Movie reviews: Gods of Egypt, The Conjuring 2, Bang Gang

A  look at this week’s new films in Irish cinemas.

The less you know about Egyptian mythology, the more you’re likely to enjoy Gods of Egypt (12A). Alex Proyas’ movie opens with Set (Gerald Butler), the god of darkness, murdering his brother Osiris (Bryan Brown) and blinding his nephew and heir to the throne Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). 

Having enslaved the Egyptian people, Set has plans to rule for eternity, but he reckons without the mortal Bek (Brenton Thwaites), whose love for the dead Zaya (Courtney Eaton) ensures that he will go to any length — including challenging the gods and death itself — in order to be reunited with her. 

Epic in tone and theme, Gods of Egypt benefits from lavishly designed CGI sets and an almost childish glee in exploring the storytelling possibilities of the clash between humans and immortals (there is also an endearingly retro quality to the action sequences that brings to mind the visual effects work of the great Ray Harryhausen). 

That said, much of the movie is unconvincing: the boyish, babbling Bek is the very antithesis of classical mythology’s laconic hero, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a sulking grump as the exiled god Horus, and the various goddesses, and Courtney Eaton, are given little more to do than preen and pout. 

Indeed, it’s rarely a good sign when Gerald Butler takes home the acting laurels, but here the barrel-chested Butler brings verve and chutzpah to his arrogant Set, his willingness to play along with the tale’s improbability in pleasing contrast to the knowing smirks and asides that repeatedly puncture the movie’s mood of feverishly imagined escapism.

Fresh from investigating the Amityville hauntings, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) are a husband-and-wife team of paranormal investigators experiencing a crisis of confidence in The Conjuring 2 (15A), particularly as Lorraine is having visions of Ed’s death at the hands of a demonic presence. 

When their expertise is required in London, however, Lorraine and Ed reluctantly travel to England, to investigate the bizarre occurrences at the home of the Hodgson family. 

James Wan’s horror flick isn’t particularly original in its execution — a series of creaks, moans, and bumps-in-the-night provide the expected escalation in tension — but the family’s plight is a fascinating one (it’s based on a true story) as young sisters Janet (Madison Wolfe) and Margaret (Lauren Esposito) are plagued by a capricious sprite which seems to revel in physical and emotional cruelty. 

The mise-en-scène contributes handsomely to the spooky proceedings, the grim, poky terraced house of the Hodgsons an entirely fitting habitat for a malicious spirit who strongly resembles Harold Steptoe, but what might have been an effective low-fi horror is frequently derailed by Wan’s insistence on shoehorning in Lorraine’s vivid visions of a demonic nun, which is visually far too lurid to dovetail with the more prosaic (but more chilling) haunting being experienced by the sisters.

Ironically subtitled ‘A modern love story’, Bang Gang (18s) centres on a group of French teenagers with a very liberal attitude to sex. 

George (Marilyn Lima) sleeps with Alex (Finnegan Oldfield), but when Alex subsequently spurns George in favour of her friend Laetitia (Daisy Broom), George instigates an extreme version of spin-the-bottle within their circle of friends. 

Soon a host of teenagers are regularly gathering for ‘bang gangs’ at Alex’s house, but the theoretically idyllic free love and partner-swapping quickly evolves into a poisonous brew of jealousy, back-biting and revenge. Written and directed by Eva Husson, Bang Gang is an intriguing snapshot of adolescence as it explores the intoxicating promise of sex. 

Despite the premise and the lurid title, the sex scenes are very coyly shot; the teens are cruel in the way they exert emotional blackmail on one another, but there is very little here that could be considered physically or visually exploitative. 

There’s a natural, almost amateurish, quality to the performances that renders these teens very believable indeed (Marilyn Lima and Finnegan Oldfield shine), and Husson is subtle in the way she gradually erodes their initial pose of disaffected nonchalance and arrogance and reveals the characters as hollow, brittle and shallow. 

Husson appears to be asking whether the teenagers on display here are a modern incarnation of libertarianism or simply representative of a generation desensitised by easy access to drugs and pornography — disappointingly, given the nuanced tale that has gone before, her answer comes in an abrupt and simplistic final act which would not be out of place in a Victorian morality play.

Gods of Egypt **

The Conjuring 2 ***

Bang Gang ***


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