THE CONJURING: A REVIEW

Big thanks to Salty Kernel, Mitch, for attending this one – he is the horror go to guy for Salty and was actually scared in this one. Will this be the horror film of the year?

The city of Rhode Island in the United States was a very tranquil place in 1971. Generously blanketed with beautiful greenery, picturesque lakes and vast estates, Rhode Island didn’t so much scream but rather delicately whisper, “relaxing family life.” It was this very reason that ultimately encouraged Roger and Carolyn Perron to relocate there with their flock of 5 daughters and family dog.

There, complimented by an inanimate glass lake and its surrounding autumn foliage, stood an isolated albeit charming, if not rather weathered, old farmhouse. This would be the home that would house countless clapping games, sunny afternoons spent lazing on the dock down by the water and years of heart-warming family moments to be looked back on with fondness and cherished for a lifetime.

Something, however, did not want the Perron family to be in that house. It didn’t just want them to leave… whatever it was, wanted them all dead.

 

 

The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn
The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn

 

Malaysian-born Australian director James Wan progresses forward from his chaotic, genre-defining 2003 debut thriller, Saw and onto this years first and possibly only truly terrifying horror film, The Conjuring. After dipping his toes in and successfully testing the waters of the supernatural in 2011’s criminally underrated Insidious, Wan has finally taken the opportunity to make a genuinely creepy ghost story teeming with inescapable suspense and a deep-laid fear made worse once you discover that it’s all based on a true story.

The Conjuring is based on the Perron family haunting as covered by Ed and Lorraine Warren, a real life husband and wife duo of paranormal investigators; Lorraine a gifted clairvoyant and Ed, the only certified “demonologist” recognised by the Vatican. The very same couple were also heavily involved with investigating the notorious real-life Amityville hauntings that inspired the horror classic, The Amityville Horror.

After a series of restless nights in the new house and with her husband Roger (Ron Livingston) away on business, a concerned and shaken Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) is forced to seek help from Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Formiga) after sitting in on one of their lectures at a nearby college.

 

The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn
The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn

 

From this point on, the less you know about the story, the better. As with all ghost stories, the core plot has been seen and done a thousand times before; I have no reservations in saying the plot is nothing new. It’s the way that it has been handled and executed that is the true triumph for this movie.

James Wan knows how to scare his audience. He knows how to elicit emotion from them when it comes time to familiarise and care for a family and he knows how to elicit fear and unspeakable panic from them when that family falls victim to a malevolent being so hateful that the parts of the screen you see from between your fingers will have you choking on your own oxygen. What’s more impressive though is that he’s managed to make a movie that he’s essentially already made in Insidious yet still have you completely gripped like it’s something you’ve never experienced before. Part of me is trivially conflicted by the fact that the story line is so similar to Insidious, right down to the same lead actor Patrick Wilson and that since watching Insidious it has become one of my favourite horror flicks of the last 25 years but nevertheless The Conjuring was just so clever, terrifying and entertaining that I’m not even willing to let that be a problem.

 

The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn
The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn

 

I was initially grabbed by a continuous shot near the beginning of the film, during the moving in scene, where one of the daughters takes a box from out of the car, up the porch steps and under a couch; through a gap between two removalists while the camera flawlessly pushes through and follows her right the way inside. If just that single shot convinced me that this guy really gives a damn about every aspect of his movies, you’ll be triply impressed with how much he gives a damn about scaring the life out of you as the film progresses.

The four leads do exceptionally well in roles that require far more from them than your typical horror prerequisites of running and screaming. While not quite running for Oscar attention, Vera Formiga brings to life a strong yet warm portrayal of Lorraine Warren, dominating the movie almost equally with Lili Taylors multi-tiered performance of a mother who fights beyond heaven and hell for the safety of her family. The two male leads are impressive matches for Vera and Lili, if only falling short merely by the fact that the two female characters were more interesting. Patrick Wilson offers a stoic portrayal of Ed Warren, finding the perfect balance between courage and uncertainty after an early exorcism had left his wife mentally scarred leaving him to dwell on his role as a responsible husband and father to a young daughter. Ron Livingston rounds off the lead cast with his performance of a husband and father of five struggling with instigating the seachange while being torn away from his family by his truck driving job in order to keep the roof over everyone’s head. Powerful, absolutely; the least interesting character of the four leads, unfortunately.

 

The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn
The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn

 

The children themselves are cast well. Often children with a lot of dialogue can come off as arrogant or unlikable due to the fact that they have the natural ability to act way beyond their age but these kids did not fit into that category. I did find the oldest child Andrea, played by Shanlea Caswell, to be a bit too much of a downer though. Caswell is an absolute stunner and the part of the angsty teen who had been uprooted from all of her friends back home was expected but perhaps a bit too overdone here. I was, however, particularly captured by an intensely frightening performance in which a hysterical Christine Perron, played masterfully in this scene by Joey King, is violently pulled out of bed resulting in an all-too-convincing showcase of unbridled terror.

The support cast offer very little than just that, to support. Occasional comic relief to break up the tension and adding a few extra bodies to get thrown around. There was one exchange between Drew (Shannon Kook) and Andrea that I didn’t really find necessary. It seemed like an out-of-place last minute addition which stood out like a sore thumb. The inclusion of Brad, an airhead police officer played by John Brotherton, was actually quite funny but may have lifted some of the tension off a bit much but then again, he was part of one of the finer scares of the film so I’ll give him that.

 

The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn
The Conjuring Review on Salty Popcorn

 

Beyond this, there really isn’t a whole lot that I didn’t enjoy about this movie. The Conjuring really is a fantastic modern horror movie that takes care about how it scares you. It doesn’t just deliver jump scares for the hell of it (although it definitely delivers its fair share of them) it also blends the obvious with the subtle. The horror with no face often evokes more fear than the horror that stands before you.

With torture-porn horrors inspired by Hostel and ironically the latter non-Wan directed Saw sequels still battling to make their dying presence felt, horror movies that mix genuine suspense with real scares are slowly increasing but are still very few and far between. With James Wan conjuring up memories of The Exorcist with dustings of Poltergeist and a sharper, more modern fear factor to penetrate through the desensitised audiences of 2013, he is definitely beginning to carve his name amongst the hall of great horror directors like Wes Craven and Alfred Hitchcock and The Conjuring only further cements my sentiments.

Except for a single bloodstained bed sheet, The Conjuring isn’t a particularly violent movie however it has still been classified MA15+ (our equivalent of an R rating in the US) purely based on the fact that it is so terrifying. American censors could not see a viable way of preventing a wider, younger audience from being exposed to the intense levels of horror in the movie other than to award it the more restricted rating. How can I not respect a horror movie that’s mere ability to just frighten people so much actually challenges the censorship board. Brilliant.

The Conjuring releases nationally on July 19.

 

Kernel Mitch’s Pop Score 

4 and a Half Pops

 

Kernel Andrew’s Pop Score

4 Pops

 

Salty’s Pop Score

5 Pops

 

Kernel Adam’s Pop Score:

4 and a Half Pops

 

Kernel Claire’s Pop Score:

4 Pops