Wednesday, June 29, 2016
We’re two months into the summer 2016 movie season and, so far, the narrative has been one of baffling failure, with costly blockbusters (aside from Marvel and Pixar franchises) repelling audiences one after another. But look beyond the gossipy disaster stories and there’s been another trend quietly unfolding, which is the encouraging success of skillfully directed, modestly budgeted horror counter-programming. Both Jaume Collet-Serra’s shark thriller The Shallows and James Wan’s spookhouse extravaganza The Conjuring 2 deliver in spades the type of clever empty calorie thrills and bracing excitement we’ve been conditioned to anticipate from their infinitely more expensive and hyped competition.
Jaws than, say, Shark Night 3D.
Headlined by a very game and committed Blake Lively, playing a grieving young surfer held captive a mere 200 feet from shore by an aggressively territorial great white, The Shallows is an impeccably assembled exercise in ever-ratcheting tension. The Barcelona-born director, operating with a mere 17-million-dollar budget, embraces his limitations by keeping his vicious CG co-lead obscured – a sleek, breaking fin here, a murky shadow there – much the way Spielberg so famously did back in the sunny days of 1975. And, similar to that enduring classic, or 2003’s effective Open Water, anxiety is generated by not quite knowing where the marine threat is from moment to moment. As we watch our heroine battle her way through various minor tasks, such as nasty self-surgery or travelling from a floating whale carcass to a sturdier rock, we’re always on edge, waiting for the leviathan to rise up.
Once again drawing inspiration from the true life (entirely bogus) experiences of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (portrayed on celluloid by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), The Conjuring 2 tremendously fictionalizes the famous events surrounding England’s late 1970s Enfield Poltergeist case. This scenario, which begins with simple bumps in the night tormenting a woman and her four children, before gradually evolving into possession and unthinkable supernatural chaos, affords Wan a wide variety of hellish scenarios to exploit to their profoundly chilling hilt. As mysterious hands push objects out of darkened tents, chairs travel uneasily across rooms and aged specters leer, scream and leave bite marks, you can practically sense the creator grinning sadistically between the frames.
The Shallows: 3.5 out of 5
The Conjuring 2: 4 out of 5