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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.28.13] horror

This would appear to be an average horror film of the Amityville variety which we've seen many times before, and which has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years largely thanks to the Paranormal Activity series. What sets The Conjuring apart from lesser efforts though is a terrific cast and a nice first act dedicated to building the characters for them to inhabit. Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Patrick Wilson and Ron Livingston star in James Wan's (Saw, Insidious) haunted house flick, and thanks to the conviction they bring to their roles it works far better than the material would first suggest.

The film opens with a little prologue set in the 1960s, which tells the story of a group of young women who move into an old apartment. When they discover an evil looking doll already there, they decide to keep it (a rookie mistake) and soon discover that it's possessed by a demon who causes havoc in their lives. Skip forward a few years to 1971 and we meet Ed and Lorraine Warren, (Wilson and Farmiga) two paranormal investigators who travel the country giving lectures, documenting real-life hauntings and occasionally assisting in Vatican approved exorcisms. Despite their bizarre line of work they seem like a very nice couple.

Meanwhile, the Perron family are moving into a big old house in the countryside and hoping for a fresh start (another rookie mistake) in their lives. Roger and Carolyn (Livingston and Taylor) and their five daughters seem to have had some recent ups-and-downs but things are looking up as they've snagged a cheap deal and bought the house at auction for a bargain. On their first night Roger discovers a cupboard with a sealed door which leads to a basement. He strikes a match and heads on down.

The story will be achingly familiar to horror buffs the world over, but there is a comfortable charm is watching this set-up. It gives the audience the chance to notice the little things in the background which foreshadow events, appreciate the design of the movie and enjoy the character interactions. Without these touches the film would be far less interesting.

I can't spoil the plot too much, especially considering that I walked into this film without doing any research and felt so rewarded afterwards. Suffice to say though, the Perrons soon realize that there are bad-tempered spirits in their new home. At first they can blame strange events on draughts and old pipes, but when things begin to get serious they decide to contact the professionals. Step up Ed and Lorraine.

The best moments by far are the most low-key and suggestive, such as an early scene where daughter Christine Perron wakes up in bed to find someone pulling at her feet. She complains to her sister who sleeps in the next bed, but she is clearly fast asleep. Christine then sees someone behind the door. At no point do we see anything in this scene that would have us believe there was actually anyone there, but the suggestion is so powerful, and actress Joey King's performance is so convincing, that it becomes difficult not to look away as the camera hovers over the space between the door frame and the wall. It might not sound like much, but this is a seriously chilling moment.

For all these spooktacular thrills though, there is a point in the narrative during which the ''monster'' is revealed, and after this I can't imagine many people experiencing the same levels of anticipatory fear as we're subject to in the opening half. It's not that the reveal is cheesy or the threat turns out to be something dumb, but it's the oldest rule in the book that the less you show, the more there is of which to be scared. The film shows us a little too much too soon and it suffers for it in the last act.

Putting these complaints aside though, I really rated The Conjuring as a pretty solid horror movie. I liked that we had some time to learn about the characters, and that the cast gave them life and a spot of believability and dimension. I've always liked Lili Taylor (she was the best thing about that other haunted house movie she was in) and Ron Livingston makes for a surprisingly good family man, who just wants to protect his wife and daughters. Wilson and Farmiga have good chemistry as a husband and wife with an unusual calling, and although they play things mostly straight, their performances have a slightly humourous edge which keeps things from getting too portentous.

With obvious nods to classics like The Exorcist, Poltergeist and even The Birds, The Conjuring is a film which can stand on its own as future cult-classic, and that's largely thanks to an appreciation of those unsung heroes of horror films: Good characters played by great actors.

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Koolz (7 years ago) Reply

go on youtube and listen to the real story of House of Darkness and House of Light it's rather crazy tale that is pretty deep.
Glad the Movie is a success.

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