As a moderate fan of the first, THE CONJURING 2 - though based on a debunked story - is utterly haunting, holding a high level of tension almost throughout the entire runtime. Be prepared.
The Conjuring. 2013. Directed by James Wan. Screenplay by Chad & Carey Hayes.
Starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Haley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins, Marion Guyot, Morganna May, & Amy Tipton. New Line Cinema/The Safran Company/Evergreen Media Group.
Rated 14A. 112 minutes.
People can argue to the contrary all they want: James Wan is a modern horror master. What’s more, he refuses to abandon the genre which made him such a big hit in Hollywood, leading him to the Fast & Furious franchise and the upcoming Aquaman DC film. Just now, the sequel to The Conjuring is in theatre making giant impressions on audiences, many (critics alike) claiming it’s one of the best horrors in a long time. So I hope that once he takes off even more with his DC adaptation that Wan won’t forget from where he came. Because from the revolutionary Saw (yes I called it that; the first one only which is of course the single one he directed) to the underrated Dead Silence and Death Sentence, to the first two Insidious films (love them to death), this is a director who proves, time and again, he understands horror. Not every film is perfect, nor should you expect that. But each one takes an excellent, gouging stab at the genre and more often than not gives us new and terrifying scenes that will go down as classics in the years to come.
The Conjuring didn’t actually impress me first time around. Funny how that works, considering now after watching it a couple more times recently I feel it’s destined to be a classic of the horror genre; it already is, just needs the time to pass for an official label. But some movies work like that. They don’t always get you right away. Sometimes you watch a movie on DVD or VOD, you’re sitting at home and the attention span isn’t perfect. Sometimes you don’t notice everything right off the bat. Either way, after seeing this a couple more times I’ve come to realise how perfectly old school this supernatural haunted house/paranormal story works. Better than that, we’ve got the backdrop of a true story concerning world famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, as well as one of their big cases from 1971 in Harrisville, Rhode Island where the Perron family came under siege by the terrifying spirit of a dead witch from the 1800s.
Wan does incredible work as director, along with solid performances from the likes of Lili Taylor, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, and Ron Livingston, all in order to make this into a truly scary movie. So many people complain about the horror genre being stale these days, saying there aren’t any good offerings coming out. Well, drink this one in. It’s up there with the best of the haunted house movies, and certainly one of the greatest in terms of demonic possession. You can’t ask for more than an eerie story, chillingly based on real events, and top notch acting in a horror flick.
What I love about horror based on true stories, or supposedly true, is that I’m a real sceptic. I do indeed wish to believe, as Fox Mulder and his decorative poster both state in yearning. Absolutely. If there were some evidence of life beyond death, it might actually be comforting. Maybe it’d only be more difficult. Nevertheless, I do find myself hoping to come in contact with a ghost. On a couple occasions, I’ve questioned whether I actually did. Alas the scepticism goes on. The Conjuring does go for jump scares in quite a few scenes. What it does best is create this unsettling, dire atmosphere where the line between what is real and what is paranormal/supernatural becomes nearly eradicated.
A huge part of what makes this movie work is the dual look at and parallel between the difference between a family experiencing paranormal events v. a family standing as a physical dike against the mental anguish those other families faced. Though the Perrons find themselves completely torn apart by demonic influence, the Warrens are similarly troubled. They are essentially charged to withholding all the demons, the dead spirits, the poltergeists, whatever. They’ve got a ton of the possessed dolls and objects in their basement under lock and key, constantly threatening their own existence and their own family. So there’s a super interesting dynamic that happens between the two separate families, each tormented in their own right. This also allows for a lot of great acting between the two couples, both sets with their own issues and their different lives, so on. Other screenplays might have made this into a jumbled mess. Instead, Chad and Carey Hayes are able to use every last second of their 112 minutes appropriately, and expanding the characters, the plot with care without ignoring anything.
Lili Taylor is actually one of my first celebrity crushes, if we’re being honest. Being a young man on the furthest Eastern Coast of Canada, I grew up watching Showcase on Channel 34. I can’t remember which movie I’d seen her in first, either Girls Town or I Shot Andy Warhol, but her beauty and her talent struck me. She’s an engaging actor. I find that even without that teenage crush, her acting speaks for itself. Here, even before any of the wild stuff starts happening with her character Carolyn there’s an excellently fun quality to her. That’s what makes the rest of the plot involving her struggle so difficult to endure. In fact, immediately from the first moment we hear and see her there’s an admirable element to Carolyn, endearing, as she and her husband have a brief little laugh while getting out of the car at their new home. Just how she laughs at him, so natural. Great talent to so quickly enjoyable in a performance. This only increases as the film wears on. Her work in the latter portions, as Carolyn succumbs to a demonic possession of intense proportions, Taylor makes the horror far too real for comfort. Likewise, as much as I only enjoy Ron Livingston mostly while watching Office Space, he does well with the character of Roger. He’s the everyman-type American dad, out in the country taking his family into their new home, then dealing with the excessively sinister fallout that nobody ever could have predicted, not in a million year. There’s a complexity to the character. Even if I don’t think he was amazing, Livingston makes the character honest, likeable. Above all, he’s real. Both him and Taylor make the family dynamic play well, in turn selling the whole situation, as it’s them at the eye of the storm. Whereas I say Livingston wasn’t anything extraordinary, without his solid performance as the father and husband of the Perron family the whole personal, human drama would not work, only in a one-sided sense with Taylor doing the heavy lifting.
Both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are great. The latter has even more work to do, being the more susceptible to the influence of the demons and the supernatural entities. Most of all they do stellar work portraying the Warrens, their relationship particularly one being under different strains than a lot of regular people. They make the Warrens into very genuine human beings. They don’t have any air of the kookish qualities many associate with modern day ghost hunters. These two allow Ed and Lorraine Warren to feel like warm, understanding, caring individuals. They’re not self-serving or narcissistic in their aims of ghost hunting. Of course that’s partly because of the real people and their efforts, but Farmiga and Wilson put their hearts into these performances. It shows in the natural way the Warrens come across. Along with Livingston and Taylor, they’re able to make the personal drama of the horror become so powerful.
