Tag: taissa farmiga

The Nun

The Nun (2018)
★ / ★★★★

Something has to be done with these horror movies that are so reliant on CGI, the filmmakers who helm these projects forget that the horrific experience they strive to create must be rooted in something genuine and convincing. It goes without saying that “The Nun,” written by Gary Dauberman and directed by Corin Hardy, is yet another generic would-be fright flick, a product created simply because “The Conjuring 2” was successful financially. There is nothing scary about; it merely offers a series of loud noises designed to make the viewer jump but they prove ineffective because those in charge do not understand how to build suspense and tension.

It is unfortunate because Taissa Farmiga, who plays a Catholic novitiate accompanying a priest (Demián Bichir) in a Romanian abbey following a nun’s apparent suicide, is quite watchable in the role. Those saucer eyes are so mysterious, they are perfect in a film that takes place inside a dark castle where bizarre events occur come sundown. But the writing does not give the performer any sort of justice. Sister Irene is reduced to yet another heroine to be terrorized and nothing else. I’m still waiting for Farmiga’s breakout film role because I am convinced she has the makings of a performer who can do great work for decades.

The supposed scares are as typical as they come. There is a strategy so played out, that by its third or forth execution, viewers with an IQ of above fifty can predict when the jump scare will materialize. For instance, the camera’s subject encounters a hooded figure from a few feet away. In order to get a better look of the figure’s face or countenance, the subject reaches for an object, like a candle or a lantern. Naturally, the camera’s perspective follows where the subject is looking. When the camera returns to the spot where the figure was found originally, it is no longer there. Three beats pass. There goes the deafening noise. Of course the jump comes from behind the subject. It is boring and uninspired.

Given such ineffective repetition, I wondered if the filmmakers became bored of themselves. I wondered if they still considered themselves artists when they fail to even strive to create something new or exciting. I wondered if they were in it only for the money or experience. Yes, giving us bottom-of-the-barrel material should be considered a personal affront. It is an insult to us because they waste our time, money, and attention.

They even fail to create a convincing sense of place. Here is a story that takes place in a castle, commanding such a Gothic style of architecture from the outside that even when it is daylight there is a foreboding feeling about the milieu. And so we cannot wait for the characters to explore inside. But what happens? The characters end up being in the same place. We get to see only about ten percent of castle—which is a mistake not only because the scares are redundant, the images themselves become repetitive, too. Furthermore, these same rooms look like a set. Look at the candles closely. Those are electric, those cheap ones from the dollar stores.

“The Nun” is so uninteresting to me, I began counting how many times I yawned throughout the film: twelve times. It is so dull, I began to count how many hours of sleep I had the night before: eight hours. And it is so devoid of artistry, of craft, of intelligence, I lost track of the number of clichés it dared to commit. I stopped at about fifteen.

At Middleton

At Middleton (2013)
★★ / ★★★★

There is a scene that takes place in the middle of “At Middleton,” written by Glenn German and Adam Rodgers, that hints at how wonderful, sweet, and romantic the film could have been. Two strangers who had met each other only about an hour or so climb to the top of a tower. Edith (Vera Farmiga) would rather inhale the breeze and admire the view, but George (Andy Garcia) would rather read off a brochure and learn the importance of the place they stand on. But a couple of minutes later, we discover that the situation is not as simple as it appears.

George and Edith are married—but not to each other. George has a son, Conrad (Spencer Lofranco), who has no interest in the university that his father attended. Edith has a daughter, Audrey (Taissa Farmiga), who, unlike Conrad, is dead set on attending Middleton because she hopes that the linguistics professor she admires will agree to be her advisor. During a campus tour, Edith and George decide to break from the group and get to know one another better—even though they seem to be complete opposites.

The film is at its best when it sticks with the conceit of two people just talking to one another and trying to figure each other out. Though not quite on the level of Richard Linklater’s signature series of films starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, there is an effortlessness in Farmiga and Garcia’s performances that helped me buy into what their characters could have had even though the actors, physically, are not exactly attractive or alluring together. Farmiga is luminous as a woman who enjoys living in the moment and Garcia is fascinating as a man who does not say much but one can tell he feels and thinks a whole lot.

A standout scene involves the central couple having to act on a stage in front of a group of theater students. While on that stage, notice how the camera moves and nails itself in one position. The silence builds to a boil then becomes somewhat overpowering. Both stuck in marriages that are not exactly working out, we learn about Edith and George’s profound sadness. More importantly, we discover how badly they want to escape.

