Paul Greenwood's movie reviews - The Conjuring, Red 2, Only God Forgives, The Smurfs 2, The Heat

The Conjuring (15, 112 mins)

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Director: James Wan

4 stars

With the cycle of bloodily unpleasant horror movies hopefully behind us for a while, well told ghost stories seem to be making a comeback to cinema screens.

At the forefront of these is director James Wan, who ironically was largely responsible for setting off the torture years with the first Saw film a decade ago.

But with his Insidious a couple of years back, he demonstrated that chills from simple things could be effective without the need for blood, harking back to the great haunted house movies of the 1960s like The Haunting and The Innocents.

The set-up for The Conjuring is the standard drill of the family moving in to a new home, one that just happens to have a boarded-up cellar. Soon they're being besieged by bad smells, cold snaps, and clocks stopping at the same time every night.

It's all part of a carefully built atmosphere by Wan, who uses light and shadows, creaky doors and bumps in the night to create a sense of growing dread, and that's all before the investigators even get there.

Wan borrows his Insidious star Patrick Wilson to play real life paranormal researcher Ed Warren, while Vera Farmiga is his wife, Lorraine, who has a gift for clairvoyance.

The Conjuring is based on what is said to be their most sensitive and alarming case, a haunting that took place in Rhode Island in 1971.

At its core are real people to care about, with Farmiga at the centre quite superb as a loving mother and steely investigator.

But layered on top of that is horror exactly as it should be done, and once the Warrens arrive to help the family, the set pieces escalate to terrifying effect.

They may be comprised of often familiar elements, but there's still a freshness to the gags, helped by great sound design and expert pacing.

Wan has complete confidence in his camera and what it reveals, letting the viewer's eye linger over the frame, so you can see what might be there.

It could be argued that with its calm surface, gliding camera and autumnal chill, he's watched The Exorcist one too many times, but the fact that The Conjuring is able to compete almost on that level is a miracle, and it shouldn't detract from a first rate chiller that delivers genuine spooks, near-constant goosebumps, and that's heart-stopping in its best moments.

James Wan is a horror director at the pinnacle of his trade, and we should cherish him, and rejoice in the fact that we only have to wait until next month for his Insidious: Chapter 2.

See it if you liked: Insidious, Sinister, The Amityville Horror

The Heat (15, 117 mins)

Director: Paul Feig

4 stars

The director of Bridesmaids returns with another raucous comedy that stars Sandra Bullock as a hotshot, by-the-book FBI agent.

Keen to get her boss's job, she's sent on an assignment where if she does well she'll get the promotion, but this looks unlikely when she ends up forced to team with Melissa McCarthy's crazed, foul-mouthed cop.

It's a classic odd couple set-up, with these opposites banging against each other as they work the fairly incomprehensible case looking for a drug kingpin.

There's a lot of improvised silliness, which means that as usual with these things it goes on far longer than is ideal, but at least we're in the presence of first rate performers in Bullock and McCarthy.

They generate consistently solid laughs, partly from the characters, partly from McCarthy doing or saying outrageous things, but there's a strong narrative flow rather than just a bunch of sketches, and The Heat continues what's been a fairly decent summer for movie comedy.

See it if you liked: Hot Fuzz, The Other Guys, Bridesmaids

The Smurfs 2 (U, 105 mins)

Director: Raja Gosnell

3 stars

Having hauled in over half a billion dollars worldwide with their first adventure, the return of the tiny blue Smurfs was inevitable.

This agreeable sequel finds Smurfette (voiced by Katy Perry) worrying about her place among the Smurfs, since she was a creation of evil wizard Gargamel (Hank Azaria) until Papa Smurf turned her blue and made her one of their own.

Gargamel meanwhile, defeated in the first film, is now a famed magician in Paris and has a plan to harness the Smurfs' essence and take over the world.

There's also Neil Patrick Harris and his family returning from the first film and pitching in to help the Smurfs, though this does mean the film can get rather too bogged down in human subplots that will make tots itchy.

But if they liked the first Smurfs movie they'll like this, and the computer graphics used to realise the Smurfs is tip-top, while Azaria doesn't short change with a full-blown zany performance.

See it if you liked: The Smurfs, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Yogi Bear

Red 2 (12A, 116 mins)

Director: Dean Parisot

3 stars

Former agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is still retired, but old cohort John Malkovich wants him back in this goofy spy sequel, convinced that the CIA are after them because of a shady operation 30 years before.

The details of this are gobbledegook as far as audiences are concerned but it's come back to haunt the CIA, who want Frank and his pals dead, sending international assassins (including Helen Mirren) on their trail, though for all the people supposedly out to kill them, they get left to their own devices for pretty much half the film.

It's silly, fun stuff, too daft to be concerned about, with run of the mill chases and crunchy action.

There's an easygoing affability that could be mistaken for lethargy, but it's the skills of its stars that really keeps it motoring.

See it if you liked: Red, Mr and Mrs Smith, A Good Day to Die Hard

Only God Forgives (18, 90 mins)

Director: Nicolas Winding Refn

2 stars

To Thailand, where Ryan Gosling's near-silent drug dealer gets mixed up in a cycle of violence and retribution after his brother kills a prostitute and the local police chief allows the girl's father to take his revenge on the brother.

Though a stylishly weird mood-piece, ominous and overblown and soaked in red light and blood, it's actually a straightforward set-up, dressed in gaudy Christmas lights and narrative trickery.

As the camera endlessly glides down dingy corridors, an emotionless Gosling will bore you rigid, while Kristin Scott Thomas shows up in a piece of stunt casting as his monstrous mother.

If it could cut out the surreal interludes, there's power to the themes and individual scenes, but as it stands Only God Forgives has the look and all the depth of an after shave commercial.

See it if you liked: Drive, Enter the Void, The Raid

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