Wan’s directing is beyond amazing. Many of his choices are perfect for the horror. On one hand, he knows when to employ the use of jump scares. He understands where they fit and how they ought to be used. On the other hand, Wan is also adept at building tension, making the atmosphere of his films drip with fear. Just as Insidious works nicely using the visuals and its score to create a thick, atmospheric creepiness, The Conjuring is a haunting mix of eerie-looking images and yet another set of fittingly horrifying pieces from Joseph Bishara (Insidious trilogy). All together, these elements work to unsettle the audience at every turn, never settling to be lukewarm scary, but always trying to find the heart of terror.
After letting this settle on me, The Conjuring is one of the best horrors in so many years. There’s never too much of anything, always the correct amount. Wan finds a balance between the jumps and the subtle creeps, as well as manages to find the appropriate performances in his cast to warrant the emotional ties necessary for the horror to hit home. There’s not a lot I can say against the power of this movie. Don’t always judge right on first viewing. Sometimes your opinion won’t change. Now and then, you’ll find you were wrong. And damn, was I ever sleeping on this one. Glad I’ve taken the time to watch it more because I’ve discovered I love it and its fun, classic scares.
Season 2, Episode 10: “Palindrome”
Directed by Adam Arkin
Written by Noah Hawley
Here we are, the finale of Fargo‘s Season 2. You betcha.
So, ramblers – let’s get rambling!
“Palindrome” begins with a view of Rye’s body back in the Blumquist freezer, another look at a dead Otto Gerhardt shot at his kitchen table, Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) dead on the floor in that little cabin, as well as Simone out in the woods, Floyd where Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) left her, and even in Bear (Angus Sampson) in the parking lot where Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) blew his brains out.
Then, the shot fades into Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti) lying in bed with daughter Molly at her side. Apparently she had a bad reaction to the pills she was given, they were no good. Noreen Vanderslice (Emily Haine) is by the bed looking after Betsy, trying best to get her to follow doctor’s orders. We watch Betsy dream, seeing Molly grow up in the modern world – the world of Costco, one where Lou gets older by his daughter’s side, one without Betsy anymore. She sees into the future where we see the grown Molly (Allison Tolman), Lou (Keith Carradine) and the happy gang from Season 1. Quickly we cut back to Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) shot in the motel, Lou wrestling Bear, the face of “chaos” a.k.a Hanzee. All to “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath – so god damn fitting.
This whole intro starts with a split-screen, right at the beginning of last episode. It gave me chills with Sabbath playing over top. Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst) run off, as Hanzee follows, shooting anyone in his path. Lou boldly goes off after the renegade Native, while Ozzy, Iommi and the gang keep rocking. One of my favourite openings of the season, such a perfectly executed start to the episode. Especially once we find “War Pigs” playing in the vehicle with Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann), as they pull up at the Gerhardt ranch: “People of Earth – I‘m home,” says Milligan while walking in through the front door. The two settle in and hear nothing but silence in the big house. Of course, they saw some of the massacre at the motel, so I’m sure they didn’t expect much of a greeting.
Meanwhile, Ed and Peggy stumble into a grocery store, shooing off an employee as Peggy tells him there’s “a bad man coming here“.
On the street, Hanzee is still lurking closer towards the Blumquists. Yet trusty Lou Solverson hasn’t given up on Dent, either. A few shots get popped off here and there. Out of nowhere, Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) shows up, almost getting a bullet from Lou out of surprise.
Ed and Peg end up hiding in a meat locker. Either way they’re out of the way of Hanzee and his warpath for the time being; only problem is Ed took a bullet on the way, and tells her “Peg… I don‘t think we‘re gonna make it.” She wants to fix everything, as Ed says, but some times things aren’t broken. They have a bit of down to earth conversation, even at such a rough and tumble time. But I can see why, Ed only wants to “get back” to what they had after being hauled into all this through the unstable actions of his wife. Will Hanzee find them, as they try and wait things out in the cooler?
At the Gerhardt ranch, Milligan and Kitchen find an old native woman cooking, obviously a housemaid for the Gerhardts. Then some lights pull up to the house, a car arrives. It’s Bear’s right-hand man Ricky G (Ryan O’Nan). He heads inside, ready to fleece the Gerhardts of anything he can take in a bag. But Milligan is still kicking around, and no one close to the Gerhardts is getting away too easy. A shotgun blast takes Ricky to meet his maker, staining the Gerhardt flag – suspiciously Nazi-esque – with a good deal of blood and gore. Nasty stuff.
Hanzee has found his way into the grocery store, the lights flickering and shadows everywhere. Ed and Peggy are still trying to survive. Then the door to the meat locker starts shaking. After the door won’t open, smoke starts seeping in through the fan near the ceiling. Hanzee sure knows how to track and hunt, that’s for sure. But Peggy starts remembering the movie she was watching, before Dodd untied himself, claiming it’s exactly like their own situation. Is she working towards something? Or is she wasting time? Ed’s gone unconscious in the meantime and Peggy can’t wake him up. With Hanzee right outside the door, buck knife in hand, how is Peggy going to escape? Knife sharpener against buck knife?
She pushes out the door and there is Lou Solverson, along with Ben Schmidt, guns drawn. Peggy is gone crazy. There’s no smoke or anything. Inside the cooler, Ed is seemingly dead. Yes, I think Peggy has finally lost it for good. Her husband is gone now, too. Even worse. For all her faults, I feel really bad for Peggy right now. I also feel bad for Lou, even Schmidt; Hank is in critical condition at the ICU, Schmidt’s boss is dead and gone, as well are a bunch more police officers due to the Sioux Falls Massacre.
