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 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.
Season 2, Episode 6: “Rhinoceros”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Noah Hawley
* For a review of the previous episode, “The Gift of the Magi” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!” – click here
After the last episode, we come right back to Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). In the finale of “The Gift of the Magi”, cop lights and sirens were blaring, swinging around out front of their house. Now we start with Lou Solverson (Patrick Wilson) taking Ed out to the car in cuffs. Behind him, Sheriff Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) tries his best to calm Peggy down. We’re about to see ole Ed, the poor soul, dragged down the rabbit hole. Even the look on Plemons’ face spells it all, as Lou drives him to the station. Very grim, very sombre mood. The tone here starting off the top is solid.
At the station, worry wort Betsy (Cristin Milioti) came to check on her husband, despite her own sickly disposition. Then there’s Charlie Gerhardt (Allan Dobrescu) – he gets his one call from jail.
But before we get any of that, Bear Gerhardt (Angus Sampson) sits with his ill father, Otto (Michael Hogan). They have a deep little one-sided chat, about the family. Right before Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) shows up, looking – as always – confrontational.
Simone (Rachel Keller) calls Bear inside to talk to Charlie on the phone. Dodd doesn’t have any respect for his daughter, talking to her like trash. Then out comes Bear – he’s pissed, he finally figured out Charlie was drawn into the family shit by Uncle Dodd. They have a small fight, before Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) cocks the shotgun on Bear. Dodd gives him a choice of punishment: “Strap or the buckle.” Bad ass Bear chooses the buckle, but before that goes down Mama Floyd (Jean Smart) interrupts it all. She wants her grandson back, she doesn’t want any trouble with the brothers. I’m just waiting, though, to see if Floyd will eventually have to put down her son Dodd; it’s as if I can feel the thunder rumbling already, just waiting for the storm to hit.
With Floyd wanting blood from the butcher, as well as Charlie out of lockup, Simone calls Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine). She lets him in on the Gerhardt plan as it stands, telling him they’re on their way to Luverne. Some might think Simone is petty, childish, vindictive. I don’t. I think she’s a person who has had too much abuse pushed in her face, been treated awfully by her family. Now she’s dropping vengeance on them, big time. Will it play out that way?
Milligan sends us intro a strange atmosphere with a partial reading of “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll. Some split-screen action shows us him in the car, last Kitchen Brother (Brad Mann) in tow, juxtaposed with Hanzee, Bear and Dodd on their own respective journey towards Luverne.
Hank Larsson is trying to keep Peggy on lockdown at home. She clearly does not understand the situation. Either that, or dear Peg is being purposefully oblivious. I think she’s beyond nervous. She rambles and runs on talking to Hank, about the modern woman and dreams and all their plans. But Hank continually tries to get through to her: these people were coming to KILL ED. They want him dead. We know that. Hank and Lou both know that. Hell, I’m sure even Ben Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell) up at Fargo P.D. knows what’s going on. Finally, Hank breaks it all down simply – he even knows now she sold the car to the mechanic over at the garage.
We cut from Peggy, on a knife’s edge, to the police station. Ed is sitting across from Lou, they’re getting down to the nitty gritty. Obviously, Ed was planning on taking off. Yet the timing fucked them; hard. Or better yet, Peggy fucked them; real hard. He even talks about Camus and The Myth of Sisyphus; the futility of pushing that damn rock up the fucking hill, every day, one after another. Yet somehow, among the absurdity of Camus’ philosophy, Ed turns it into – “I’ll take care of what’s mine“.
Peggy: “You say it like these things happen in a vacuum. Like it’s a test – check A or B. But it’s like, decisions you make in a dream, y’know? I’ll tell ya what, if it was me and we had to run, I wouldn’t look back.”
Outside the Blumquist house, all of a sudden, Dodd Gerhardt and crew show up. Sheriff Larsson steps outside, telling Peggy to go hide someplace. Hank stands there talking with Dodd, trying to smooth things over. Although, he doesn’t let himself look like a guy who messes around, dropping an insult in with it all. The look in the eyes of Ted Danson are what great characterization is made of, he does such a perfect job showing it all in his face. But then Hanzee knocks him out, letting Dodd inside with the cattle prod. The crew has a look around in the basement, which doesn’t do much except produce a casualty of their own: Dodd kills one of his henchmen after hearing a noise and popping a shot off. Then Dodd makes the dumb mistake of dropping his cattle prod, not bothering to pick up. Peggy grabs hold and nearly prods the life out of Dodd. Dig it!
At the Gerhardt ranch, as Floyd tries to talk with her granddaughter Simone, Milligan and his own gang show up, blowing the windows out and firing until they hear a click. The fan is spinning again and the shit has stained everything. There’s going to be an absolute war now. With only four episode left after this, I can only imagine what is about to happen.
However, the most insane thing yet begins when lawyer Karl Weathers (Nick Offerman) stumbles in to help his new client, Ed Blumquist. When he makes his way out of the police station, Bear and his crew stand firm with shotguns in hand. Arriving to take back his son Charlie.