Significantly less impressive are the more comedic scenes in the latter half. One scene that runs too long involves the couple meeting a pair of twenty-year-olds in a relationship. They spend some time inside the dorm room getting high and complaining about what they feel is wrong in their lives. The clash between an elegant exorcism of romantic wants and needs versus an overt disclosure of what they feel are wrong in their lives do not work tonally. Why not make an adult picture that does not try way too hard to be funny and stick with it?

I enjoyed that the screenplay does not force Audrey and Conrad to have any sort of romantic feelings toward one another. The actors look good together physically so writers with less resolve might have been tempted to put a little spice into the equation. Instead, the film, directed by Adam Rodgers, makes the two young people more complicated—even unlikeable at times—than what we come to expect. On that level, it respects the audience.

The Final Girls

The Final Girls (2015)
★★ / ★★★★

With the theater exits blocked and the fire quickly spreading, Max (Taissa Farmiga) comes up with the idea of slashing the screen and leaving through there. Instead of safety, however, she and her friends (Alexander Ludwig, Nina Dobrev, Alia Shawkat, Thomas Middleditch) end up in the movie they were watching—an ‘80s cult slasher flick called “Camp Bloodbath”—and it appears as though the only way to get out of it is to survive until the masked murderer named Billy Murphy (Dan B. Norris) is killed.

“The Final Girls,” based on the screenplay by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, has creativity coursing through its veins but it is not as fun and fully realized as it thinks it is. What results is a picture that is worth sitting through once, given that one is in the mood for a silly horror-comedy, but it will likely not be remembered ten years from now. This is because it does not push the envelope far enough—whether it be in terms of scares, gore, kill scenes, or more subtle nudges to the slasher pictures of the past.

What stands out is the way it attempts to establish characterization, particularly the relationship between the lead protagonist and, Nancy (Malin Akerman), her dead mother. Genuine human connections and emotions are far too often ignored within this sub-genre and so it is a breath of fresh air that these two characters share scenes we can relate with and hold onto. I was surprised to have felt a certain longing between mother and daughter who have zilch chance of existing again within the story’s “real” reality, only in the fantasy that is the movies.

It works because Farmiga and Akerman are performers who are able to dig from within themselves when necessary and deliver feelings and thoughts beyond the lines that must be uttered. The mother-daughter bond makes the film special, in a way, because even though horror-comedy is almost never taken seriously, the writers dare us to treat it otherwise. Todd Strauss-Schulson directs the more personal scenes with real sensitivity and respect—which I admired because such an avenue is a rarity in horror and horror-comedies.

The weak treatment of the supporting characters is expected but disappointing nonetheless. While all of the actors are game—Adam DeVine is wonderful as his usual manic self—to look however and say anything in order to garner a giggle or a laugh, one cannot feel as though there ought to have been a freshness injected to each their characters. Although the self-awareness runs rampant, it does not strive to go beyond its usual bouquet of jokes. I grew tired of the self-awareness eventually.

At least one really good scare is absent—which is a miscalculation. The best of horror-comedies tend to fluctuate when it comes to its tone—a juggling act among fear, disgust, suspense, amusing one-liners, and laughter that makes the stomach hurt. The majority of this film is composed of amusing one-liners and occasional unexpected turns—which ultimately feels rather flat as a whole.

Still, “The Final Girls” offers a few moments that are strong. It does, however, need to reel in the visual acrobatics—one standout sequence takes place in the beginning and the other toward the end—because these just look silly, crazy, and trying too hard to impress. ’80s special and visual effects may be dated but at least there is a charm about them.

The Bling Ring

The Bling Ring (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Audrina Patridge, Rachel Bilson, Megan Fox, Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan–what do these women have in common? Their homes have been broken into by the so-called Hollywood Hills Burglars, a group of teenagers who are obsessed with the lifestyles of celebrities. Based on Nancy Jo Sales’ article, director Sofia Coppola looks at the personalities of those responsible and it is up to us to cast the judgment.

The picture is mostly detached from its subjects–which is entirely appropriate given that it is supposed to be satirical. Instead of focusing on what might be going on inside the subjects’ heads–such as guilt, shame, or fears–the attention is on the need to steal, the gleeful squeals during the act, and the aftermath of the crime as they try on clothes and jewelry that they know belong to someone else. Maybe for them breaking and entering into a celebrity’s private space is the closest they will get to living a similar lifestyle.