Again, Noreen is reading Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus. Love all the philosophy worked into this season by Noah Hawley and the writers. Betsy is still in bed with Molly, Noreen watching over her. They have a bit of a morbid conversation on cancer and Betsy’s pain, though, she says there’s nothing bad yet. Best of all is how Betsy balks at the Camus philosophy, she has her own view on life. Excellent use of split-screen again, now with Betsy talking and her husband Lou riding along in his squad car, each in their own half of the screen. Nice, brief little bit.
Then we’re back to Peggy, in back of Lou’s car, musing on where she might like to serve her sentence. It’s amazing, though, how Peggy is fairly loopy, yet she can snap into being so sensible, practical, even if it’s still a bit crazy of her. I love her character and I think Kirsten Dunst has done such a wonderful job in the role, she was a great addition to this season. We get a nice conversation between Lou and Peggy, mostly as Lou tells her about being at war near the end; a sad story involving a helicopter pilot, and also a baby being dropped by his mother, but caught by a fellow soldier.
Peggy: “And when you can‘t they say it‘s you – you‘re faulty, like you‘re inferior somehow.”
Part of Lou plays into the Camus reference, and Sisyphus. Lou says protecting one’s family is like a a rock all men have to push. Lou, as it appears, is happy with pushing that rock. Part of the philosophy of Camus in regards to his reference of Sisyphus is that, instead of viewing Sisyphus as unhappy and tortured by pushing the rock constantly back up the hill each day, we must see him as happy, content with his lot in life, and as having embraced the absurdity of life. Therefore, Lou is like the ideal view of Sisyphus here.
In other news, Hanzee receives a new identity in the form of a Social Security Number and such. He also tells the man who brought it for him he needs a “face man“, in order to fix the damage, and possibly transform him into someone entirely new. Dent sees life as “kill and be killed“. He is still very ominous and very scary, I expected him to die but he did not at all. He becomes Moses Tripoli, leader of the Fargo mob in Season 1. Hanzee suggests facial reconstruction, and so now we know the past of Moses. Some say a bit of a stretch. Really? In the Fargo universe it’s perfect. Hanzee goes from an active, merciless killer, to a slovenly older man who dies like a punk later in life. Fitting end for a villain. Even further, the kids Hanzee heads to help out in the ball field last we see him are indeed the young Mr. Numbers and Mr. Wrench, as evidenced by the use of sign language. Amazing, amazing. I can’t say it enough.
Then, director Adam Arkin shows up as a head of the Kansas City racket, slick and bald-headed. Milligan is being congratulated slightly, and the new “oversight” is being explained. Now, the gangster Mike Milligan is being given his own office, a 9 to 5 job, and so on. He goes from street level thug, in the blood and guts, to a guy who has to start wearing pinstripes, cut his hear, and get right of the whole “cowboy thing“. He doesn’t seem happy about it all. But the boss explains it’s all about money, “ones and zeroes“. There is nothing else anymore. Officially, Milligan is out of his element and in an entirely new world: the future, apparently.
Hank Larsson, thankfully, is okay. He’s back welcomed at the Solverson home where Betsy and little Molly are happy to have him back. They get a congratulatory beer each and some nice family time happens, after all that mayhem. Then we finally have a brief mention of the spacecraft at the motel; very brief, but still there. Lou mentions he’ll obviously leave it out of the report, “in subtext” says Hank. Finally some smiles are infecting them all, and Hank gives a beautiful quote quickly, trying not to heavy things up too much. A great scene with three excellent actors, all of whom seem to have good chemistry together.
Moreover, Betsy brings up the room she found at Hank’s place – the one with all the alien related stuff. Hank fesses up after his wife died, depression set in. When he took time off, the senseless and violence of life started to get to him, which Hank describes as due to “miscommunication“. He became interested in the “universal language of symbols” because “pictures are clearer to my mind than words“. Hank says he was sort of making up his own language, in a way. It started from there then grew into an obsession. But his daughter loves him, his son-in-law obviously cares a good deal, and it doesn’t matter. He isn’t crazy, just a man with “good intentions“, how he puts it himself.
Fittingly, the season ends on Betsy and Lou in bed, coming to rest. A great and spectacular end after all the wild madness which preceded it. Loved this finale. I’m very excited that Fargo will, of course, be coming back next year for an additional season. Apparently it’ll be modern day, too. So a change of pace is always fun, as it was for this season going back into a kind of prequel. Noah Hawley and the entire team are amazing, this is one of the best shows on television as of late. Season 2, for me, is even better than the first, but that is NOT knocking the first season at all. They’re both incredible.
Stay tuned with me for other reviews, and I’ll see you back around Minnesota somewhere next year, don’t ya know!
Season 2, Episode 9: “The Castle”
Directed by Adam Arkin
Written by Steve Blackman & Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode,”Loplop”- click here
* For a review of the finale, “Palindrome” – click here
With only this episode and the finale “Palindrome” left, Fargo‘s amazing second season is almost ready to clue up. Is war coming? You betcha.
We start closing in on a book and read about more Minnesota tales, specifically the Massacre at Sioux Falls in 1979. Great little narration at the start here – do you recognize the voice? – with illustrated pictures of everyone from Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) to Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst).
Then we switch to real life, back at the gas station where Ed was awhile back. Out of the woods the station attendant sees Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon). Before the poor fella can dial the police, Hanzee snipes him with an assault rifle. Dent picks up a bit of hydrogen peroxide and a tiny tube of what looks like model glue, or something similar. In the bathroom he uses these items to close up the wound where Peggy stabbed him at the end of last episode. The narrator proceeds to tell us about the enigma that is Hanzee; no birth record, no link to any tribe, et cetera. He’s a lone wolf, that Hanzee.
