Friday, July 19, 2013

Review: The Conjuring

If you’ve never heard of director James Wan, then you are probably not a fan of horror movies.  He, of Saw and Insidious fame, is slated to direct the seventh installment of the Fast & Furious franchise where he is sure to gain a lot more mainstream notoriety.  But before departing the genre in which he made his mark, he has delivered yet another an edge-of-your-seat narrative in The Conjuring – a movie whose slick trailers have promised tense storytelling and scream inducing visuals.  In a time when most movie trailers prove more entertaining than the actual feature film, I am happy to say that Wan’s film delivers on most of its promises.

The plot of The Conjuring focuses on Ed and Lorraine Warren – two paranormal investigators, whose real-life exploits and questions about their legitimacy can be found via a quick Google search.  The events of this film find the Warrens investigating a series of paranormal occurrences that are plaguing the Perrons,  a family of seven who have recently moved into a new home.  As they work to discover the mystery behind the hauntings, the Warrens find that all involved may be in great peril. 

The plot of the film is based on a true story albeit a highly contested one.  Coupled with the creative license that Hollywood tends to employ in such circumstances, it seems the “true story” tagline is more a marketing tool than anything else – especially considering some of the over-the-top sensational visuals.  And truth be told, there are times where the film wreaks of cheese, but none of this in any way detracts from the entertainment value of the movie.  It is quite thrilling.  That is no small compliment given that the saturation of the horror genre has rendered most suspense inducing plot mechanisms tired and contrived.  Still Wan manages to do a good job of pacing the film and bringing the terror to a slow boil.

What really helps here is the presence of Patrick Wilson.  Wan and Wilson worked together on the surprising Insidious and its apparent that director and actor have chemistry.  Wilson brings depth and layers to the role of Ed Warren that most protagonists in horror films seem to lack.  His Warren is a believer and a family man with a mix of resolve and doubt that makes him feel authentic.  Vera Farmiga, as his wife Lorraine, is not quite as impressive.  In some of the slower scenes reserved for character development, she overplays her hand and hams up Lorraine’s clairvoyant abilities.  She does however faire better during action sequences immersing herself more naturally into character.

As for the rest of the cast, collectively they do a nice job. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor are good as the Perrons – portraying the sheer sense of terror and claustrophobia associated with the paranormal attack on their home.  As the victims of many of the paranormal assaults, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver likewise do a solid job adding to the film’s tension by portraying raw unbridled fear.  Lastly, Shannon Kook (Drew) and John Brotherton (Brad) balance out the proceedings by providing a bit of comic relief to the tense emotional pressure that permeates this film.

So yes, The Conjuring is not cinematic art and at times feels a bit cheesey, but the narrative is taut, suspenseful, and punctuated by a strong sense of isolationism and creepy 70’s d├ęcor.  It is so rare that I enjoy horror films these days and even more rare when I recommend one, but I absolutely recommend seeing The Conjuring and seeing it in the cinema.  The crowd that I watched it with was engaged, terrified, and very expressive and this wholly enhanced the viewing experience.  And if the post-movie chatter is any indication, every person who walked out of their room felt as though they had gotten their money’s worth.  What more could anyone ask for from a film?

Standout Performance:  Patrick Wilson.  Amongst a bevy of capable performances, his was the most compelling.

3 comments:

  1. Best horror movie I've seen in years!

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  2. A very well-paced, scary movie. I actually felt that Vera Farmiga had the best performance.

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  3. I thought all the actors did a great job. I do think they could have reserved the big reveal for later in the movie, further building the suspense. There were some great scenes, though - particularly the one where Joey King first sees the demonic presence in the house. Agreed that Drew and Brad were great at lending comic relief!

    Additionally, I thought the demon was quite fair in doling out all of its attacks - with the exception of Daddy Perron and next-youngest Cindy, both of whom got off pretty easy.

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