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Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Conjuring (2013)

When I think about it, there sometimes seems little rhyme or reason about which current movies we choose to see at the cinema, rather than waiting for their release to DVD or for satellite transmission. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to be given preview tickets (which in turn means we sometimes watch films that we are actually in no hurry to view). Most often we go to see movies which we really, really want to see as soon as possible -- either because they are part of a continuing franchise, e.g. the Harry Potter films, or because we didn't get to see them at one or other of our regular film festivals, or because the reviews make them sound a good match to our sometime weird tastes.

In this instance we went to see the above 'scare' movie, not because of the positive vibes the reviewers have given it, but because we promised ourselves we would do so. When we queued at some length late June to get our weekend pass for FrightFest later this month, we could have seen a preview of this movie, a regular 'treat' from the fest's organizers for those faithful souls who attend each year. They call it 'the lazy Q' since some regulars will camp out all night -- needless to say we do not go to that extreme -- and a free show is the regular award. In truth, we have never availed ourselves of these showings for one reason or another, but seriously considered it this year. To ease our conscience, we decided to see the movie on its release instead and our resolve was underlined by the aforementioned positive hype.

I can agree that it is a very well-made and well-cast film, a sign that the director of the "Saw" franchise, James Wan, has matured, since the copious gore of his 'torture porn' movies has been replaced here with carefully orchestrated big 'boos'. Yet I can not agree with those who have written that it is the best horror film of this century or alternatively the best thing since sliced bread. It is competently put together and purportedly -- like so many modern movies -- based on 'true' events. I do not doubt that the ghost-hunting team of Lorraine and Ed Warren (played here by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) really existed nor that they actually did investigate the strange happenings at the home of Lily Taylor, her husband (a nothing special Ron Livingston), and their five daughters back in 1971. However I suspect that the events have been somewhat enhanced to create the 'jump' movie Wan has given us and like the 'Amityville' series, a healthy scepticism needs be retained.

Anyhow, this working class family are delighted to move into the big, old house (one of those houses that seem twice as big on the inside than on the outside) that they have purchased at auction, but strange events soon begin to dent their happiness. Wan throws everything but the kitchen sink into the mix and given time we would probably have discovered that the sink was haunted as well: slamming doors, stopping clocks, spooky toys, secret passages, a cobwebbed cellar full of old furniture, a history of sordid past events, a beloved pet that won't cross the threshold, birds flying to their deaths against the walls, sleep-walking, levitations, and subliminally brief spooky apparitions. Just about every cliché of the horror genre is present and correct, although to give Wan his due, they are presented with an air of freshness;  creeping dread gradually morphs into terror. The film is something of a slow-burner, supposedly on the grounds that the first half of the movie allows us to get to know the various players, but in fact we have little insight into their psyches. A rather bland Wilson is super-protective of his sensitive and perceptive wife who has been scarred by previous supernatural encounters, and Farmiga gives a fine performance as the fighter who refuses not to do whatever is necessary to 'save' the tormented family. Similarly Taylor out-acts herself as the mother who adores her children but who is possessed by a being that wants to harm them. According to Farmiga, objects are not innately evil (and they have a museum of artefacts at home from previous cases), but act as a conduit for hostile entities who want to inhabit a human vessel; once these spirits have established a foothold in someone, leaving the premises does not cure the problem, only exorcism will do the job. Eventually, Taylor's possession has become so extreme (she has just about turned into Linda Blair!) that the unordained Wilson performs the ritual himself since they can't afford to wait for the necessary Vatican sanction. Clever chappy! Happy ending!

Given all the positive vibes the film has generated, I must confess to being a little disappointed with it. It is far from a classic in my book, but probably because I have seen a hell of a lot more scary movies than most. However in its favour, despite all the equipment that the Warrens and their assistants set up, it was not -- thank goodness -- any kind of 'found-footage' movie, and for that I sincerely thank Mr. Wan.
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