Sunday, July 21, 2013

Review: "The Conjuring"

"See what you made me do... "
My Birthday Celebration 2013 continues and Dear D treated me to the 7:45 screening of director James Wan's 'Based on the True Story' much-touted (currently at 84% Fresh on RottenTomatoes -- almost unheard of for a horror movie) The Conjuring at our favorite (and mutually local) multiplex.

After a brief prologue involving a rather terrifying doll and the introduction of so-called 'Demonologists,'  Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren, we meet Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lily Taylor) Perron as they move themselves and their five daughters from NJ to a secluded house in rural Rhode Island in 1971. The family is excited to explore their new digs but their dog refuses to enter (D turned to me and whispered "Leave. Leave now.") and the horrible things start to happen almost immediately. By the time Carolyn convinces the Warrens to help them, the family is sleeping together in the living room; doors are tied shut to prevent them from rattling and banging; Carolyn is covered in mysterious bruises and the girls are terrified. The Warrens determine that this not a haunting, but an attempt at demonic possession and vow to get a priest to exorcise the demonic entity. Sadly, the script is by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes (House of Wax; The Reaping) and it never reaches the height of creepy as Wan's last movie (written with Wan's Saw and Dead Silence partner Leigh Whannel), Insidious. 

A caveat - as a non-believer, possession movies (nope, not even The Exorcist) just aren't scary to me (not that any horror movie is ever really 'scary' to a jaded horror fan like Uncle P). But while D and most of the very packed audience jumped and screamed a whole lot more than I did (I'll admit to jumping once -- the maid!!), but the creepy finesse of Insidious just wasn't quite there. What saves the movie are the earnest performances of the very talented cast who sell some pretty absurd dialog with earnest conviction. Wilson is fine as usual and Livingston (whose character is a trucker, leaving him away from home for work) isn't given enough to do. Taylor, an Indie darling whose last horror movie was the deplorable remake of The Haunting, gives one of her best performances to date as a loving, terrified mom desperate to keep her equally terrified family safe. But this is far and away Farmiga's movie. Having just spent the past spring watching her astonishing performance as Norma Bates on AMC's "Bates Motel" and seeing her create and totally lose herself in diametrically opposed character in a very different genre piece, it's obvious she she should make more scary stuff. Another Indie darling, Farmiga seems so at home in genre work and you can't take your eyes off of her whenever she's onscreen. Lorraine comes across as both strong in faith and character and I almost believed she could see the evil she claimed to see.

Joseph Bishara's (Insidious) score works well and allows plenty of room for nostalgic period music while all of the design and art direction gets the 70's pretty right (at least as well as I can remember, I was actually quite young in 1971... sigh... ). Don't get me wrong, The Conjuring is hardly a bad movie and not even a bad horror movie. It just wasn't quite creepy enough for me to make it a great horror movie. It's fun and has lots of shocks and weirdness and appropriate, tension-relieving humor as any good horror movie should and Wan does know how to build suspense, even if the payoffs weren't always what I hoped they could have been. Of course, a few of the payoffs are visually striking and startling at the same time. The movie works best at those moments, but they're to few and far between to make up for things like a non-religious family immediately buying into the religious aspects that the Warrens extoll to them without question.

D loved it, saying it was one of the scariest movies he'd ever seen. I must admit to enjoying his reactions and jumps and yelps even more than the movie (you know I love you, D!!). I can understand why this movie (just like The Exorcist) works for so many people. It just missed for Uncle P. **1.2 (Two and a Half Stars). The Conjuring  is rated R for "Terror." And for the first time in a long time, I saw no inappropriately young people in the audience! Thanks for being responsible, Hamilton, NJ movie-goers!

The Warrens are real people, though Ed passed away in 2006. There is already talk of a franchise surrounding the couple's exploits as 'paranormal investigators' and there is an amusing Easter Egg in the end referencing their most famous (and highly-debated) case in one Amityville, NY.

More, anon.


Dan O. said...

Pretty freaky, and also a bunch of fun to watch and be scared by. Good review.

Precious said...

This is cool!