Paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) work to help the Perron family (parents Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, daughters Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver) terrorised by a dark presence in their newly acquired remote farmhouse on Rhode Island. Forced to confront a powerful evil entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Based on a true story ... I don't know to what extent that claim is totally based or partly baseless, but even if it exaggerates the 'true' by 50% it is still an extraordinary story - and it's that anchor which gives the film extra bite. While sticking to the conventions of the mystery horror/thriller genre (including a ghastly doll with a fixed dead smile), Malaysian born Australian filmmaker James Wan makes a satisfying and compelling package of the screenplay.
The elements are all in place, as if made for the movies: a rambling, remote and isolated farmhouse with upstairs, downstairs and a basement, with a massive gnarled tree in front, and previous occupants unknown; it was a bank foreclosure. The first bad omen is the inexplicable fate of the family pet soon after moving in. Then come the bumps and bangs in the night, escalating frighteningly as the dark entity makes itself a terrifying presence, which prompts the family to call in the bible-armed Warrens (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga), whose reputation as God-fearing banishers of evil spirits is unblemished.
The five children playing the Perron daughters are as accomplished and naturally credible as the adults (Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston), which is crucial to the story. It is through their experiences that we see much of the evil in action, until Carolyn Perron becomes the target of the demon witch, whose past evil deed seems to be the driver of her angst.
Driven to extremes by this turn of events, the Warrens are forced to drastic action and armed with holy water, take on the blackest of forces in their career.
As resistant as I am to spooky movies of all kinds, I do admire Wan's direction - with the exception of a continuity lapse in which the mother walks past her daughters' bedrooms to check they are all asleep, but when the pov switches to the inside of one room, the door is shut. A small thing, but should have been spotted. He realises all the potential in the drama, in the images and in the editing, managing to give us frequent chills. It's played straight, with just a touch of pushing in the sound design.
Given that the film decorates itself quite aggressively (especially at the end) as a true story, it underlines a couple of philosophical questions about all demonic possession stories. If such demons are angered by the bible and holy water and crucifixes, and ultimately banished by a Christian exorcism, where does that leave demons who possess Jews, Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists? Or do evil spirits only exist - or are only discovered - in a strictly Christian culture?
Review by Louise Keller:
Dress warmly and take a friend - The Conjuring is a chilly and unnerving experience. Based on a true story, Saw director James Wan's slick horror film has all the elements to make your skin crawl. Demonic themes hover beneath the narrative and there is little respite as the film envelops us in a claustrophobic cocoon in which tragedies from the past creep into the present and spread like a nasty virus.
It is 1971 and after a spooky tease of a prologue featuring a terrifying clown-faced Annabel doll, we meet Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as married demonologists Lorraine and Ed Warren (pre The Amityville Horror), who lecture on their pet subject and help poor souls whose homes are infested with inhuman spirits. The room in their home in which they display possessed artefacts is decidedly unsettling. By the time Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) approaches them after a lecture when Ed has described the three stages of demonic possession, we have had an insight into the horrors that she and husband Roger (Ron Livingston) have been facing in their new home with their five young daughters.
A spine-tingling sound scape promotes our discomfort while Wan employs all the usual tools of the genre including creaking doors, sudden banging noises, whispering voices, dark cellars, apparitions, rain, thunder, shadows and darkness keeping us on the edge of our seat. There's a change of tempo as science, religion and paranormal activity shake hands before the lead up to the terrifying climactic sequence in which all hell breaks loose. Be prepared.
All the performances are convincing and the vulnerability factor of the young, innocent girls is an additional bonus. Taylor delivers in what is a tough role and Farmiga is especially good as the clairvoyant whose sensitivity is both her strength and weakness. Wan has made a classy genre film with genuine scares that leaves a chilling aftertaste, even with a comforting cup of tea.
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CONJURING, THE (MA15+)
CAST: Vera Fermiga, Lili Taylor, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver
PRODUCER: Rob Cowan, Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran
DIRECTOR: James Wan
SCRIPT: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John R. Leonetti
EDITOR: Kirk M. Morn
MUSIC: Joseph Bishara
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Julie Berghoff
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 18, 2013
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.