The actors portraying the real-life thieves do a wonderful job in portraying emptiness. Katie Chang as the ringleader plays Rebecca with offishness so alluring, you want to get to know her and hate her at the same time. Israel Broussard, on the other hand, plays a more empathetic figure. Marc is the new kid at school and he wants to belong. Though he is the most aware that what they are doing is wrong, he would rather have friends and commit crimes than be lonely and morally right. Most entertaining to watch, however, is Emma Watson. The scenes in which her character, Nicki, trips over her own hypocrisy (and recovers) made me laugh out loud, the execution very similar to Marcos Siega’s underrated dark comedy “Pretty Persuasion.” Plenty of so-called reality shows show us that people like Nicki do exist and that’s scary.

When it comes to pacing, the film might have benefited from showing less burglary because halfway through it starts to get repetitive. Instead, the camera should have taken its time to linger on the objects that have been stolen. This way, the fetishism is highlighted. Or the burglaries should have had a different approach each time. For instance, I wanted to see close-ups of hands grabbing the goods–a way to really communicate to us a sort of thirst or need to “own” whatever “it” is. Underneath it all, what the subjects have is not only an obsession but a compulsion.

“The Bling Ring” feels empty because the subjects are hollow inside. Notice that the teenagers never talk about their interests outside of whatever is on a magazine or some silly gossip website. When a person does talk about her goals for the future, there is a self-mockery to it. However, it does not mean that the film itself is a void. It is occasionally comedic, often unbelievable, and sometimes sad, too.

For some of these “Hollywood Hills Burglars,” this is it. Instead of striving to make something out of their lives, they settle for being privileged, vapid, and accomplishing nothing. What is more tragic than a life laid out to rot?

Higher Ground

Higher Ground (2011)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Young Corinne joined a fundamentalist community and started to devote herself to God when she was a child. She found comfort in God, religion, and her close community when her parents (John Hawkes, Donna Murphy) could no longer stand to be in each other’s presence. When Corinne was a teen (Taissa Farmiga), she had her first child with Ethan (Boyd Holbrook), a musician with dreams of making it big. They got married and, like all marriages, it was tough especially since they were so young. But there were good times.

Now with three children, Corinne (Vera Farmiga) begins to doubt. No matter how much she endures circle of prayers and ponders the possible meanings behind the words of God, she cannot help but wonder what else is out there or that if she is missing something more profound and liberating than what is currently in her life. She wonders if it is time for a change.

“Higher Ground,” based on the memoir “This Dark World” by Carolyn S. Briggs, is a rare film because it is able to directly deal with a person falling in and out of faith without pandering. Propelled by Vera Farmiga’s humanistic direction, it is consistently focused in telling Corinne’s journey and why the decisions she makes are right for her. However, the material is not just about faith. As she begins to consider life outside of her religion, her marriage with Ethan (Joshua Leonard) starts to fall apart.

It is first and foremost about what many people feel and go through. When it comes to Corinne and Ethan’s marriage, there is genuine insight because it is made clear that their troubles is not about what he does or does not do to or for her. There are just those times when you realize that your love for a person is no longer on the same level as before. There is room to wonder. Maybe the person Corinne is now is so different from many years ago that she has learned to function on autopilot and settled.

“At least I’m trying,” Ethan says to Corinne as they watch their son playing soccer. Perhaps that is not the point. Or maybe it is. Corinne and Ethan’s marriage is handled so thoughtfully, it is difficult to pick a side. We feel for both the man and the woman because we realize that Corinne doubting her faith affects both of them deeply. Despite the fact that they have fights that range from passive-aggressiveness, where one can barely look at the other while sitting around the dinner table, to full-on physical and verbal confrontations, not once do we question their devotion for each other.

And yet their love faces some challenges. As their marriage falls apart, Corinne begins to look at a married man in their fundamentalist circle. There is also Liam (Sean Mahon), her scholarly mail carrier from Dublin. They meet in the library quite often. He recommends her novels and books of poetry. She welcomes his flirtations to signal her availability. Still, it is not just about being with a man so she can live happily ever after. It is about exploring possibilities–seeds that might grow into something new.

“Higher Ground,” based on the screenplay by Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe, is smartly written and directed because it underlines what makes the characters flawed and human rather than what makes them “soldiers of God.” I do not subscribe to a religion but I always appreciate it when something or someone attempts to make me want to understand more without the approach feeling like a lecture or an obligation.