Saturday, 3 August 2013
Review by Damon Rickard
Stars Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson & Lili Taylor
Written by Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
Certification UK 15
Runtime 112 minutes
Directed by James Wan
Based on the accounts of Ed and Lorraine Warren, two of the foremost paranormal investigators of our time, comes the new film from James Wan (Saw, Death Sentence, Insidious). This is not the first of the Warren's tales to have been made into a feature film with The Amityville Horror being the other well known haunting based on their accounts. People have doubted both that and this, the case of the Perron's (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston star as Carolyn and Roger Perron) have any truth to them. My thoughts on this are if the film is good does it matter? Most films are based on works of fiction so why should the debate of this being true or not have any impact on the quality of the film?
The story starts with the Perron's moving into their new home, a farmhouse in Rhode Island set in a beautifully idyllic location, unaware of the history contained with the walls of the house. From there it doesn't take long for things to start going bump in the night. It starts off small, as most haunting films do, and gradually ups the anti with the Perron children seemingly being targeted most.
With the hauntings becoming more frequent and more physical, Carolyn contacts the Warren's to help free them from whatever is terroising them. But following an exorcism that went awry, Ed Warren is reluctant to take the case on, especially as it was his wife that suffered and, wanting to protect her from more serious consequences he turns it down.However, the Warren's finally succomb to the needs of this family and, whilst expecting something mischievous, were not prepared for the scale of the maleavolence that was residing inside the Perron's property.
James Wan has given us a story that doesn't shy from the fact it isn't original and, indeed, has been done many times before. The difference here is how well he has delivered it. Unlike films such as The Haunting in Connecticut, The Possession and The Pact, in fact the list could go on, The Conjuring delivers on intensity and on the scares front. The others are full of cliched set pieces made by people who don't understand the genre and what actually makes a film scary. Whereas James Wan has been cutting his teeth on films that, whilst good, weren't quite there and you can sense he has learnt what didn't work and put these learnings into practice with, by far, his best film to date.
I'm a big fan of ghost stories but too often they are underwhelming. So what is that The Conjuring does that others havent? Well for starters it got the very basics right with likeable characters which gives you someone to care about in terms of their outcome. Even the peripheral characters are decent. The screenplay fleshes them out, gives them individual personalities and backgrounds. The importance of this shouldn't be underestimated. Next they created a sense of dread and once they got you hooked they didn't let you go. If you want an audience to be scared then give them something to be scared about. Just slowly opening doors and pulling back shower curtains doesn't cut it if you don't think anything is going to happen to the protagonists (a massive failure of The Haunting in Connecticut where it was just lots and lots of false scares to the point they became boring). Wan creates an increased sense of the evil in the house by upping the anti as the story progresses. A pull of a leg here, a shadowy figure there, slowly getting more and more intense and viloent. Oh and a creepy as fuck doll!!
The film is also beautifully photographed with exquisit lighting and the camera only letting you see what you need to and when you need to see it. The almost haunting style of camerwork also gives the house itself a personality, not quite as striking as something along the lines of the Psycho house but none-the-less adding to the feel of the film. The dialogue is rich and playful at times, knowing when to introduce a light touch and when not to so as to avoid a poorly placed "joke" ruining a cleverly devised piece of tension. All credit to Wan and Chad and Carey Hayes for bringing all these elements together and ensuring they didn't fall into the obvious traps in the name of commercial film making and still delivering a film that will prove to be popular commercially.
Not everyone is going to love this film, that never happens with anything, but it will please more than it disappoints. And if you are easily scared by horror films then approach this with caution. It's not often a horror film grips me to the point of feeling "scared" but The Conjuring did manage it and for that I say thank you. It is a feeling I don't really get watching films since I was a child and one that I miss so I am appreciative when that childhood horror film experience is brought back into my life.
When I was seven a particular film gave me nightmares for some time. This is a film those nightmares are made of. Enjoy.