people may find uncomfortable or unnecessarily slow, The Conjuring 2 is a horror film that pretty much everyone can enjoy.

The Conjuring 2 receives 3/4

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The Insidious franchise thrives on its jump scares. People don’t see these movies for story, characters or any dramatic subtext; what people want is to be scared. The original Insidious was a pleasant surprise, a simple ghost story that was elevated by unique visuals and effective scares. The sequel was a definite step down, but I still found it interesting enough on an initial viewing. Now it seems that the producers of the film are determined to turn a once simple story into an ongoing franchise with Insidious: Chapter 3. It’s easily the most unnecessary entry in the franchise thus far, abandoning the Lambert family that the first two films centered on. This would be fine if writer/director Leigh Whannell was able to produce an interesting story, but it mostly feels like a retread of the original and the characters and dialogue are absolutely brutal to watch at times. Still, the most important aspect of these movies is the scares and, in this regard, fans of the franchise will not be disappointed.

Set several years before the events of the first movie, Chapter 3 begins by introducing us to a young woman named Quinn (Stefanie Scott). She recently lost her mother and is having a difficult relationship with her father (Dermot Mulroney). She begins to suspect that her mother is attempting to contact her from beyond the grave, which leads her to visit Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), a retired psychic. Elise warns Quinn that her attempts to contact her mother have resulted in a sinister force to become attached to her. This supernatural being will stop at nothing to gain control of Quinn’s soul and Elise will have to come out of retirement to stop it.

Former director of the franchise James Wan may have moved on to bigger and better things, but Whanell wrote and starred in the previous two entries, so he fits in nicely as a director here. The visual style of the film is essentially the same and the visual manifestations of the creatures are usually pretty interesting to look at. The main antagonist of the film is particularly creepy and his appearance is initially shrouded in mystery. This makes the sequences with him a lot more frightening because we’re not exactly sure what monstrosity Whannell is hiding from us. He’s able to cook up some pretty intense sequences of suspense, particularly in one where an entity appears in Quinn’s room. As she lies helpless on the floor, the being slowly walks around the room, removing any potential light sources. Scenes like this one are fun and will keep you waiting for the next scare, but it’s hard to determine if these scenes are actually scary or if they only work because the audience is bracing themselves for a really loud noise.

But it’s when the film steps away from its scares that things truly begin to fall apart. Other than Elise, the characters in this film are not interesting at all and Quinn and her father aren’t strong enough to carry the majority of the film. The first scene in the film has Quinn contacting Elise, which feels like a strange beginning. If this story focused on Elise it could have worked, but to throw us into the middle of the action from the perspective of a character whom we haven’t met before just feels forced. But it’s nowhere near as bad as the introduction of Quinn’s family life. Watching her try to get ready in the morning while dealing with her father and brother isn’t only cliché, it’s painful to watch. Other new characters are introduced, including Quinn’s best friend and the boy next door, but their characters clearly only exist to somehow setup a scare. These two have zero personality or depth to them and they disappear before the film even reaches its halfway point, never to be seen again.

If there’s one aspect of this film that truly deserves praise, it’s Lin Shaye’s performance as Elise Rainier. Her performance as the sweet old lady who also happens to be a gifted psychic with the ability to combat evil has been the highlight of every Insidious film and this entry might feature the most screen time from her. Now that the Lambert family is gone, she’s become the heart and soul of the franchise. It probably would have been better to position her as the lead of the film, rather than Quinn and her father, but Shaye does an excellent job in every scene that she’s in.

From the creepy sight of an old man waving, to the possibly unintentional white face in a dark doorway at the very end of the film, Insidious: Chapter 3 has some good scares, but with an uninteresting story and lame characters, none of them are able to build into a satisfying whole.

Insidious: Chapter 3 receives 2/4

The death of Paul Walker in late 2013 was especially tragic, not because he was a great actor, but because he seemed like a genuinely great guy. He cared about his family, friends, fans and did a lot of work for charitable causes. Walker was in the middle of filming Furious 7 when he passed away and the future of the film was left up in the air. But after deciding that it was wrong to scrap the film, the filmmakers worked around Walker’s absence and after a year-long delay, the finished product has arrived in theaters. Taking over for franchise regular Justin Lin, director James Wan has created a hugely satisfying entry into the Fast & Furious saga. It’s completely over-the-top and its action sequences are utterly ridiculous, but the film still manages to serve as an extremely touching sendoff to Walker. This may not be the best Fast & Furious film, but it’s absolutely the most emotional.

Taking place after the events of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) is living comfortably in Los Angeles with his girlfriend Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). His sister Mia (Jordana Brewster) and her husband Brian (Paul Walker) are attempting to adjust to domestic life, but Brian misses the thrill of their past adventures. But a new adventure arises when Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) kills their friend Han and vows to seek revenge against Dom and his family after they put Shaw’s brother in a coma. After reassembling their crew and being approached by a mysterious man named Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), Dom decides that the only way to beat Shaw is to find him first and to do that they must steal a valuable piece of technology that can find anyone on the planet.

