Sunday, August 4, 2013


Release date:
August 2, 2013
James Wan


Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver

The interesting thing about The Conjuring is that it uses many of the plot points and devices employed by other horror filmmakers (an isolated house, new owners, creaking floorboards, cobweb-ridden spaces, a mysterious cellar, adorable little girls, an old doll) and yet manages to feel fresh. The reason has to be an additional ingredient: stillness. The Conjuring is a far cry from the days when director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) was listed as a member of Hollywood’s “splat pack”, makers of ultra-violent horror derisively called “torture porn”. His latest film is terrifying as much for the noiseless stretches between attacks as when evil actually strikes. Besides, we’ve become so used to bloodletting and bloodcurdling screams by now, that it’s a relief to find these elements kept down to a minimum here. The Conjuring is one of the best supernatural films to emerge from Hollywood in a while.

The story begins with demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren – she a clairvoyant, he an exorcist – delivering a lecture on their work to an eager audience. We’re then taken back in time to 1971 Rhode Island where the Perron family – mum, dad and five daughters – have just moved into their new home. On the very first day, their dog refuses to enter the door. That night they hear strange sounds, discover a junk-ridden cellar and the girls have some disconcerting experiences. In the morning they find that all their clocks had stopped at 3.07am. As the situation worsens over a frightening few days, they call upon the Warrens to cleanse their house of the being/s haunting it.

The Conjuring is that rare spook flick where the cast is not overshadowed by the paranormal presence. The leading ladies, in particular, are exemplary. Vera Farmiga (Up In The Air, The Departed) is blessed with a sensitive face, speaking eyes and an Ingrid Bergman-like quiet dignity that she draws upon to portray Lorraine Warren as a woman of immense strength yet not shorn of her own fears. Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron swings from confusion to trepidation and outright terror, from protectiveness to vulnerability and victimisation without striking a false note. Patrick Wilson and Ron Livingston provide able support as their husbands. One glimpse of the Perrons’ lovely daughters huddled together in fear is enough to convince you that they’re worth risking life and limb to save. Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King (from White House Down also currently in theatres), Mackenzie Foy and Kyla Deaver are well cast as the endearing, exasperatingly real Andrea, Nancy, Christie, Cindy and April.

Do horror films manipulate the audience? Of course they do. The good ones just don’t leave us with the time or mindspace to be conscious of the manipulations. The cleverness of Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes’ screenplay also lies in the fact that it anticipates most questions doubting Thomases might ask (Why don’t the Perrons move out of their new house? Why do the Warrens risk keeping possessed mementoes in their house instead of destroying them?) and offers pre-emptive answers that are hard to argue with. The writers don’t stop at creeping us out. Cynics please note: the Warrens believe in God, use scientific tools for their investigations and are themselves quite cynical about most of the cries for help that they receive because experience has taught them that “there’s usually a rational explanation”. Misogynists please note: there’s a neat little point tucked away in there about America’s infamous Salem “witch” hunts. The Conjuring does fall back on tried-and-tested territory in the climax, but with everything moving at the speed of lightning at that point, there’s nary a moment to ponder. The only unsatisfactory portion in the story is a flashback to the Perrons’ previous assignment which had drained Lorraine so much that at the start of the film, Ed did not want her to embark upon another ghost-busting exercise. This little aside is a bit of a let-down.

James Wan has surrounded himself with an impeccable technical team for The Conjuring. Cinematographer John R. Leonetti – who partnered Wan on Insidious – is a master of dread, building up an eerie atmosphere right from the word go. Once we enter the Perron home, the camera sometimes gets so intimate with the residents, that it almost feels like the eyes of the spirit watching the family. The eeriest of the film’s many memorable shots though is one of Carolyn Perron looking down into the cellar standing alone at the top of the stairs. Leonetti’s work is complemented by the choice of scenic location for the Perrons’ home and production designer Julie Berghoff whose use of wintry grays and whites is enough to have you hugging yourself to ward off the cold, as Carolyn does throughout the film. Joseph Bishara’s music is less “music” and more of a chilling drone against which the story plays out. 

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a believer or not, because let’s face it: as kids we all thought there were ogres under the bed. The Conjuring is as ominous as The Omen though it has less depth, as chilling as The Exorcist but with greater surface quietude. There's the added thrill that comes from being told it’s a “true story” (the Warrens are a real-life couple who were also involved in the infamous Amityville case already chronicled by Hollywood). If you’re a masochist like all horror buffs, this film is certainly worth your time. Be prepared to be scared.

Rating (out of five): ***1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
MPAA Rating (US):
96 minutes
R (for sequences of disturbing violence and terror)
Release date in the US:
July 19, 2013

1 comment:

  1. I watched this movie...quite be honest..I wake up between 3 n 4 clock...these days...I thing that wakes me a strange voice mumbling....Bathsheba...kinda spooky...