Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Film Review: The Conjuring (2013)

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 USA; 112 min.;horror, based on true story, supernatural
Director: James Wan
Writing: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Cinematography: John R. Leonetti
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins

"The devil exists. God existst. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges on which we decide to follow."  -- Ed Warren

With the days being shorter and the cold nights longer, what better way is there to celebrate the dark season than by watching a really good horror movie? And by really good I mean a movie that presupposes a none too small degree of masochism on part of its viewers; a kind of movie you watch for the thrills, only to realise that you are still creeped out of your wits at the creak of a floorboard or the bubbling of the radiator even long after the movie has come to an end. A movie that would haunt you even into the depths of your sleep is what I was looking for, and The Conjuring (2013) was strongly recommended to me.

Let's check the general setup first: we have an idyllic, though slightly dilapidated Victorian house that could be a dream home to any family with children, but unfortunately it happens to be haunted. Then we have Annabelle, a creepy doll that gives you chills just looking at, so you can’t really imagine how any little girl, no matter how far back in the past could actually have had the guts to play with it. Next up would be our very clichéd small town family with five (!) daughters, a team of ghost hunters, an exorcism and demons. And to raise the level of creepiness even higher, the movie is based on a true story: the story of the ghost hunters Loraine and Ed Warren.

The movie starts with two women telling the Warrens about the doll Annabelle. In a fit of utter naiveté they have given the doll the permission to haunt them, because they pitied the poor ghost that possessed it. Those first five minutes about Annabelle, which have less to do with the actual story than with its sequel or rather prequel, already have the potential to have the body of a timid person go into adrenaline-filled survival mode – racing heart, teary eyes and sweaty hands included.

After that first part we move on to the Perron family, who have bought a new house, only to realise it is haunted by something evil. In the very first night it kills their dog and then proceeds to terrorise the family. Nothing really creative here; doors and walls are pounded, pictures thrown from the walls, cupboards opened and closed and the girls are pulled at their legs (haha), but the strong point of the movie is how mood and tension are created. There are moments in which you don’t expect a thing and *BAM* a pair of legs from a hung woman come dangling into the screen. However, then you have other scenes when the camera work and the music already set the stage for something big to happen, keeping you at the edge of your seat with anticipation and then – nothing. Like the family, the viewer is kept in a state of ignorance, never really sure what to expect and when to expect it, which creates quite a lot of heart attack moments throughout the movie.

Anyhow, to protect her family, the mother, Carolyn Perron, approaches the Warrens, after they gave a lecture on paranormal investigations. Despite having some second thoughts about it, they take up the case and soon discover that the house is not only haunted by a single but multiple ghosts.

Now to the question if “The Conjuring” really is all that blood-curdling scary as is widely proclaimed – I’m not really able to make up my mind about that. It is without a doubt one of the scariest movies I’ve seen these past years and especially the first half kept my heart in a constant race against any semblance of calm. The latter part ceases to maintain that same level. As I said the strongest point of the movie is how mood is created and how it plays with the viewers’ imagination – unmistakably the place where the most frightening of all scenarios find their origin. Once it becomes too overt and starts to show rather than imply, there isn’t all that much left to the imagination anymore. But since this change happens towards the end of the movie, it doesn’t diminish its quality too gravely. 

So, did The Conjuring result in a sleepless night for me? Nope. Would I have dared to peek under my bed in the middle of the night? I’d like to say yes, but that’s always easy to say afterwards and I can’t really imagine doing any such thing, since I’m not really one to push my luck. All in all The Conjuring is a must-have for every horror movie collection and perfect for a spooky night!


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