Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Movie Review: The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring is a fantastic horror film. Director James Wan invests in the characters, develops the ante gradually, and then unleashes scene after terrifying scene at viewers. The cinematography is flawless from the start, especially when combined with the disturbing music. The opening credits establish those two strengths: the score pours out of the speakers as the studio logo scrolls to the side, then downwards toward the title. Immediately after that, moviegoers get introduced to Annabelle, a doll possessed by an “inhuman spirit.” Spoiler: she comes ba-a-ack!

Vera Farmiga’s strong performance stands out in the film. She plays Lorraine Warren, the mildly psychic half of a paranormal investigator duo. Her husband Ed, played by a steely Patrick Wilson, is protective and reassuring. The main plot in the movie has Ed and Lorraine helping a family out in Rhode Island. The mom is Carolyn, played by Lili Taylor (pictured), and the dad is played by Office Space’s Ron Livingston, which explains why I could barely take him seriously. They have five daughters. In the first hour of the film, everyone in the family experiences some sort of haunting, but built up patiently and with loving craftsmanship. More terror for everyone!

Below I’ve listed the parts of the film that had me: (a) sitting bolt upright with both hands clapped against my mouth so as to muffle screams; or (b) scooched back in my seat as far as I could go.

This listicle/review is unabashedly, extremely, mind-bendingly spoiler-ific. If you want to save yourself for the film, which I highly recommend, skip it. If you have no plans to watch it and want to know which parts had us all flailing with terror, read on!

Top Ten Moments in The Conjuring

#10 The possession: Like the rest of the film, this scene is built on the strength of a previous happening. In this particular case, Lorraine is trying to gather sheets as the wind howls, and one white sheet gets away from her. It slams into something unseen, briefly revealing a human shape, and then flies up and slaps against an upstairs window. When it falls, a woman can be seen in the window. The woman turns back into the room. Lorraine realizes that Carolyn is resting in that very room, and rushes into the house. Meanwhile, Carolyn wakes up to an unpleasant sight.

#9 Someone behind the door: Again, an effective scene because of what transpired before. By this point, a couple of scenes have established that someone keeps pulling at Christine’s (the family’s middle daughter) feet in the night. She blames it on her sister Nancy, with whom she shares a room. This time, she realizes that her sister is sound asleep several feet away. She then does what no one in the audience wants her to do: she looks around and under the bed. While she’s upside down, she notices something near their open door. It’s pitch black in that area. She wakes up her sister, who gets up to investigate – as viewers are muttering, “NONONONONO” – and as soon as she says, “There’s no one here,” the door slams shut on its own. And everyone screamed, especially the audience.

#8 The feet: Carolyn pleads with Ed and Lorraine to investigate her house. They agree and meet the family. Afterwards, Lorraine walks out to a large, dead tree near the dock and the lake. Ed comes out to join her. A creaking sound is heard. Clearly frightened, Lorraine turns around slowly, reluctantly, and gives viewers a half-glimpse of a corpse’s feet, hanging off the ground. The creaking sound was the noose on the branch. Note: If you do a Google image search of this movie, you will see a still image of this scene. It is not pretty.

 #7 Lorraine finds the noose: Speaking of the noose, Lorraine investigates a hidden compartment in the wall, and spots a rope leading down. She pulls at it, and at the end comes the noose. All the bonus points go to Vera Farmiga for her expression of sheer horror, which I’m sure we were all wearing at that point.

#6 The music box: When a child tells you that her invisible friend owns an old music box, and you should play the box to the end and look into the mirror to see him standing behind you—would you do it? Of course you wouldn’t. Two characters do this in the movie, one of them twice. Argh.

Interlude: Readers, I am getting creeped out just writing about this, which speaks to the cast and crew’s amazing efforts. This is a really good horror movie. Now onward!

#5 The clapping hands, part one: Carolyn plays hide-and-clap with her youngest. In the game, you have to wear a blindfold, and you can ask for three claps as hints to find the hider. Carolyn eventually ends up in her oldest daughter’s room, the one with a wardrobe that was there when they moved in. She still has the blindfold on, so she doesn’t see the wardrobe doors opening behind her. She does hear them, and, thinking it’s April, asks for a clap. Ghost-white hands emerge from behind the clothes and obey.

#4 The clapping hands, part two: Carolyn hears something in the basement one night, and goes down to investigate. Something spooks her, and the bulb explodes as she runs up the stairs to get away. Her husband left a box of matches on the stairs. She lights one in the pitch blackness and sees nothing. The next time she lights a match, she hears a whisper asking if she wants to play hide-and-clap. The same hands emerge just over her shoulder to clap, right before the match runs out. Cue shrieking from Carolyn and audience.

#3 Annabelle turns to look at Judy: Judy is Ed and Lorraine’s kid. Something wakes her up and prompts her to walk around the house. She ends up in her parents' study. There’s a rocking chair in the corner, facing away from the door. The doll, Anabelle, is being held in someone’s lap (someone with buhaghag hair). The doll slo-o-o-o-o-owly turns its head to stare at Judy, who loses it.

#2 The creature on top of the wardrobe: Yet another scene whose strength lies on its foundation. Little Cindy has been sleepwalking and banging her head against the wardrobe, which is in oldest sister Andrea’s room. Before, dad told Andrea not to wake Cindy. So this time, Andrea gets up and guides a still-sleeping Cindy to her bed. “You can sleep with me,” she whispers. As she tucks in her sister, the wardrobe doors bang again. Alarmed, Andrea turns on a lamp and walks over to fling the doors open. Behind her, Cindy sits straight up and looks at something. Andrea looks over to follow her gaze. ARRRGGGHHHHH!!!

#1 The feet, again: Lorraine ends up in the basement and sees the hanging feet again. They swing…and then start turning toward her. I’m going to stop right there, because now I am getting the visual images again. Wah! Wah! Wah!

Fans of great horror and/or admirers of good movies will love The Conjuring. It’s the best horror movie of the year. I say that with confidence, because I’m not watching another one. I’m done. In the words of everyone who sat through this movie: “Nope. Nope. Nope.” Mission accomplished, The Conjuring. Well done.