Monday, October 14, 2013

The Conjuring

It really feels like it’s been ages since I’ve had the pleasure of seeing an impressive horror crawl its way out of the big screen. And as a fan of horror films, my expectations are quite high, which explains why I feel that there are way too many directors that just shouldn’t bother trying to make authentic and believable horror movies at all. This without denying the fact that the horror genre is an extremely tricky one to master, as the line between cheesy and gory is usually a very shaky tight rope that can easily curve in an unintended way if all elements are not spot-on.

Australian director, James Wan has however managed to deliver a highly pleasing horror film in the form of his latest creation, The Conjuring. And if the name doesn’t ring a bell, it might help if I told you that this is the director of the highly successful, but critic despised ‘Saw’ franchise. With that in mind, you’re probably expecting a very gory and over the top direction for The Conjuring, but I am pleased to announce that The Conjuring is nothing like Saw. And whilst I’m a big fan of the Saw franchise (for non-technical reasons), The Conjuring’s lack of similarity to Saw is definitely a good thing in this case.

From a plotline perspective, there’s not much originality here to get excited about. The victims here are your typical blissfully unaware family that have just moved into a new house. And as you would guess, the house is infested with a bunch of evil spirits that would like nothing but to have the place back to themselves. At first there’s not much bothering the household, but once mysterious and inexplicable events such as the death of the family dog starts happening, they decide to call in the help of a fairly well known ghost busting duo, in the form of Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warren’s quickly realise that the family’s issues are caused by a highly aggressive demonic force that threaten the family’s lives. Luckily though, they agree to help the family out to get rid of this very pesky infestation.

Whilst the story certainly doesn’t impress much with its typical horror recipe, the film succeeds in other, more important areas, making for an ultimately great horror film. Firstly, there’s a great sense of pacing here that you aren’t likely to find in a horror film. Director Wan does a masterful job in painting a detailed backdrop of characterisation for his story, before adding generous and well-timed splashes of red blood and dreadful frights. By the time the shit hits the metaphorical fan, you really do feel as if you care for the characters, making their plight and helplessness against the evil forces they encounter that much more impactful.
"By the time the shit hits the metaphorical fan, you really do feel as if you care for the characters, making their plight and helplessness against the evil forces they encounter that much more impactful."
And the scares, don’t underestimate the scares. I tried my best to anticipate the ‘WHA!!’ moments in this one, but I embarrassingly found myself jolting out of my seat numerous times throughout the film. These jolting frights are however used sparingly and never feel like a cheap trick just to get some reaction from the audience. And better yet, these scares are all the more effective as you very quickly get drawn into the story (and your ability to anticipate the frights as a result), thanks partly to the authentic early 70’s setting as well as through believable performances by a strong cast of Hollywood A-listers. Most noticeable here are the performances of the female leads, Lili Taylor and Vera Farmiga, both playing very different characters that become juxtaposed later on in the film to great effect.

The best sign of a successful horror film for me is however the sense of trepidation and helplessness it instils in the viewer. I must honestly say, that it’s been a while since I’ve felt such an unpleasant sense of dread in a film. This builds up gradually during the course of the film, ending in a terrifying crescendo that will please both casual horror fans as well as those just brave enough to dare one every now and then. Wan’s success with this film was recently awarded with the recognition that it’s the highest grossing Australian film of all time, as well as the honour of it being recognised as the only the third horror film to gross more than US$100 million in the North American summer.




















Highlight: Definitely the climax, where all hell breaks lose... Making Marlena Evans' possession look like child's play.