Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #148
Number of Views: One
Release Date: 19 July 2013 (USA)
Sub Genre: Supernatural
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $318,000,141
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: James Wan
Producer: Rob Cowan, Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran
Screenplay: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Special Make-Up Effects: Kelly Golden
Special Effects: David Beavis
Visual effects: Ray McIntyre Jr (Pixel Magic)
Cinematography: John R. Leonetti
Score: Joseph Bishara
Editing: Kirk M. Morri
Studio: The Safran Company, Evergreen Media Group, New Line Cinema
Distributor: Warner Bros
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins, Marion Gayot, Steve Coulter, Joseph Bishara, Morgana Bridgers, Amy Tipton, Christof Veillon
Suggested Audio Candy
Joseph Bishara “Annabelle”
Once every year or so the hype machine begins its annual percolation and a film emerges which strikes a chord with cinema-goers and critics alike. Last year, James Wan’s The Conjuring stepped up and grabbed the adulation. Touted as a true old-skool horror movie, this rattled audiences the world over and performed marvelously at the Box Office in the process but, with all said and done, is it actually worthy of its plaudits? More often than not, the answer is a resounding no. Expectation grows like a tumor until which point its pedestal is so lofty that the fall from grace becomes almost guaranteed. The Conjuring provides that isolated instance of a fright flick actually worthy of all the magnification.
It achieves its majestic goals effortlessly by stepping away from the trodden path and offering a uniquely retrospective experience, the likes of which we are too often starved. Here is a piece of cinema fully deserving of its R-rating which achieves such while offering nothing in the way of sex, blood or profanity. It harks back to the good old days when hula hoops were all the rage and video rental was still in vogue. It also shows Director James Wan as the force with which we reckon.
Malaysian Wan set his stool out early with the undisputed ‘Torture Porn’ template Saw, which came about at precisely the right time and propelled him into super-stardom with one fell swoop. It reveled in excess and desensitized us to the most unspeakable acts of violence, whilst not actually spelling things out like so many of its successors. He followed up its surprise success with a true Eighties-style vigilante flick called Death Sentence. As ludicrous as a crate of jumping frogs in petticoats, this stretched credibility to its breaking point and ended in a flurry of well-orchestrated barbarity which helped us to forget its numerous plot holes and irregularities.
Dead Silence and Insidious proved his mettle as a serious auteur of Cinema and the latter, in particular, gained all manner of kudos for its portentous tone and ultimate shocks and spills. Thus we find ourselves at The Conjuring, a haunted house feature reminiscent of The Changeling and other forgotten relics from yesteryear. Its reputation precedes it and inflated box-office receipts attest to its swagger but, with all said and done, does it ever reach the dizzying highs it promises?
Yes sirree, it does. Wan proves his exclusive understanding of what truly gets under our pelt by nailing the sub-genre with some panache. Pacing, a downfall which plagues so many films of its ilk, isn’t an issue here. The scares are drip-fed throughout and punctuated by some divine black comedy just to lower our defenses before cranking that shit up to eleven once more. He toys with us like a bastardized puppet master and whips the rug out from under us each time we settle. He achieves this effect through the means of strapping restraint, never once playing the full-hand available to him.
He remembers that we all possess imaginations and forces us into accessing them, showing just enough to create a stir in our stools without spelling out the obvious. His execution is precise and he is aided, in no small part, by Cinematographer John Leonetti, who helps him achieve the visual style he sets out to. Wide shots and movement are preferred to shaky-cam shenanigans and, as a direct result, The Conjuring pokes out from the crowd like a clown at a board meeting. Death Sentence paved the way with one particular instance exhibiting his bold and unique methodology when it comes to creating a scene. Anyone familiar with the acrobatic crane shot in the multistorey set piece will know that there’s plenty Guerrilla about Wan’s approach but here he chooses subtlety in achieving his goal.
Casting can be dicey when attempting to create a palpable tension and often the use of well-known professionals just becomes a hindrance. Thus, Wan chooses wisely. All four of the main players are distinguished actors in their own right. They are the ones you spend two-thirds of the screen time attempting to name as they have ‘that face’ which you are convinced you’ve seen somewhere before. but none of them are too obvious. Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Patrick Wilson and the mysteriously alluring Vera Farmiga carry the torch more than ably, each effortlessly relatable and authentic. Hell, even the obligatory ankle-nibblers don’t get in the way here.
Set in a dilapidated barn-house in the seventies, The Conjuring focuses on the unhallowed haunting of a cute young family and the paranormal inquisitors tasked with stopping the rot. It wastes precious time in creating a mood and keeps things ticking along nicely throughout its duration. When the jolts come, they come with the force of an excitable bullock and we, the matador, are flung around with gay abandon. Whilst we graze in the generously provided thrills, Wan keeps the rabbit in his hat rather than going all Copperfield and showing too much. Consequently the 112 minute run-time steams past and we remain held in its python-esque grip for pretty much the entirety.
The two female leads in particular excel, Farmiga (of The Departed and Source Code) captivating as spook-finder Lorraine Warren and Taylor exquisitely cast as beleaguered mother hen Carolyn. Taylor has always had the face of a child and thus, when playing an ill-fated game of ‘hide and clap’ she convinces us that she is just as vulnerable as her little ‘uns. They share the unique bond of motherhood as they fight to gate-keep their children and all of this transpires in a gloriously ominous environment, designed by Julie Berghoff with meticulous attention to tiny detail.
The Conjuring could so easily have become more of the usual hokum had it not been so expertly executed. The fact that the script, performances, design, editing, sound and photography are all so spot-on is no accident. Wan is no longer the fresh-faced boy behind the lens. He is a force to be reckoned with and, with The Conjuring, he supplies us with a multitude of reasons to be afraid of the dark.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For The Grue-Guzzlers: Very little sanguine seasoning, indeed just a smattering. But there’s nothing smidgen-like about those heart stopping jolts and drawn out moments of suspense.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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