Ed and Peggy are cuffed. Most of the cops in town are there, too. Lou (Patrick Wilson) and Ben Schmidt look pretty baffled, as do Chief Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) and Chief Gibson (Terry Kinney). It’s a typically hilarious chat between the officers and the Blumquists. Eventually Ed lets slip the information concerning Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) and the meeting up at Sioux Falls. Can we feel what’s coming? Yer darn tootin’. The worst part is there happens to be corruption inside the police ranks, as noted by one of them officers present. Lou is an army man, plus he knows Milligan and what could happen. But no one else seems onboard with him, he sees the tragedy coming; only Lou seems to understand it’s “dumb luck” that brought Ed and Peggy this far. Hank stays to keep an eye on things, but Lou makes it clear: “This thing‘s officially outta control.”
So Captain Jeb Cheney (Wayne Duvall) offers Ed the chance to go meet Milligan. Wearing a wire, too.
I’m loving this episode’s narration, recapping things in a way that doesn’t feel overly expository (even though it is). Just the charm of the British narrator – Mr. Martin Freeman who starred in the first season – it makes things so fun as we get recaps, yet not full, long ones. It’s fresh, and I dig that. As well, there’s that great split-screen technique happening, of which I’m always a fan. They use it a lot in certain scenes. To great effect, though. Mostly, I find it’s a great transitional tool and the filmmakers/writers together use it very well overall on Fargo.
While Lou is off doing his thing, there’s his faithful wife Betsy (Cristian Milioti) at home. And she is not well, having taken a hard fall downstairs where her daughter Molly finds her laying on the floor next to a bunch of shattered glass. Right at the same moment when Lou is calling on the same pay phone where Ed called Milligan, outside the gas station where Hanzee murdered the cashier. Naturally, the ever vigilant Lou spies the broken glass from Hanzee’s bullet. Inside he finds blood on the wall, a dead cashier. What makes things so great is the fact Patrick Wilson does a fantastic job with his performance, right from the first episode. Just the way his breath gets heavier once he sees the brains on the wall, his silent, physical acting speaks wonders.
I have to note this: on the wall when Lou looks around behind the register, there’s a WE ARE NOT ALONE poster, a small thin one. Will we see more to connect with Hank’s seeming alien obsession?
Speaking of Sheriff Larsson, Lou calls over to Hank, along with Schmidt and Chief Gibson, telling them about Hanzee and the red car he’s driving. But they’re on the way to do their nonsense, even if Hank isn’t totally into all that. Lou’s got a bad feeling, rightfully so. Nobody listens, at least Chief Gibson doesn’t. They’re determined to go in there and take the whole operation down, it seems. Pretty foolish.
Soon as they pull into the motel, escorting the Blumquists inside handcuffed, a scoped sight is visible watching them, unknowing in the parking lot. Captain Cheney and Chief Larsson have a misunderstanding, a little conversation over Lou and his supposed insubordination. Hank is a more sensible man. Then, up across the road perched on a building hidden, Hanzee watches on.
On the Gerhardt ranch, Mama Floyd (Jean Smart) and Bear (Angus Sampson) arrive home. To news from Mr. Dent. He claims Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) is still alive. He’s about to betray the Gerhardt clan, in a huge way. Is he part of the Sioux Falls Massacre becoming what it is? He tells Floyd it was all Kansas City – “that Milligan fella.” He starts setting up a confrontation at the motel, which Floyd is silly enough to walk right into herself. She won’t just send men in, she wants to do it her way.
And at the motel, everyone is lounging, semi-aware; some of them, anyways. Ben Schmidt is kicked back watching movies on television, stuffing his face. The Blumquists are lounging, sort of. Ed is worried. Peggy, for her part, is a little too chipper, and still trying her best to scheme. And at this point, can we really keep saying oh she’s just crazy? I mean, she’s ended up doing some good. Perhaps Ed, at this point (especially with the idiot police around them), might do better listening to her, or following along with whatever she wings at any given time. Who knows. Because I was sure they were done for a couple times already, and still: here they stand.
One of my favourite shots of this ENTIRE SERIES from either Season 1 or Season 2 happens when we’re back with Milligan. Through a little montage of memories, as Mike is driven to his next destination, we see him remember touching Joe Bulo’s (Brad Garrett) hair way back when they met at a hotel restaurant, then later when he touched the hair after he received Joe’s head in a box. Great, great juxtaposition of scenes in this montage. Another excellent show of film making by the crew on this series, as a whole. The music, the editing, the writing, it’s all so damn tight.
Lou is not going to stand by and let things go bad at Sioux Falls. He heads back over the state line, which earlier he’d been escorted across, in order to try preventing more bloodshed. More amazing score here, as Lou goes back through the hotel room where Constance met Hanzee unexpectedly. There are some incredible pieces of music throughout this season, it is another aspect of the aesthetic I’m in love with.
Do you think it’s any coincidence the gung ho Captain Jeb Cheney is named as such? Perhaps a little on the nose, not exactly subtle. Or maybe it is coincidence. I doubt it.
A foreboding sequence sees Lou watching a Gerhardt motorcade drive by. He knows where they’re headed. We’re cut back to scenes of the unsuspecting officers at the motel; Lou calls out over the radio, but the one in the room where Cheney and the others are now sleeping is off, silent. The only one awake and alert is Peggy, who sits on the bed next to her sleeping husband watching a black-and-white movie with the sound turned off.
Chief Gibson and a couple of the officers play cards. He tells them about the best place he ever took a piss; the kitchen sink. Outside, Hanzee, Bear and the Gerhardt henchmen show up, armed to the teeth. Dent sends the troops in as “Sorcerer” by Junction plays, Bear along with about ten men head into the motel. One man outside is stabbed to death. Upstairs, Hank is getting his uniform on, right when the doors are about to be kicked in. As Bear gives the signal, most of the officers are blown clear away; Cheney in particular takes a shotgun blast which knocks him into the wall behind his bed. No sign of Dodd, though; obviously. Hank manages to gun down a couple men, and likewise so does Detective Schmidt: only the latter gets knocked out by Peggy, still trying to save her and Ed’s own skin. The entire motel is lit up with gunfire.
