Movie Review: The Conjuring

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When the Perron family find themselves being terrorised by something malevolent and supernatural in their new home, they call in paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to help them.

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James Wan, 2013

The movie introduces you to two different families: firstly, the Warrens, paranormal investigators, who show us the kind of spookiness they investigate while setting up the rules of the world we’re about to set foot in; secondly, the Perrons, who start out optimistic about their move to a farmhouse with their five daughters until they realise there’s something else in the house with them. The Warrens are shown to be rattled by something that happened to clairvoyant Lorraine on an exorcism, and to have several artifacts from their investigations in a room in their home, including creepy possessed dolly Annabel. This is all established to create an environment where nothing is safe from the evil that pervades this world. The real, brilliant slow build of scary comes at the home of the Perrons, where each night scarier and scarier things are happening, until suddenly they can’t ignore the fact that their house is most definitely haunted. There is very little melodrama in this part of the film; the naturalistic acting and the totally believable reactions of a family who are being slowly scared to death is as effective as the incredibly chilling and electrifying scary scenes – this film relies on little things, hands clapping and swinging doors and weird animal behaviour, to keep you on the edge of your seat. The “hide and clap” game sequences are a masterclass in horror filmmaking.

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This is such a beautifully crafted movie. There is nothing here you haven’t seen in a horror movie before, but it’s so expertly done. James Wan, half of the creative team behind Saw, proves that his love of horror extends past the gorno variety that’s been so unfortunately popular in recent years. This movie is a call back to the 70s, both in its setting and in its tone, but it’s a loving and smart one. All of the actors are good, but particularly strong performances come from Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor as the mothers of the two clans – the theme of motherhood runs strong in this film, and it leads to an interesting resolution for the inevitable final climax. Joey King stands out the most from the five daughters, her “scared” acting particularly effective, but it’s really Farmiga who takes the movie home. Her Lorraine Warren is one strong lady, refusing to be scared off no matter how terrifying or dangerous things are for her. The strands of the story come together nicely, the malevolent spirit in the house gathering them in, and the atmospheric direction is fantastic. There’s something so artful about the way each scene builds, making even seemingly innocuous scenes feel sinister and foreboding. It’s shot with such clever precision in order to maximise fear without delving into shock or gross-out tactics, amping up the tension until your heart is hammering in your chest before giving you the jump out of the seat you’ve been waiting for. Unfortunately and inevitably, the final confrontation of good and evil loses a lot of the momentum from earlier, making the film a lot less scary and a lot more predictable. I have to admit to being disappointed by the end of the film, which is sad, given that I was so happy to go along for the rest of the ride. There are also a few scenes that for me felt false and actually made me laugh, mostly in regards to the causes of the haunting and the way in which ghost hunting is discussed. The “based on a real story” gimmick doesn’t work on old cynics.

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Having said that, The Conjuring is that rare great horror movie, a simple story told well by great storytellers, from the writers, director and actors through to the composer and cinematographer. I shrank down in my seat and held my breath and loved every moment of it.  Yes, you know where you’re going, but when you’re being taken there in a limousine, who’s complaining?

The Conjuring on IMDb

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