Monday, July 29, 2013

The Conjuring (Movie Review)

James Wan is one of the most talented directors in modern horror. Starting with his low-budget bone-cutting debut film, Saw (2004), he and his writing partner Leigh Whannell shocked audiences with their gory introduction to Jigsaw. More recently  he toned down the blood and went with a more traditional approach for scares with films like Dead Silence (2007) and Insidious (2010); the latter was a spooky yet uneven ghost tale (with a sequel in the works). 

Now we have The Conjuring which was met with favorable reviews from critics and audiences alike and it is another take on the tired possession story, but not to worry, Wan is a student of horror and proves why this movie stands out from the rest of the pack. The movie opens with Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) and her husband Ed (Patrick Wilson) attempting to help two women who are being stalked by a creepy doll that puts the ones from Dead Silence to shame. Lorraine is gifted—or cursed depending on how you look at it—with the ability to see these evil spirits that her and her husband hunt down and her and Ed have invested their lives into helping people who face evil manifestations. The audience is told that the Warren's are in fact real life demonologists who worked on the Amityville Horror case and many others in their long careers which is shown in vintage photos.

The set up is pretty standard, Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) Perron move into a rustic farmhouse with their five daughters and their dog and immediately something isn't right. The dog won't step foot in the house, and during a game of hide and clap the daughters discover a hidden cellar full of random junk from the past owner. The youngest daughter finds a really creepy wind up clown toy which she says lets her see a new friend, Carolyn starts getting dark bruises on her body and random noises start disturbing the family late at night. The buildup is paced with incredible patience from Wan, who makes the most intense experience possible with most basic tricks. Things like ominous knocks and slammed doors which get drowned out by gore in most modern horror movies (Evil Dead), displace the audiences comfort and effectively raise their heart rate. Some of the best scenes come early when Carolyn plays hide and clap (with a blindfold) and realizes she's chasing the wrong claps.

Wan shows his diversity as a director by going back to the drawing board of early horror films and gives homage to scary movies like The Poltergeist, The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror. Ed Warren goes over the three stages of possession which will be seen throughout the film which are infestation, oppression and possession respectively. The spirits in the house start out taunting and it takes a toll on the family, Cindy (Mackenzie Foy) starts sleepwalking (particularly to a wardrobe) and Christine (Joey King) gets pulled by someone in her sleep and slowly the spirits become more aggressive with an impressively frightening scene with the mother trapped in the cellar, they oppress the family until it's not even safe to sleep alone. 

Once the Perrons reach out to the Warrens for help, the spirits don't get any calmer and manifest further with the Warrens investigative presence in the house. Once Carolyn sees the history behinds the house, she knows what kind of danger they're in and that's when all hell breaks loose and the audience is left in their seats tortured by the anticipation. The performances are very convincing especially from Vera Farmiga who seems determined in her role as a broken mother trying to help the family and also from Lili Taylor who makes it hard to watch the closing sequence with her physically and emotionally intense performance. Wan purposely shot the film with a 70s feel in mind—the actual case was in 1971—and he stays authentic to the time with camera techniques and imagery but he also blends some effects that weren't available back then.

The Conjuring is not meant to make you believe in malevolent spirits but unlike many other movies which claim to be true this one makes these characters a real family and who would want this pain inflicted on someone close to them? This movie is rated r for disturbing violence and terror and practically no gore so that should be a hint at how genuinely terrifying this movie is. It is up there with The Exorcist in terms of shocking terror and I doubt another movie will match its horrific genius anytime soon. 

Side Note: There will be a sequel to The Conjuring which was announced before it was released and it is rumored to be about The Amityville Case. 

My Rating:

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