And down in the parking lot, Hanzee looks Floyd right in the eye as she figures out the men inside are all cops, that he did them dirty. Then, he stabs her right in the gut. He and Bear meet eyes across the parking lot right at that very moment, as he screams “Mom!“. But Lou Solverson popsa shot into Bear’s neck – then the beast of a man goes for Lou, they fight barehanded against the pavement. An AMAZINGLY STYLIZED SEQUENCE here with several of Hanzee’s shots being freeze-framed, each of his shots caught in a glare of light. Sadly there’s a gut shot for Hank, too.
Out of the sky then comes what appears to be an extraterrestrial spacecraft. It hovers over the motel, spotlights on the ground. Hanzee, Bear and Lou all freeze and look into it a few moments. This gives enough time to Lou who blows Bear’s head off. And the Blumquists who toss hot coffee, or something, into Hanzee’s eyes, slipping out of the room and out of sight. One last gun duel goes down between Lou and Hanzee, from parking lot to balcony, before the latter takes off into the night.
After the smoke clears, Lou goes to the room where Hank is wounded. Milligan appears when things are all said and done: “Okay then,” he quips then gets into his car again driving off with Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann).
Lou: “Dinner Sunday?”
Hank: “I‘ll be there. In a suit of armour.”
With Hanzee still on the run, Lou still on his toes, what will the Season 2 finale “Palindrome” have in store for us?
Stay tuned and we’ll find out together. See ya then, folks.
Season 2, Episode 8: “Loplop”
Directed by Keith Gordon
Written by Bob DeLaurentis
* For a review of the previous episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “The Castle” – click here
This episode begins with some nice tribal sounds with “Bashi Mwana” by Musi-O-Tunya playing. More split-screen montaging here, as we go back to the Blumquist house. Peggy (Kirsten Dunst) sits, head in her hands on the stairs. In the basement is a tied up Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan). Only Peggy seems to be hallucinating, seeing a man – who I’m assuming, because of his slight likeness, is meant to be Albert Camus; he’s listed in the credits as Albert – asking questions like “Do you understand the difference between thinking and being?“. Very strange yet sort of fitting. I mean, Peg is fairly nutty. First of all, look at the basement! She is a hoarder by the state of the place. Not to mention, she’s the one who snowballed all this into the mess it’s slowly, bloodily become. A real philosophical chat between the two. Until Ed (Jesse Plemons) shows up and shakes her out of it. Dodd is freaked out, I can’t blame him even if I don’t like him or care if he dies. I’m worried most of all for Ed, because having his wife go truly off the deep end is only more to add to the pile of shit that is his life.
Chief Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) along with Officer Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) find their way back to the Blumquist home discovering the dead man at the foot of the stairs. As well as another corpse further in. Poor Hank’s head injury from his previous run-in with the Gerhardt clan has him wheeled into an ambulance, after he valiantly tries to push on with his son-in-law: “This is just embarrassing,” he says being brought out on a stretcher. Hilarious moment they threw in.
Meanwhile, Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) is snooping around still. He finds a note from Constance, as well as her location at the Southnik Hotel. I’m waiting for something big to happen with Hanzee. Either he’s going to do some more crazy stuff, or else some sort of craziness is going to come for him.
The Blumquists are out on the road. Peggy seems happy, smile on her face and shouting stuff like: “See it then be it!“, and things like “We’re actualized” riffing off her little daydream with the armchair philosopher in her basement. Crazy lady. What I love about their situation is that I consistently find myself surprised by what they do. Even further, Dodd gives Ed a kick on the way out of the trunk, but Peg quickly jumps in with the cattle prod for him again prompting Dodd to almost bite his tongue in half. When they get him inside a little cabin in the woods, he talks pretty tough for a man tied to a post.
Now we’ve almost made it to the end of the previous episode, where Ed is at a payphone. There’s a cop snooping around outside at the gas station. Great score with a nice thumping brass sound to it, which comes out here and in other solid moments throughout many episodes. Jeff Russo does really interesting work on Fargo overall.
But the most interesting, and nasty, thing happening right now is Peggy stabbing Dodd a few times. She snaps him out of his rudeness, at least temporarily. All he needed was a couple stabs. Just goes to show how on the edge of craziness Peggy is. Dodd is certainly no one to care for, as I mentioned already. But how easily she sinks the knife into Dodd’s chest is kind of scary, an unsettling addition to her already twisted personality. And right afterwards, she serves him up a bit of food, feeding him like an infant. Having some herself, too. Such a weird scene, but a great one. Typical of what I’ve come to expect in this season. Some seem to think it’s quirky for the sake of being quirky. I disagree. To me it fits very well.
Hanzee ends up at a bar, outside of which is a plaque commemorating the slaughter of 22 Sioux Indians; underneath is a pile of shit, or possibly vomit, and piss. Inside he asks for a glass of water, and it comes back with spit in it, so he requests a tequila poured in front of him with the bartender quipping “Here you go chief“. Bad, bad attitudes. After some more idiocy from the guy, Hanzee shoots back referencing his service in Vietnam and says: “You’re welcome.” A confrontation outside with three other racists ends excellently with Hanzee immediately firing on two of them, the other running of, and then back he goes in to shoot the bartender in the heart. When the cops show up? He pulls an assault rifle out of his truck’s front seat and pops two of them off with single shots to the head. Is this the beginning of the end? Seems like Hanzee is either going to war for the Gerhardts, or going a little crazy.
