Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Conjuring

A modest, but almost perfect, 
genre movie that genuinely scares

     The Conjuring is a classically constructed haunted house movie that opened at number one at the box office this past weekend.  That’s certainly refreshing since it doesn’t star an updated comic book hero(es) blowing stuff up against a blue screen with special effects expensive enough to pull Congress out of sequestration.  Instead, The Conjuring is a really good genre piece with four strong actors (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingstone), who should be stars and would be if this were the ‘70s, delivering realistic performances, thereby making the mayhem even creepier.  

     Based on an investigation conducted by paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren, it uses the milieu – 1971 and a secluded, dilapidated, rural farmhouse to maximum effect.  Actually, there are only two major settings – the Perron family’s haunted house and the Warren family’s home with its Occult basement/museum.  Ed Warren outlines to a college class the stages of haunting/possession and the movie follows them fully.  It helps that Wilson, who turned out to be the villain in director James Wan’s earlier sleeper Insidious, plays Ed as a sort of square Dudley Do-Right who’s protective of his wife for reasons that we’re longing to hear as the plot progresses.

Vera Farmiga and the Significant Music Box
Vera Farmiga with her Bette Davis eyes seems like her characters always have a secret; it makes her sinister (TV’s Bates Motel), sexy (Up in the Air) or extremely vulnerable (Joshua and here).  She figures out what the demon wants before I could see it being played out, which underscores Wan’s smart, elegant direction.  

Possessed Lili Taylor
     I wonder about how much was added to up the scare ante in the final scenes, but it’s wonderful that there isn’t a bunch of goofy special effects that undercut the emotional realism of the story.  The Haunting in 1963 got it right under Robert Wise’s direction, but went over the top expensively and dopily in Jan de Bont’s 1999 version.  At the beginning, some viewers sitting behind me were getting the giggles after initially being startled, but the whole cinema was silent from about the midway point to the end.  It’s more modest than The Exorcist, but it doesn’t get so phony-profound.  It doesn’t have Poltergeist’s critique of rampant suburban subdivisions desecrating the past and underlining historical ethnic cleansing, but it symbolically points out the challenges that successful families have to overcome to survive.  

Waiting for Their Questions To Be Answered
     Some questions I have about this genre are: why can only Catholic priests or substitutes drive out the demons?  Why do the demons always speak/understand Latin? Are the filmmakers saying that only Catholics have this type of power even when the witch was most likely raised a Protestant with a Puritan background?  If a viewer doesn’t believe in this type of subject but finds it engrossing, does that mean she or he is less or more vulnerable to its potential occurrence?  If the demons can move around invisibly, why do they usually smell, or leave nasty mementos of their presence when that will give them away?  Whatever the answers, The Conjuring does its job well.

I'm not sure I really care for some of the pieces in the museum.

No comments: