Friday, 9 August 2013

American Horror Story Summarising Review: AHS Vs. AHS Asylum

Since I've long since completed the first two seasons of AHS, with AHS: Coven looming in October, I decided a dual comparative review so far was in order.

To summarise, American Horror Story: Murder House was, and still remains highly overrated. While I enjoyed the first season, the second season was far superior in terms of setting, narrative and character rationale. Although like most, I enjoyed the Romeo & Juliet-esque dynamic of Tate & Violet's relationship, Murder House was undermined by the weak extension of Violet's mother and father. Vivien's relentless persistence with her husband was utterly illogical after acknowledging his infidelity, and so were the subsequent (weakly written) spats between the two characters.

Dylan McDermott's character in Season 2, was much more favourable as Bloody Face's successor. As Violet's adulterous father, he was infuriatingly feeble. Utilising the same the quiet, unnervingly personality as a volatile flayer of females, it worked.
The experimental cinematography, although speaking as a whole was mostly fantastic throughout the entirety of AHS, seemed oddly disjointed in the first season. Unnecessarily even, considering it was deliberate. In regards to title sequences, for each season respectively, are probably one of the most original and beautifully shot facets of both seasons.
Frances Conroy/Alexandra Breckenridge dually portrayed Moira. The ruthless predatory/seemingly innocent elderly maid with a gender dependent illusion abilities. But, there was no variation in how the character presents herself as the softly spoken personification of Death in AHS: Asylum. Thus France's Conroy's reappearance seemed tedious. Which also brings me onto the aspect of how significantly more sexually gratuitous AHS: Murder House is compared to the second season.

Really, how this contributes the plot I fail to comprehend.

On a positive note, the most outstanding part about AHS: Murder House regarding Moira, was her biting off Joe Escandarian's genitals. To give the character credit, other than just appearing as a sex object, as it transpires in fact Moira hated the unfaithful natures of the male characters.

As someone who closely observes soundtrack, AHS: Murder House couldn't help itself becoming somewhat grating. Given, one can immediately identify the obvious recycling of music from other cinema. To mention some, the violin refrain from Insidious, Kill Bill (Bernard Herman's Twisted Nerve whistling) and The Beginning theme from Dracula (1992). Actually, it was the latter song in particular that made me smash my face into my keyboard, due to it's obvious recognisability and repetitive use. Which is a shame. As, with the likes of Charlie Clouser on board the AHS project, who composed a quality title sequence song, along with the soundtracks for the Saw films and Dead Silence ... what's the necessity to reuse extremely well known music from other/recent cinema?

On the note of blatantly obvious referencing, American Horror Story as a whole is littered with homages to popular culture, horror film and incidences, particularly of famous murders. For example Tate's name being a reference to Sharon Tate and the Mansons. The fact his character committed a school shooting set in the 90's, the Columbine Massacre. Plus the skull paint he dons for the act, obviously Rick Genest inspired. Just to name a few. The first season is potential drinking game material.
At least in AHS: Asylum there are more interesting songs utilised from the appropriate era such as Dominique, which have not made a debut in horror before...

AHS: Asylum has better overall continuity, although the fact Kit saving Sister Jude seemed laughably unlikely. After all of the physical abuse and emotional turmoil she inflicted upon Kit and Grace, I doubt he would sympathise with her to the extent of saving her from being condemned to the asylum herself.  Given the fact Kit was wrongly committed, Jude was effectively having a taste of her own medicine. This also reinforced my suspicion of the writers making up the story as they have been going along.
Though in all fairness this season had more tangibility as far as story is concerned. The plot in Murder House and the characters' actions were poorly justified or reinforced. Whereas AHS: Asylum provided a much more satisfying conclusion. To see Lana shoot her son, and for the majority of characters to rightfully escape, was awesomely gratifying, for once. However unconventional of the genre.
Grace's character was highly believable, as was Lana Winters and Bloody Face (Dr Oliver Thredson). In fact it was (hilariously) true to life that Grace would kill Alma given the predicament, and transpired to be a genuine axe murderer. Rather than following the piteous wrongly imprisoned backstory. Zachary Quinto has always played a psychopath excellently since Sylar in Heroes, but the situations between Lana and Thredson/Bloody Face were unsettlingly realistic at times. Lana's ambitious ruthlessness and remorselessness as a character was admirable indeed.

