Tag Archives: Taissa Farmiga

Hey, Soul Sister

The Nun

by Hope Madden

When we were four, my sister and I wandered off at the Toledo zoo. Nuns found us and reunited us—via lost and found? I don’t remember—with the larger Madden clan. And that’s the thing about nuns: they are either entirely wonderful or entirely terrifying. There is no middle ground.

Corin Hardy knows that. With that knowledge, The Hallows director crafts his little part of The Conjuring universe with a history lesson on that scary sister, The Nun.

His film, written by Gary Dauberman (Annabelle, It) from a story by James Wan, takes us back to the 1950s when the Vatican called upon a priest with a specific set of skills. Fr. Burke (Demián Bichir) investigates the suicide of a cloistered nun in remote Romania, bringing along a novitiate nun, Sister Irene (Taissa Farmiga – little sister to Conjuring star Vera).

You think nuns are creepy? Well, they fit right in at crumbling old Romanian abbeys. Hardy and cinematographer Maxime Alexandre make glorious use of the location, and then create richly shadowed castle interiors suitable for Dracula himself.

Hardy throws any number of really eerie visuals onscreen as Farmiga’s novitiate (a nun who hasn’t yet taken her final vows) descends into the demonic labyrinth, while Father Burke fights demons (personal and literal) just outside the gate.

Velvety shadows and jump scares, medieval witchery and the now-quaint idea that the Catholic Church can save us—Hardy balances all these items with nostalgia, humor and a fun dose of Conjuring universe odes.

Farmiga brings enough salt-of-the-earthiness with her innocence to make Sr. Irene relatable. Bichir seems less suited to the role of holy man, but as an investigator who smells something rotten, he works out well.

The real treat is Jonas Bloquet as Frenchie, the French-Canadian transport living in Romania who can carry a torch into catacombs with the best of them. He’s funny, his scenes keeping the film from veering into committing the sin of taking itself too seriously and losing its audience.

Where the film comes up short is in imagination. Mainly, it bears far too strong a resemblance to another Irishman’s Catholic horror, Devil’s Doorway, which follows two priests investigating strange phenomenon at a convent only to find something sinister in the tunnels beneath.

Though Devil’s Doorway lacked the visual flair, budget and humor of The Nun, it sidestepped the nostalgia that casts the Catholic Church in such unvarnished light, so it felt a bit more relevant and less disposable.

Still, with a slight, sometimes silly storyline and an awful lot of atmosphere, Hardy manages an entertaining if forgettable 90 minutes.

Valley Dogs

In A Valley of Violence

by Cat McAlpine

Paul (Ethan Hawke) just wants to make it to Mexico, and freedom. Unfortunately, a random and heart-wrenching act of violence detours him down a bloody path to revenge. Writer/director Ti West brings his experience in the horror genre to the Wild West, with surprising but refreshing reserve.

In a Valley of Violence benefits from West’s time in horror. The build is steady and slow. Paul transforms from quiet stranger to calculating killer, but all the blood is earned. The shootouts aren’t elaborate but they are grisly and realistic.

The first note I wrote down was “color”. (The second note I wrote down was “His dog wears a bandana.”) West has colorized an homage to old westerns, bright and yellow. At the turning point, though, his roots show.

The camera work changes with Paul. A flashback is handled with a shaky cam and a flashlight. It feels like found footage, and though it’s a jarring stylistic change, it’s not unwelcome.

Another scene is shot from a single vantage point that makes the view feel like a security camera. The small room almost gets that fisheye quality, as Paul sneaks up behind an unsuspecting bather. These touches gently meld the horror and western genres, using cues from both to shape the viewers’ journey.

The performances are as realistic as West’s measured use of bullets and blood. Hawke is brooding and dangerous, but soft, too. His dog is an excellent device to extrapolate the way PTSD can function. Paul confidently banters with his dog, makes her promises, plots with her… but when he’s faced with people he keeps his mouth shut and his eyes low.

As the sheriff, John Travolta plays with equal restraint and mastery. He’s quiet but commanding, a good match to Hawke. As he devolves into panic, Travolta becomes funnier and more terrifying.

These performances from the two veterans balance out a younger cast of characters who are spoiling for adventure.

Karen Gillan shines with absurdity and humor, and she’s hard not to watch, even sprinting across the back of a shot. Taissa Farmiga is all wide-eyed wonder, but carries enough grit to make her character arc as compelling as Paul’s.

Most of the absurdity comes from a truly excellent Burn Gorman, as the priest. His drunken ramblings about sinners are bizarre, and showcase some of the best writing in the film. The priest’s appearances divide the film into three distinct parts, highlighted by Paul’s changing interaction with him each time. He serves as a beautiful device and a welcome, though momentary, release of pressure.

In a Valley of Violence is an homage to the traditional western with updates from the horror genre, not with blood, but with tension. Paired with a fantastic score from Jeff Grace and a cast that delivers, West has avoided the trappings of the modern shoot-em-ups and rejoined the classics with some fresh perspective.

Verdict-4-0-Stars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ek8cjysuvJ4

God Save the (Scream) Queen

The Final Girls

by Hope Madden

Part of the satisfying lull of a slasher film is its predictability: idiotic characters behave lasciviously and are repaid for their indignities with the hard justice of a machete. They are scary movies for people who don’t really want to be scared, they’d rather enjoy the idiocy.

People like, I think we can assume, co-writers M. A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, whose The Final Girls celebrates the genre and its fans with a meta-flick brimming with genre affection and upbeat carnage.

Max (Taissa Farmiga) never really got over the loss of her mother, scream queen Amanda Cartwright (Malin Akerman). She and her friends find themselves pulled into Mom’s most famous film – the ‘80s slasher Camp Bloodbath – and need to use their knowledge of slasher conventions to survive.

The film is far more a comedy than a horror flick – the casting of Adam DeVine (Workaholics) alone clarifies that. But don’t expect a spoof or cynical parody. There’s real love for the ironic pleasures of the genre that keeps the film lighthearted and fresh.

Director Todd Strauss-Schulson deconstructs the overly familiar genre, replacing its mean spirit with broad strokes of goofiness. He and his cast see these characters as something one-dimensional, but still worthwhile – rather than presenting them as simply the ingredients for Camp Counselor Slurry.

Supporting work from DeVine, Tom Middleditch, Angela Trimbur, and Alia Shawkat freshens up the predictability with sharp, spontaneous comedy that elevates the film above its clever gimmick.

The film shoehorns in some emotion as well, but it’s at its best when reveling in the familiar. Farmiga is saddled with the least playful, mostly humorless role, but her dour presence is offset by the fun lunacy around her.

There are flat spots, and the film is never the laugh riot of other recent horror comedies (Deathgasm, for instance), but it is a spot-on send up that entertains throughout.

Verdict-3-5-Stars