Furious 7 still suffers from the terrible plot, inane dialogue and obvious objectification of women that has plagued its predecessors, but this is easily one of the most action-packed installments yet. A high speed chase on a curvy mountain road is a hugely satisfying action set piece, as is a sequence where the crew attempts to steal a car from the top floor of a huge tower. The physics and logic are at an all-time low, especially in a scene involving skydiving cars, but that hardly matters when the action is so much fun. Sadly, the final climactic moments are not as exciting as the events that precede it, which is somewhat understandable since the aforementioned sequences are so over-the-top.

What’s most surprising about the film isn’t the awesome action sequences (that’s to be expected) but how truly moving its final moments are. There was the worry that the film wouldn’t do Paul Walker justice, but the tribute to him and his character that ends the film is absolutely beautiful. Set to Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth’s “See you Again”, the tribute offers a conclusive end to Walker’s character and shows some of the highlights of Walker throughout the series. This series has never been great with characterizations, but the constant reaffirmation by Dom that these people are a family actually allows us to really care about them. Suffice to say, there won’t be a dry eye in the house by the time the film ends.

While another entry in the franchise would be welcome news, one can’t help feeling that this is the installment where the franchise should bow out. One of its main contributors has passed away and the franchise is almost guaranteed to never provide quite the ending that this one does. Plus, they may never be able to top how crazy these action sequences are, although I would still like to see them try. Furious 7 is a real crowd pleaser and James Wan makes sure that it has all the hallmarks of the series that fans have come to expect. It will put a tear in your eye and a big goofy smile on your face.

Furious 7 receives 3/4

Annabelle – Movie Review

Last year, James Wan’s The Conjuring scared the pants off of millions of moviegoers, grossing over $300 million worldwide and earning rave reviews from practically everyone who saw it. While I didn’t love it quite as much as everyone else seemed to, I still thought that it was a solid throwback to old school fright fests with a handful of masterful scares. One of the most memorable images in the movie was of the creepy doll Annabelle. Now she’s got her own spinoff movie, an origin story for a possessed object that we definitely did not need to know the origin of. Regular James Wan cinematographer John R. Leonetti has stepped in to direct and while he’s successfully reproduced the visual style that Wan has become famous for, he can’t produce the tone, story, characters or scares that elevate most of Wan’s efforts above the normal horror standard. Filled with cheap jump scares, uninteresting characters and a general lack of creativity, Annabelle is one of the worst horror movies of the year.

One year before the events of The Conjuring, we’re introduced to Mia (Annabelle Wallis) and John (Ward Horton), a young California couple with a baby on the way. While decorating the child’s nursery, John surprises Mia with the gift of a rare doll. One night, their neighbors are murdered by a man and woman associated with the occult. The intruders sneak over to their house and manage to attack Mia before the police arrive to save them. Perhaps most alarming is the obsession that the woman intruder had with Mia’s new doll. Mia eventually has her baby, but the trauma that she experienced in her home ends up being too much for her, so she and John move into a new apartment. But when spooky things begin to go bump in the night, Mia starts to lose her sanity and she believes that it’s somehow all connected to her new doll.

One of the laziest things for a horror movie to do is rely too heavily on jump scares. While they can be done effectively, nearly all the scares in Annabelle can be attributed to loud noises that cheaply try to startle the audience. Why do certain directors try to pass this off as being scary? Sure, they’ll make the audience jump, but it will be because of a reaction to a loud noise, not a true jump out of fear. Most of Wan’s efforts get their scares from the impressive makeup creations, disturbing imagery and sequences of almost unbearable suspense. This film has none of those things and it’s clear that Leonetti lacks the flair that it takes to make a great horror movie. What might be most offensive is how blatantly he rips off of Wan’s work. Obviously this is a spinoff of The Conjuring so some similarities are expected, but what Leonetti does is on a whole different level. From the design of the film’s primary creature to individual lines of dialogue, there’s hardly a scene here that doesn’t steal something from The Conjuring or Insidious.

The script by Gary Dauberman is purely perfunctory, crafting a predictable story that we’ve seen before and filling it with dull, uninteresting characters. Aside from the fact that they’re the main characters in the film, we’re never given much of a reason to care about John and Mia. Their performances certainly don’t help; Wallis brings a motherly warmth to her character, but isn’t given much else to do beyond looking frightened and Horton is incredibly bland and forgettable. The few side characters are even worse, popping up randomly without any rhyme or reason. Perhaps the most wasted potential lies in Oscar nominee Alfre Woodard; her character arrives too late into the film and the backstory that she’s given is so melodramatic that it borders on being laughable.

The film’s final scene is particularly offensive, ending in exactly the same way as The Conjuring. This final stinger just reiterates how uncreative and unoriginal of a film this is. It’s one thing to be inspired by a director’s past work, but it’s another thing to take what he does best and redo it in a completely uninteresting way. A sequence in a seemingly unmovable elevator is actually pretty interesting, but it’s the lone bright spot in a film that feels incredibly long, even with a relatively short 98 minute runtime. Everyone wants to see a great horror film when October rolls around, but Annabelle is definitely not that film.

Annabelle receives 1.5/4