The big stand off starts. Lou Solverson comes out to meet the armed hands. Meanwhile, Hanzee is sneaking around the side trying to get a shot at Ed inside the interrogation room. Bear tries to scare Lou down, but as we know: Lou’s kind of a bad motherfucker. He goes back in and gets things real tight – smashed lightbulbs under the windows, barricades around the doors, and so on. Plus, he recruits half-drunk Karl to try and talk sense into Bear/the armed henchmen. The music here is so excellent, the score has a military drum-style sound which goes so well with how things are setting up around this big showdown at the station.
Larsson finally wakes up on the Blumquist porch and figures out what’s going on. But will he or any reinforcements arrive before things get nasty? Karl slinks back out to talk with Bear, as Lou attempts sneaking Ed out a window in the rear of the building. Such a tense few minutes. Hanzee is still heading around the perimeter, trying to get a shot. Although, Lou manages to get Ed out to the woods, keeping them safe. For the moment.
Continuously, Karl is talking Bear down with legal mumbo jumbo. He actually appeals to the loving father in Bear, the one who never wanted Charlie in the family business, and defuses the ticking Gerhardt time bomb.
Once Larsson picks Lou up on the side of the road, Ed runs out into the dark horizon. They let him go because they know where he’s headed. Except right behind Lou, out of the forest, comes Hanzee once they’re gone. He then silently walks out towards where Ed was going.
Nice little cut between the credits of Karl Weathers talking more smack. Can’t wait for the next episode, “Did You Do This? No, You Did It!“. Promises to be an incredible episode after what’s gone down in this chapter. Stay tuned for another one!
Season 2, Episode 5: “The Gift of the Magi”
Directed by Jeffrey Reiner
Written by Ben Nedivi and Matt Wolpert
* For a review of the previous episode, “Fear and Trembling” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Rhinoceros” – click here
The beginning of this episode begins with an excellent voice-over. I’ve awaited this moment. A bus flies by with REAGAN across it, all the while there’s Bruce Campbell giving a speech as the ole Gipper. Brief, but amazing.
Then, out in the middle of nowhere, Joe Bulo (Brad Garrett) and Mike Milligan (Bokeem Woodbine), alongside the Kitchen Brothers and a bunch of other men. Are they going out hunting? Looks like it. But hunting what? Bulo and a hunting guide of sorts head out to hunt, shoot skeet, whatever.
More of the excellent editing here. The splitscreen technique takes us between Reagan, back on, speaking to a crowd including Lou and Betsy Solverson (Patrick Wilson/Cristin Milioti), Constance (Elizabeth Marvel) and a ton of others – to Hanzee Dent (Zahn McClarnon) driving back to the Gerhardt Ranch. There, he gives Rye’s belt buckle back to the clan. Dodd (Jeffrey Donovan) and Bear (Angus Sampson) are not happy, neither is Mama Floyd (Jean Smart). Naturally.
Out in the woods, a massive shitstorm comes crashing down on Bulo. There are guns firing. People are shot, chaos descends. The Kitchen Brothers come out blazing, too. Then out of nowhere comes Hanzee – he annihilates the two shotgun wielding brothers with a huge knife. Incredibly wild. Especially afterwards, once Bulo comes shambling out of the woods to find Hanzee waiting for him by the cars. All the while we’re still hearing Campbell’s Reagan giving a speech. There are some parallels between Reagan and the sort of stuff happening in the small little Minnesota town. I expect the whole Reagan angle to make a nice overarching theme once the season is done.
Then we’re back to the troubles of Ed and Peggy Blumquist (Jesse Plemons/Kirsten Dunst). Poor Ed is having nightmares of Rye, the night of his death, all that. Even worse, Peggy is trying to convince her husband to take off. Lou really put the spook in her last episode. But Ed doesn’t want any part of that. He wanted such a normal, quaint life, and with Peggy’s mistakes – her massive blunders – it’s really all her that’s put them in such a terrifying position. I feel bad for Peggy, I mean, she’s sympathetic. Yet Ed is where my sympathies truly lie.
The Gerhardt youngsters are each their own type of fucked up. First there’s Charlie (Allan Dobrescu) who wants to pull the trigger, to avenge Rye, as he believes it has to be a Gerhardt to do the job on the butcher. To which Dodd agrees.
And then there’s Simone (Rachel Keller). She takes off from her father, out to see Milligan. Surprisingly, one Kitchen Brother remains; I thought he was also dead (“I see Thing 1, where’s Thing 2?” asks Simone). Things get damn tense. Milligan has a box with the head of Joe Bulo in it. He’s not completely convinced of Simone and her allegiance, whether it still lies with her family or with him, as her new lover: “If you want me to take you seriously, you have to be a serious person.” And he essentially gives her an ultimatum, to tell him everything before the Gerhardts even move on a plan, or else she can “die with the rest of ’em“.
Lou Solverson’s new contact in Fargo P.D., Bed Schmidt (Keir O’Donnell), gives him a call over the radio. He’s got the mess in the woods to deal with, the Bulo situation and all those puzzle pieces. Looks as if those two are going to have their hands full. Another trip to the Gerhardt Ranch is on the schedule. Can’t wait.
