Monday, May 26, 2014

The Conjuring


Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor

Rated R for Sequences of Disturbing Violence and Terror

I've always wondered what it would be like to live in a haunted house.  On some level, I think it would be kind of cool.  It would be at least an interesting story to tell at parties (whether I could get someone to believe me would depend on how many drinks that person has had.  Probably.).  Most paranormal instances seem to be relatively benign: flashes of light, changes in temperature, spectral sightings that are there one moment and gone the next.  Then again, after watching what happens to the Perron family, maybe it wouldn't be such a hot idea.

It's 1971.  Roger (Livingston) and Carolyn (Taylor) have just moved into a lakeside cottage with their five daughters.  From the moment they get there, things seem a little off.  The dog won't go inside.  Strange smells are coming from a room upstairs, and someone is pulling one of the girls' feet while she sleeps.  Things soon escalate, and Carolyn soon seeks out professional paranormal experts Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren.  It doesn't take long for Lorraine, a clairvoyant, to realize that there is definitely something wrong with the house that this nice family just took up residence.

In short, "The Conjuring" is a genre movie done well.  There's nothing particularly special about it except for that the performances are universally strong, and director James Wan knows how to wring as much terror from a scene as possible (anyone who has seen "Saw" or "Insidious" can attest to that).  The script is nothing special, however.  In fact, it's pretty generic, and doesn't give the characters a lot of depth.  Still, the other qualities necessary to make a movie work are in evidence, so it's a good pick if you're in the mood for a scare.

Of the cast, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are the best.  Both are underrated actors, and they're given a rare opportunity to lead a film.  They're professional but affectionate with each other, and they have a lot of chemistry together; they make a good team.  Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor provide solid support, but because of how the film is put together, they can't match Wilson and Farmiga for charisma.

Aside from a weak set-up (Wan doesn't do a very good job of introducing the Perron family, although considering that there are seven members of the family, it's understandable...maybe he should have used some dramatic license and kept it to two or three kids), the film suffers from the problem that afflicts most big budget horror movies: it's too busy.  Shocks and jolts are fine, but they release much of the tension; a film is at its most scariest when the director allows the scares to build slowly and soak in the atmosphere.  "The Innkeepers," another ghost story, worked so well because Ti West didn't go for the quick payoff.  I will say that the most of these jolts land, and there are a few times when Wan slows down a bit that it approaches spine-tingling terror (the scene where Carolyn wakes up screaming is a case in point).

I saw this movie twice (once in the theaters and once on Blu Ray).  I liked it.  I got spooked.  When it comes to ghost stories, it's "The Innkeepers" all the way, but this is definitely worth seeing.

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