Monday, August 12, 2013

The Conjuring: The Exorcism of Docile Audiences

In recent years movie-goers have been possessed by shoddy horror films, more specifically that of the sub-genre of the supernatural movies. James Wan's The Conjuring is the liberating exorcism of these demonic, mundane, pieces of trash from our consciousness as it delivers us with something fresh from an old batch. It is a movie that will evoke all your childhood fears and let them resurface for a chilling two hours. The Conjuring is a great movie going experience and I contend it's the best Hollywood produced supernatural-thriller of the past twenty years and arguably since its grandaddy-The Exorcist (1973).

Director, James Wan (Saw, Death Sentence), has been working up to this his entire career and he has finally achieved it by throwing the sadism and gore out the window and beginning fresh with traditional horror storytelling. In no way am I condemning the gore of the new breed of splat-pack horror directors, that stuff is great. However, I do believe that audiences have become savvy to the blood and guts today just as they did for the supernatural at the turn of the century...or so we thought.

There have been a few commercial gems along the way, most notably the Paranormal Activity franchise. However, in cinematic terms it is far inferior to The Conjuring. With Paranormal Activity you have a film made with homemade footage and unknown actors to convey a more realistic environment, sort of like the reality television we are fed every day. Might be entertaining for a minute, but at the end of the day it is disposable trash. The series delivered on the "jump" scares, but without any true cinematic skill or illusion. It all seems to easy and in a way aren't they kind of cheating? On the other hand, we have The Conjuring, with well known stars in a stylised Hollywood setting convincing the audience of the horror that they are witnessing. In my eyes that is far more impressive.

The Conjuring is based on true events that occurred at an old farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971. Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor & Ron Livingston) have moved from New Jersey with their five daughters. As the family begin to settle in, the suspicion, tension and suspense slowly builds up. The first major scare comes in a scene where Christine (Joey King) is awoken by her feet being pulled in bed. She wakes up startled and becomes terrified when she realises that it wasn't her sister Nancy (Hayley McFarland), who is seen fast asleep. Christine suddenly reaches the conclusion that we have known all along, that there is another presence within the house and it is very real. This is the best piece of acting in the film, her transcendence from regular life into the world of the unknown. Her body language and facial expressions are excellent.

The first time we actually see the demonic spirit in the physical is above a wardrobe in one of the girl's rooms. We know it is coming, but the way Wan delivers its presence still has us out of our seats. It is at this time in which the Perron family seek help from the practical and confident Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga), he a demonologist and her a clairvoyant. In order to save the Perron's they must investigate the house and give proof in order to have the Vatican abide an exorcism. This investigation eases up the suspense somewhat because now the family have support, but the history of the house that is uncovered is disturbing enough to keep the audience unsettled. The first half of the movie conjure up (shut up) great tension and suspense, but the last twenty minutes is a pure adrenaline rush in order to save this family. We get a storm, a creepy doll on the loose, a nod to Hitchcock's The Birds (1963), gunshots, and all the while delivered at a perfected pace. It was exhilarating to watch amongst a full theatre with people jumping, screaming, laughing and on the edge of their seats. There are few energetic horror experiences like it in recent years.

Wan doesn't bring anything new to the supernatural genre except for his perfected technique. The direction and camera movement here show a master at work. It is pure cinema where the camera gives us all we need to know, it creeps around the house up creaky stairs and down into pitch black basements, which helps create a heightened degree of suspense. I'm pretty sure I even jumped at the fucking thunder and lightening in this movie. The production design, costume and cinematography portray a great 1970s look. More then being a flawless horror movie in narrative and impeccable technique, The Conjuring has shown us something a lot more important. It has proven that we, the audience, are still capable of been scared and entertained through traditional cinematic attributes such as a strong story, great acting, depth in character, atmosphere and suspense. This is the real accomplishment of The Conjuring. 


*See it in a packed theatre.
*Preferably with a girl because she won't want to spend the night alone after.

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