Stunt Granny Movie Review: The Conjuring

the-conjuring

There’s something to be said for being attracted to a movie on its own merit.  No research via movie magazines or internet sites.  No reviews or box office projections to color judgment or create expectations….just a simple trip to the movies based on a trailer and performers.  It’s a rare occurrence in today’s oversaturated environment of information & prognostication – it seems as though an opinion is fully formed before the movie even begins.  We decided to see the Conjuring because we wanted to see a horror movie.  And we were fortunate to see an entertaining film.

Based on “true events”, a demonologist & clairvoyant husband/wife team (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) travel throughout the eastern seaboard during the 1970’s to investigate paranormal cases.  In most cases, they find practical solutions to otherworldly problems (expanding pipes, creaky wood paneling, etc).  In other cases, they serve as actual ghostbusters, with the full sanction and backing of the Catholic Church.  Their most famous case was apparently the basis of the Amityville Horror – another recommended film for any fans of suspense & horror.  When they receive a call from a family suffering bizarre occurrences after recently obtaining ownership of a secluded cabin, they reluctantly begin an investigation, along with a camera technician and skeptical policeman.  You can make a reasonable guess as to what happens next.

It’s difficult to make an entertaining horror film these days due to the fact that every facet has been thoroughly examined and bought to life.  The plot is basically a child of the Exorcist, and this movie doesn’t reach that level.  But The Conjuring is an effective movie nonetheless, and succeeds based on its professional execution of story, setting and characters.  James Wan, who was the director of Saw and Insidious, is a master of using simple effects and pacing to build dread.  Unlike Saw and other gory films which bludgeon with violence, The Conjuring earns its thrills via proper use of implied fear.  Often times the fear of the potential boogeyman behind the closet or under the bed can be far more terrifying the actual monster and Wan uses this tactic in increasingly effective occurrences throughout the film.  There are pacing issues involved in the film; there’s a slow initial climb as well as some noticeable dead spots in the middle of the film.  But overall, the film does a solid job of presenting a story worthy of investment by the viewer.  And yes, it will definitely scare the taste out of your mouth, and not in a cheap way.

A large part of that success is due to the excellent casting.  Patrick Wilson (Watchmen, The A-Team, Lakeview Terrace & Insidious) is a perfect example of a utility actor.  He has an effective combination of non-threatening handsome looks, as well as range to play a myriad of characters in a believable fashion.  Watching him rock 70’s sideburns and a checkered suite while earnestly explaining the power of demons never felt like BS.  Vera Farmiga (Up In The Air, The Departed, Bates Motel) possess two qualities as an actress – grown-woman sexiness (which is always a positive) and soul.  She has a rare ability of allowing you to feel her emotion and witness her emotion on the screen, and believably plays the vulnerable yet determined clairvoyant.  The two also benefit from having wonderful chemistry together; the movie does a good job building their relationship, to the point in which you are emotionally invested in their plight.  The true stars, however, are the tortured family, in particular the doomed mother played by Lili Taylor. It’s always a slippery slope when portraying families in horror movies; either you don’t care or oftentimes you wish demise upon them.  But I could feel the pain of the father (Ron Livingston), as he slowly dealt with the deteriorations of his wife & five (yes, 5) daughters.  From skepticism to dread to fierce rebellion, the family effectively draws you in to their plight, without smarmy cynicism or overly precocious behavior.  By the end of the film, you definitely root for their survival, while still being terrified by the potential of failure.  That’s always a win in my book.

Bottom line – if you enjoy suspenseful horror movies light on gore (still wondering how it obtained an R rating) but heavy in mood, then The Conjuring is recommended viewing.  James Wan has transitioned from his earlier violence and gore to his current master of suspense & slow build.  If you can, try to watch this with a large group – you’ll definitely be scared, as well as have a few laughs.  And you will have a great time.  Just don’t go down any dark steps to explore a boarded up basement…. -Shahid

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