Thematically, ghosts are preferable to aliens in the traditional horror story environment.
However, despite this, the asylum setting worked better, along with the time shift from the 60's to present day. Shelley's macabre transformation into one of Arden's deformed, immortal science projects was fascinating. While Infantata from AHS: Murder House was more visually impacting for scares, there wasn't quite the same transformation which made Shelley's story all the more terrifying. Jessica Lange has played a consistent horror of a woman, but in AHS: Asylum perhaps more a sympathetic villain, than as Constance. With the second season, Lily Rabe as demonically possessed Sister Mary Eunice has taken the opportunity to shine, from the comparatively meek role of Nora Montgomery. Ian Mcshane has most certainly set the bar for the nightmare Father Christmas trope. Perhaps the Nazi undertones incorporated into AHS: Asylum might offend somewhat (which one would imagine to be the intended purpose anyway), but assists with character believability in regards to Doctor Arden.

Conclusively, as the seasons have progressed, character quality and story seemed to improved along with it. Therefore! I hold an open mind towards Coven. Hopefully it won't be too... distastefully sentimental or repetitive, considering a 'prominent romance' has been projected with Taissa Farmiga yet again.

Reviewed by Abigail Lewis

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Conjuring (2013) Review

The Conjuring was not disappointing as such, but certainly not too inventive. Seems again to be yet another amalgamation of recycled elements from other recent horrors, in an attempt to patch together a generically popular horror film-Frankenstein.

Structurally speaking, Wan harks back to his last and extremely well executed supernatural horror, Insidious. The narrative is near enough identical. With the demonic entity latching onto an unassuming family, followed by house cleansing with the comic relief of an additional two helpers. Plus eventual parent possession. And of course, there’s the obvious aspect of actor Patrick Wilson returning, but this time as the spiritual medium role. What was unusual about Conjuring was the amount of tension building without any climax or relief. It was enjoyably manipulative given sound is one’s weakness, especially when at the mercy of cinema speakers on full volume. This is usually and frequently exploited as a lazy alternative to constructing ominous environment.

Soundtrack at times sounded like Christopher Young’s score from Sinister. But, I liked the inclusion of songs In the Room Where You Sleep by Dead Man's Bones and Sleep Walk by Betsy Byre, as they worked well to unnerving effect, just as Tiptoe Through the Tulips did in Insidious. The scene involving a ghost with slit wrists "dressed like a maid" was almost a carbon copy of a scene from the Sixth Sense (I almost certain they used the same lines ‘look what you made me do’). Birds crashing into the house seemed exactly like the extra terrestrial horror film Dark Skies released earlier this year. A haunted house cliché becoming tiresome, along with 3am being a focus time frame for paranormal activity. The infamous cymbal banging monkey toy made an appearance in the Warrens’ gallery of cursed goodies/oddities (similar to Woman in Black, but the toys are slightly different). No doubt there’s many references I’ve missed, James Wan is fond of placing props from previous films around. I also noted the cinematography seemed a little shaky around the beginning of the film.

Annabelle served no real narrative purpose. While the new doll was beautifully macabre and aesthetically awesome as a prop, there’s already a film devoted to original ventriloquist ’creepy doll’ Billy and his backstory, with atmosphere to match (Dead Silence. Also, Saw Billy seemed to work better in his own environment). And as the story progressed, Conjuring turned into more of an exorcism film, as opposed to a supernatural horror, which it sold itself as. In the vein of all the recent popular demonic possession related films. While I can pick out familiarities in this film that are somewhat overused at this point, it was fairly engaging and kept up steam with such an eventful narrative. So, while the Conjuring wasn't the most creative of horrors, it wasn't a disagreeable film either. Lukewarm horror.

Rating: 6/10
Reviewed by Abigail Lewis