In a romantic hotel room, Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) awaits someone else than who actually shows up. When she answers the door it’s Hanzee, and he does not look friendly. Eventually, we get a split-screen scene where Hanzee has Constance hostage calling Peggy – turns out the whole seminar thing was going to be some sort of lesbian love affair instead of much concentration on anything else, at least that’s what Constance had planned. Peg is obviously not leaving to head out there. But Hanzee just needs some information, he only wants to find out where they are. Constance tries so hard to get an address, however, it doesn’t work too well for the most part.
Peggy wastes away some time watching a WWII-themed film on television. She pays too much attention, though. After a few minutes she looks over and – surprise, surprise – Dodd is gone.
Cut to Ed in the payphone booth. He spies the name Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) in a newspaper sporting a headline about the big war going down between the Kansas City guys and the Gerhardts. Now, we’re finally at the previous episode’s close. Ed calls Milligan, alerting him to the situation. Only now we know more; that maybe he doesn’t exactly have Dodd anymore, or perhaps it’s not as cut and dry as it was earlier when Dodd was still tied up tight.
As Ed leaves the phone booth, we also catch glimpse of another newspaper piece: MANHUNT UNDERWAY FOR NATIVE, alongside a picture of Hanzee’s mean mug. And immediately after Ed ships off, Hanzee pulls into the gas station. He’s hunting Ed down right to the last, asking questions of the kindly cashier at the station with whom Ed had a pleasant little chat earlier. Luckily, this guy gets to live unlike a lot of the people who cross Hanzee’s path of destruction – he notices the paper too, then calls the cops. Is this going to result in a MASSIVE shitstorm? You betcha.
Milligan: “Sir – if I were to kiss you when we meet, would that be inappropriate?”
When Ed gets to the cabin, discovering Dodd gone, Peggy nowhere to be found, he walks in a little then immediately gets strung up by Dodd. Ed’s literally hung by the neck from a beam. Then Dodd goes on to talk about Ed and his “woman problem“. He’s a super chauvinistic sort who believes “Satan is a woman“. But once more Peggy proves to be a resourceful type of woman. Not only does she stab Dodd in the foot and break the knife’s handle off, she manages to cut down her purple husband and save his life. One of the more tense scenes yet this season, as I actually wondered if Ed was going to die or not. So, as much as I constantly say Peg is the cause of all their problems, she ends up doing a ton to help. Even if they ended up where they are mostly on account of her foolishness.
Then, out of nowhere, Hanzee breaks in. INSANITY!!!!!!! Instead of saving Dodd, Hanzee puts a bullet right in his forehead. All he wants is a haircut from Peggy, possibly to change his look and make the heat on him cool off. Real strange (and awesome) scene between the Blumquists and Hanzee, after Dodd is left dead on the floor. Such an interesting progression in the plot. How much worse will things get? Milligan isn’t going to get what was promised to him, so is that about to make more problems for Ed and Peggy?
And in the woods just outside the cabin, before Peggy can cut a single hair, Ed sees Hank and Lou. And Hanzee quickly pops a shot at them. Peggy stabs him in the shoulder, he dry clicks the gun in Ed’s face, and then the renegade Native is out the door. In burst Hank and Lou to find the Blumquists, arms raised.
WOW! I mean, how good can it get? The next episode “The Castle”, no doubt named for Kafka, is no doubt going to be something intense and wild. Only two more left now. Stay tuned with me, fellow fans!
Season 2, Episode 7: “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!”
Directed by Keith Gordon (Mother Night, Waking the Dead)
Written by Noah Hawley/Ben Nedivi/Matt Wolpert
* For a review of the previous episode, “Rhinoceros” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Loplop” – click here
Well, shit is really goin’ down in Minnesota, no?
After the exciting “Rhinoceros”, this episode begins with some people being gunned down in an office building from a window cleaner’s basket. We quickly cut to Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine) looking especially grim. Jethro Tull plays “Locomotive Breath” over a montage including the remaining Kitchen Brother garroting a man, as well as (some of) the Gerhardts laying Otto’s body to rest. Floyd (Jean Smart) has people in from Buffalo helping with all the chaos. Bear (Angus Sampson) gives her a little bad news, and young Simone (Rachel Keller) nudges her way into family business a little. More than anything, Floyd backhands her granddaughter and, I’m sure, this will drive her even further into the arms of Milligan.
Simone: “This family deserves the ground”
Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) and his new sort-of-partner Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) show up to take Mama Floyd in for some questions. Before they leave, though, there’s a brief back and forth between Lou and Bear. Just enough to show Bear/the Gerhardts have no time for the law, as well as the fact Lou has balls of steel and won’t back down from their force either. Love the dynamic between the big mafia-style Minnesota family and Solverson’s relentless will to serve the law.
Fucking Terry Kinney! He shows up as Chief Gibson, not impressed with having Floyd Gerhardt in his interrogation room. At the same time, he is not a bad guy, nor does he seem like a dummy. So Gibson and Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) hop in for a chat with ole Floyd, while the other two do their duties. There’s good conversation between Floyd and Hank specifically. Again, I’m not huge on Danson other than Cheers – here, he absolutely holds his own and does fine stuff with the character of Hank; he’s a great addition to the second season cast.
More great music with The First Edition’s “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” playing with Simone heading into a seedy hotel. Upstairs, Milligan is being talked to rather disrespectfully; due to the opening shooting we witnessed. Turns out Mike has an ultimatum – either take care of things, or the man on the phone says: “I’m sending the Undertaker“. Simone’s pissed her father Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) wasn’ killed, and rather grandpa got shot up. Milligan doesn’t care; he’d rather quote historical figures from Martin Luther King back to one of the King Louis. Then into the room bursts Lou Solverson alongside Ben Schmidt, guns drawn, knocking Gale Kitchen (Brad Mann) to the floor. Looks like trouble for Mike and his plans, right? Well, on the elevator down Schmidt has a bit of a… close encounter, with Simone. So trouble for Ben right away.
Simone: “I mean, sometimes a girl just wants to bust a nut, y’know.”