Noreen: “Camus says knowin’ we’re all gonna die makes life a joke”
Ed: “So what, you just give up?”
Noreen: “You could just kill yerself. Get it over with.”
Ed: “C’mon ya gotta try”
Ed: “You go to school, you get a job, start a family.”
Noreen: “You die”
One of Fargo‘s incredible strengths comes through how the tension plays out, the suspense and the technique of drawing it out. Great sequence here where Charlie heads into the butcher shop in order to kill the butcher. There’s a very tense lead up, then a funny little exchange between Charlie and Noreen concerning the Camus book she’s reading, which really breaks the tension. Yet still, this tension switches back once Ed shows up through the door from out back – we get a split-second view, from Charlie’s P.O.V, as Ed looks mean and full of blood. Then it snaps to the natural, friendly Ed. So, as we all predicated, Charlie only walks away with some cuts of beef. No dead Ed.
At the Blomquist home, it appears Peggy has plain ideas about what she wants to do. She’s packing suitcases, though, it looks as if they’re only her own. Cut to: Peggy leaving a bus, suitcases in hand. She’s headed to the garage for the car. Awkwardly, she gets it back and fumbles through a conversation with the mechanic. This is the problem with Peggy: she is fundamentally a person without sense. She never does anything with a plan. But to my huge surprise, silly Peg goes to the garage instead of running. She takes a cold $700 from the mechanic for the car, seemingly intent on putting that towards buying the butcher shop. Is this a good thing? Will this help bring her and Ed closer back together, at least on the same page again? Hopefully so.
Bear: “How’d it go this mornin’?”
Hanzee: “Killed a few, lost a few.”
There’s a ton of further tension in the Gerhardt family. We see a brief encounter between Bear and Hanzee. Then a worse one between Dodd and Bear – the latter is proud to serve with his mother as the head of their racket, the former has no time for “taking orders from a woman“. We’re going to see some serious fallout between the brothers, I think. First, there’s the fact of this confrontation. Then there’s also Dodd sending Charlie out to do a terrible thing; even though he didn’t do it, a good uncle would never involve a nephew like that.
Great meeting between State Trooper Solverson and Ronald Reagan in a washroom. Over a piss, Reagan relates a (partial) tale of some war picture he’d been in. Afterwards, Lou babbles on about the “sickness of this world” possibly being inside his wife, giving her cancer, as if he brought some of it back from serving in a nasty war. I feel for him. No doubt he has his demons. Although, Reagan isn’t anyone to try and assuage any fears. His only response once Lou asks an important question is to squeeze Lou’s shoulders, smile, then head off. Amazing, Campbell is such a perfect vision of Reagan that it baffles me. I couldn’t see how it was going to work when I first heard the casting news ages ago. Now, I kick myself to have thought anything other than: fucking awesome.
Lots of family relationships, good ones, in this show. Between the different Gerhardt dynamics – Dodd/Bear, Dodd/Charlie, Dodd/Simone, & Dodd/Floyd (a pattern emerges) – and the Solversons, I’m loving every minute of the scenes involving any of their characters.
Particularly, I love Hank Larsson (Ted Danson) and his daughter Betsy Solverson. They’re great together. I’m not usually even a fan of Danson’s, but there is a finesse and subtlety with which he plays the role I can’t deny. Especially in this episode, as he tries consoling his terminally ill daughter; there’s a point you could almost cry, he’s so tender and gentle and silly. Great few moments here.
Then we fall back to Charlie. He wants to go back to school, trying to call his father on the phone. But the man who Dodd sent with the boy wants to settle things. Thanks to Noreen, Charlie misses Ed. Then a massive fight breaks out between the Gerhardt henchman and Ed, a fire ignites after Charlie pumps a shot in the wrong direction.
Yet Ed proves to be almost superhero-like. He whacks the guy with a meat cleaver, plants a butcher’s knife in the henchman’s head, then gets Noreen + Charlie out to safety (even though the young Gerhardt took a bullet – maybe just a stray grazing or something). Then, instead of sticking around, Ed takes off. No doubt to make sure Peggy is okay. Or is he now convinced leaving town is best?
Dodd: “Bein’ grown’s got a price”
Ed flies back in the door trying to tell Peggy they need to pack and leave. Worst timing ever, right? They’re destined to never be on the same page. She’s already sold the car, changed her mind. Now, everything has changed in the blink of an eye. The shop burned up, anyways. MAN, OH, MAN! I feel so terrible for the Blumquists. There’s a nasty irony to everything happening in their lives. Tragedy lurks around each and every corner they come to.
The shit really hits the fan spinning when Ed and Peggy hear sirens, the reds and blues flashing around outside their door. Harsh and darkly comedic moment, as they both stare out towards the front door, seeing it all. We return to Billy Thorpe’s “Children of the Sun”, which played in an earlier episode – it plays as the credits roll. Quality finish to a solid episode.
Excited to see/review “Rhinoceros”. Stay tuned for the next episode’s rundown!