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Release Date(s)2013 (October 22, 2013)
Studio(s)New Line/Warner Bros.
You may have noticed that Oktoberfest tends to skew toward older horror movies. Part of this is simple practicality. I’ve got a whole month to kill and there are a lot more older horror flicks than there are new ones. But also, Oktoberfest is meant to be a celebration of the genre, not a litany of complaints about the way things used to be. With most recent horror movies, the highest praise I can muster is, “That was better than I thought it was going to be,” and even that’s rare. So I did not have particularly high hopes for The Conjuring, especially coming from director James Wan, the man responsible for Saw, one of my least favorite horror movies of recent years. Surprise surprise, not only was it better than I thought it was going to be, it’s one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in years.
Based on actual events, The Conjuring tells the story of the Perron family, Roger (Ron Livingston), Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters. They buy a rundown New England farmhouse that could charitably be described as a fixer-upper. After discovering a boarded-up cellar they didn’t know they had, strange things start to happen. Bruises mysteriously appear on Carolyn’s body, one daughter begins sleepwalking again, another feels someone pulling on her leg while she’s asleep, a horrible smell permeates the house, and the youngest girl makes a friend named Rory no one else can see. After a particularly bad night, Carolyn seeks the aid of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). They agree to check it out, despite Ed’s misgivings that Lorraine still isn’t fully recovered from a recent exorcism that went bad. After less than 30 seconds in the house, Lorraine knows there’s something evil in the house and the Warrens promise to do whatever they can to help the Perrons.
The Conjuring is not a remarkably original story. It hits pretty much every familiar ghost and haunted house trope in the big book of scary stories. But it’s told in a remarkably original and fresh way and in this genre, that makes all the difference. Wan does a great job in the first half weaving the separate strands of the Warrens and the Perrons. Both families are given equal weight, giving us time to get to know all the characters. The cast is ideal, grounding the story and making it that much more believable and frightening. Unlike most movies like this, the Perrons aren’t religious people and they look for a rational explanation to the disturbances for as long as possible. The Warrens are equally down-to-earth and Farmiga is able to make the most new-agey clairvoyant-speak sound perfectly normal and straight-forward.
Wan expertly dials up the tension throughout the film. He takes his time, lingering on minor, creepy details and really earning the big scares that come later. A lot of credit also goes to production designer Julie Berghoff and costume designer Kristin M. Burke. The movie actually feels like it takes place in the 1970s, an area where too many period horror movies falter. The script by Chad and Carey Hayes takes the story seriously and doesn’t get bogged down in the backstory. Quite simply, The Conjuring works where so many other movies like it fall apart.
Warner Bros. presents The Conjuring on Blu-ray with an excellent transfer that nicely captures the muted color scheme employed by Wan and cinematographer John R. Leonetti. The 5.1 DTS-HD audio is, if anything, even better than the video. It’s a deep, fully immersive sonic experience. Extras are restricted to three brief featurettes and at least two of them are worth checking out. The 6-minute Face-To-Face With Terror (or Fear, the packaging and the piece can’t seem to agree on the title) interviews the real-life Perron family about their experiences. The 16-minute A Life In Demonology is a very good look at the Warrens, including interviews with other paranormal investigators and Lorraine herself (Ed passed away in 2006). The movie itself is the focus of an 8-minute piece titled (sigh) Scaring The ‘@$*%’ Out Of You. Keep it classy, Warner Bros. It isn’t very in-depth and it ends up being more of a tribute to James Wan than a behind-the-scenes look at the film. The package also includes DVD and UltraViolet copies.
In an era of sequels, remakes and sequels to remakes, The Conjuring is a breath of fresh air that deserves to be compared to some of the genre’s classics. It’s reminiscent of The Amityville Horror, only better, and Poltergeist, without that movie’s reliance on state-of-the-art visual effects. It is that rarest of beasts, a truly scary horror movie. See it before they make an unnecessary sequel and screw the whole thing up.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke
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