Downstairs, Bear picks up his niece in an intense scene. Upstairs, Lou reiterates to Milligan: “We’re not meant to need more than we can handle.” They talk about greed, “all or nothin’“. Very interesting little moment, especially with the abilities of Patrick Wilson as an actor versus Bokeem Woodbine who is equally amazing in this season. There’s something fun about the typical cop versus criminal turned into a more interesting, elegant, and at times comical situation. Instead of chase chase, bang bang, et cetera. For all Solverson’s efforts, Milligan believes the Gerhardts are the past, and “we are the future“.
Snap from the hotel to Betsy Solverson (Cristin Milioti) who arrives home to suspicious boots in her porch. Immediately, and very smart, she goes for a shotgun in the closet and goes up to the kitchen. There stand Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) and Sonny Greer (Dan Beirne) cooking breakfast. Apparently her “lesser half” asked them to make sure she was doing all right and to look after her and Molly. Awesome little scene I thought fit in well among everything else happening during this episode.
Bear takes Simone on a ride in the truck. It’s tense, as Bear talks in a low, grumbling voice and appearing cold to his niece. She is rightfully nervous, having just before walked out of the hotel where Milligan was staying. Then Bear pulls over out in the woods, asking Simone to come – “You’re scaring me,” she tells him. He’s scaring me, too. Slowly he walks his niece out further into the trees, accusing her of “sleeping with the enemy” and talks about how women had their heads shaved for “bedding Germans“. The cinematography here is equally as eerie, it unsettled me to watch overhead as Bear basically – I assume – takes Simone on a death march. Plus, a few creepy handheld-like shots quivering together in a big, beautiful edited jumble. I really loved this whole bit, no matter how brutal it was beneath it all. Just an incredibly great sequence from visuals to performances. Added to all that, a serene and gorgeous rendition of “Danny Boy” is sung over top of a montage including Bear smashing the cast off his arm after leaving the woods alone, quick cuts of still alive Rye and Simone, and a shot of Dodd. An entirely unexpected 5 minutes, which work so perfectly. Another example of the quality work being put into this series, from the camerawork to the writing to all the choice music being used for such memorable scenes.
Simone: “We’re family”
Bear: “None of us are family anymore”
Back at the station, Floyd is trying to take everything on herself. Gibson and Larsson just want information from her, so they try and make a deal to not see any further bodies pile up. She gives them the low down on the Kansas City drug operation, the drugs hidden in tires, and so on. Is this going to come back and bite Floyd? Should she, in her ‘line of work’, be making deals with police? Of course, morality says yes. Although the criminal code doesn’t smile favourably on such nastiness. Excellent editing once more in this scene, as Floyd in the interrogation room is cut in split-screen shots with Milligan at his hotel.
And then Mike receives a phone call: “The Undertaker’s coming. You’re done.”
Betsy and Karl have a good, morbid talk together. She wants him to look out for Lou after she’s gone, already anticipating her own death; like any of us would, I’m sure. Then she goes over to feed her father’s cat, which leads to her finding a room full of all sorts of drawings, markings, strange things that LOOK like Hank is interested in aliens. Am I right? I saw something “…Of the Gods” on his desk, maybe – could be any number of texts. Either way, it appears he might be a little out there?!
Throughout an interesting and low-key, though briefly vicious episode, the best comes when The Undertaker arrives at the hotel. He comes to see Milligan in his room accompanied by two Asian men, who look bad ass, as well. Then Mike comes charging out to say hello, popping a tiny gun from his sleeve and shooting The Undertaker right in his face. The two Asians are done in fairly quick afterwards.
On the phone then calls Ed Blumquist (Jesse Plemons). He says “this is your lucky day: I’ve got Dodd Gerhardt in the trunk of my car, you want him?” WHOA! I anticipated something along these lines, yet not at all ni this way. So now we know where Dodd is. As does Hanzee apparently.
Very excited for the next episode, “Loplop”. I’m anticipating a wild one, but we may get another calm before the storm like this one. Who knows. Stay tuned, fellow fans!
Bone Tomahawk. 2015. Directed & Written by S. Craig Zahler.
Starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins, Sean Young, Lil Simmons, Zahn McClarnon, Matthew Fox, David Arquette, Kathryn Morris, and Sid Haig.
Caliber Media Company.
Rated R. 132 minutes.
★★★★★ This is a movie I’ve waited a long time to see. Ever since I even heard the name, it intrigued me. In fact, I believe writer-director S. Craig Zahler actually wrote the screenplay about 8 years ago or something crazy like that. So for those of us who follow projects from their early stages in development, this is one of those titles people like myself have eagerly awaited. Then, once Kurt Russell, Richard Jenkins, Patrick Wilson (and more) signed on, a year or more ago, the project had me beyond excited.
Westerns can be amazing, if treated properly. There are lots of them out there. Recently I discussed this very same thing while reviewing the Mads Mikkelsen-Jeffrey Dean Morgan Western The Salvation, a film I personally enjoyed. But so many sad, half-hearted Westerns come out, like horror. Part of why I loved Bone Tomahawk is in part because of the blend between horror and Western, two genres of which I’m a huge fan. I fell in love with horror through literature first, then film. Westerns I came to through my grandfather, whose membership to Columbia House and love for John Wayne/Gary Cooper shaped part of my early film viewing life. With a packed cast – including the god damn man Kurt Russell, the chameleon Richard Jenkins, and Patrick Wilson who has talent out the ass – Bone Tomahawk makes the most out of both its Western and horror elements, while not having to fall into every last trope from either genre.
It’s safe to say, this is another modern Western I’ll definitely be adding to my personal collection.
