Monday, October 28, 2013

Horror Film Review

The Conjuring (2013):  The opening scene?  Creepy-ass doll possessed by a demon.  That's a clue as to what you're in for.  James Wan (Saw, Insidious) directs this project based on a real case from legendary paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.  Lorraine was quoted as saying this film is an accurate depiction of the disturbing events that occurred in Rhode Island in 1971.  Given the many eyewitnesses and that she's refused to discuss the case for nearly forty years...well, watch it first and then ponder these things.  You may not sleep for a while.

Roger and Carolyn Perron move their daughters into a rural house without knowing its history.  Oops.  The dog refuses to cross the threshold and is found dead the next morning.  They discover previous owners had boarded up access to the basement.  After Roger removes the barricade, strange things being happening.  Carolyn wakes up with bruises.  The girls get their feet tugged in bed, sleepwalk, and see shadow people.  Doors open by themselves, loud bangs come from nowhere, and the last straw is the simultaneous attack on Carolyn and the oldest daughter.  They need help.  Fast.  Carolyn attends a seminar presented by the Warrens and afterwards, convinces them to investigate. 

Lorraine's research shows the house and its land are connected to a pre-Salem witch who sacrificed her newborn to Satan, cursed anyone who dwelt on her property, and then hung herself (see movie poster to see where).  Subsequently, the witch would either possess the owner and kill the family or drive them to suicide.  Not great news for the Perrons.  Even worse, the Catholic Church won't authorize an exorcism without documented evidence.  So the Warrens and their two assistants set up cameras and recording equipment and hunker down to wait.  It doesn't take long.  The witch possesses Carolyn and without a priest, it's up to the Warrens to battle not only for her life, but for her soul. 

I like that the film has two story lines.  One follows the everyday life of the Warrens as well as the drama at the Perron home.  We learn Lorraine was recently traumatized during another exorcism and is a still a bit shaky.  We see the Warren's home and their room full of haunted artifacts including that freaky doll.  I also liked it when Ed tells Lorraine the priest wants them to check out a possible case out in Long Island (Amityville).  If you look closely during the seminar scene, you'll see the real-life Lorraine Warren sitting in the front row.  Groovy.

Ultimately, The Conjuring works on all levels.  As a true story, it's credible.  As a haunted house story, it delivers the expected jumps and jolts.  And as an exorcism story, it's sufficiently intense in an edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting way.  So much is going on and all of it at such a breakneck pace that you barely have time to recover from one scene before Wan launches you into the next.  For the viewer, it's like this, "What the hell was that?  You see that?  Jesus, what's going on?  Holy crap!"  Yeah, boredom is not on the menu.

The Skinny

Acting:  The women rule this film.  Vera Farmiga as Lorraine is astonishing.  Lili Taylor as Carolyn is equally good.  I felt Patrick Wilson's Ed to be somewhat lifeless.  Ron Livingston as Roger does quite well as the bewildered and besieged man of the house.
Story:  Truth is stranger than fiction.  And more interesting.
Direction:  As far as I'm concerned, Wan should be mentioned in the same breath as Romero, Argento, and Carpenter.
Production Values:  The $20 million budget seems excessive, but given the end result, who am I to judge?  Wan chose to mimic how horror films looked in the 1970s, which means it's a little grainier, a little darker, and has funkier colors. 
Gore/FX:  Now, it is rated R, but oddly, there's no gore and very little blood.  The MPAA justifies the rating by proclaiming "sequences of disturbing violence and terror."  Well, no shit.  However, keep in mind that World War Z was rated PG-13.  I think the MPAA folks are heavily into opiates.
Scares:  What do you think?
Ending:  Surprisingly upbeat.  The end credits are worth hanging around for.  They're...haunting.
Verdict:  Should you see The Conjuring?  Indeed you should.  No question.  It's the perfect flick for Halloween.  Or if you just want to scare the crap out of yourself.

Rating:  4 out of 5

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