It’s hard to deny the nasty brutality of a movie like Bone Tomahawk. Particularly when the opening scene has David Arquette’s character cutting a man’s throat; not even efficiently, he slits once, slits another time. After all that, Buddy (Sid Haig) has to finish the man off, crushing his skull. The first two minutes set the tone perfectly. These two men are just killing and robbing, savagely murdering men for nothing more than some books, trinkets, who knows what else – nothing too great. Zahler conjures up a grim atmosphere immediately. Even in the sun baked landscapes Benji Bakshi (who also did the cinematography for the interesting indie Some Kind of Hate recently out) captures there is such an undeniable grimness, it lurks everywhere and casts over every little thing. Then there are the interiors, the Western sets captured in all their gorgeous grittiness.
The string score accompanying so many beautifully realized shots and sequences is fitting. One scene really catches me – as the group of four first depart, there’s a great shot of them all riding and the strings have such a heartbreaking feel. Seriously: this shot belongs in the hall of fame. I can’t shake it. Almost like it foreshadowed every bit of darkness and horror to follow later on, a foreboding moment in time. All the music is courtesy of multi-talented Zahler and Jeff Herriott, whose only feature film surprisingly is this one. Needless to say, they’ve done well. The music adds an extra layer to specific moments, which intensifies things perfectly when required; exactly what a proper score ought do.
Even further, I loved the set design itself, the look of everything. All the main characters were well costumed. I loved Matthew Fox and his get-up, especially one scene when he straightens himself out, putting on his cap then leaving the saloon; amazing. But just little things like the lamps in the bedrooms, the pictures on the walls, so many fine touches such as these made scenes eye-catching. Then the lighting, all around, is perfect. It’s easy for a Western to throw you off nowadays if modernity creeps in too much. Honestly, though, this movie does so well creating the late-1800s atmosphere – the low light of the lamps inside and out around the town, dust/sand battered windows, old bottles of medication and all the pictures, various items on the desks and bedside tables. Such good attention to detail.
Sheriff Hunt: “Ask me about horses again n’ I’ll slap you red”
I love the plot and story of Bone Tomahawk. It’s at times funny, not even darkly but just worthy of a chuckle. The characters are original without being forcibly quirky, also without falling too deep into Western cliche. Furthermore, there’s the aspect of the troglodytes; the fact Mrs. O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) is the doctor and not as it usually is in the genre a man; Zahn McClarnon plays a Native man whose status among the town isn’t of the lower sort (he wears an awesome suit); and so much more. The dialogue doesn’t come off as someone trying hard to create a Western. Lots of Westerns do fail because their entire style is forced, it doesn’t feel or sound natural when the dialogue is spoken. Yet Zahler writes this well, he’s someone I’ve enjoyed before: Asylum Blackout, to my mind, was a lot of fun and a nice dose of solid horror. Apparently he does well writing about the turn of the century in America, the slow tail end of the Wild West, so it’s easy to see where his talent lies watching this film.
Big favourite of mine here, character-wise, is absolutely John Brooder, played so finely by Matthew Fox; his charm is undeniable, even at times when you’re unsure whether or not he’s being too brutal. The scene with his horse, you’ll know the one – among all the other viciousness of the movie, this actually gets to me emotionally. To see Brooder, uncaring about anyone else other than those around him to which he’s loyal, so upset over the horse is that from which Western heroes are made. And Brooder isn’t the only good character, he’s simply my personal pick. They’re all awesome. Kurt Russell and Patrick Wilson in their own respects are also serving the film well here. Wilson’s character is so sympathetic, to watch him try and make it over the rough terrain out to find his wife, all too often hobbling far behind his companions, it’s actually devastating at times. Russell is, as usual, a hard yet smart tough guy, and his facial hair is fucking out of this world. He plays the Wild West sheriff role with plenty of smirky goodness, as well as with the aforementioned tough exterior.
I’ve got to at least make small mention of Richard Jenkins. He gives an interesting performance as the dim-witted but staunchly loyal sidekick to Russell’s Sheriff Hunt. Even the voice Jenkins puts on, it’s much different from many of his other previous roles. Quality acting all around for this movie.
Sheriff Hunt: “What time is it?”
Chicory: “It’s about nine. But it feels like next week.”
On top of everything else I love so much here, the horror is supremely vicious. In the best sort of sense. Right off the bat with that scene including Haig and Arquette, there’s so much visceral horror happening. For a while, this stuff almost leaves your mind. There are a few ugly bits on the way to the last 40 minutes, such as Arthur O’Dwyer and his leg, the few shootings and a bit of stabbing. But it’s only once the four men on their journey come across the troglodytes and their cannibalism when things get awfully bloody, gory, and downright savage in its bestial nature. Great stuff, in terms of intense horror. Plus, it’s not a CGI-laden piece of work. Zahler doesn’t opt for a bunch of fake looking blood. Instead there’s a wealth of nice practical work here. Also consider that the movie’s budget is estimated under $2-million, so that’s actually truly impressive, like crazily impressive. When so many horrors, and lots of other genre films, fall into the trappings of computer generated boredom, there’s something to be said for a well crafted film crossing Westerns with horror that sticks to practicality.
Sheriff Hunt: “We’ll make sure all this has value”
5 star film. To the bone.
It’s not often these days with newer films, other than maybe a couple handfuls every year, I find myself glued to the screen. But finally having the chance to watch Bone Tomahawk, my attention was captivated from the opening sequence right to the final frames. There is everything here – the tried and true Western feel, a gritty sense of the Wild West, cannibalism, the at times scariness of horror movies, Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox in finest form among a cast including other solid performances from Patrick Wilson and Kurt Russell. The adrenaline begins to flow full-on around when the last 43 minutes start descending upon you. Everything prior sets up all the atmosphere and tone necessary for the story to thrive. Everything that follows will keep you reeling, long after the credits roll. See this, or miss out on an innovative Western. Another I can easily say is one of the best in the genre I’ve seen over the past decade or more since the last big, great Westerns like Unforgiven and Tombstone.