"}
Film

The Conjuring

Old-school scare fest

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The mere sound of two hands clapping will have audiences begging for mercy in The Conjuring, a sensationally entertaining old-school freak-out and one of the smartest, most viscerally effective thrillers in recent memory. Dramatizing a little-known account from the 1970s case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, director James Wan’s sixth and best feature is pull-out-the-stops horror filmmaking of a very sophisticated order, treating the story’s spiritual overtones with the utmost sincerity even as it playfully mines all manner of apparent clichés—creaky doors, cobwebbed cellars, toys you’d have to be just plain stupid to play with—for every last shiver of pleasure. What’s a moviegoer to do but join with the demons and applaud?

While it owes an obvious debt to the likes of The Exorcist, Poltergeist, and The Amityville Horror (itself inspired by the Warrens’ most famous case), this exuberantly creepy supernatural shocker is in many ways the film Wan has been working toward his whole career; it not only incorporates elements from his 2007 demon-doll thriller Dead Silence and his 2010 haunted-house saga Insidious, which felt like a warm-up exercise by comparison, but also taps into the sly, self-aware vein of humor that has long been one of Wan’s trademarks. And coming from the director who helped push indie horror toward ever more dubious torture-porn extremes with Saw 10 years ago, The Conjuring feels all the more remarkable for being a relatively gore-free piece of mainstream craftsmanship, the work of a B-movie maestro in full command of his studio-given resources.

A prologue quickly establishes the picture’s weird combo of straight-faced religiosity and genre-savvy irreverence as it introduces Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his clairvoyant wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), who have devoted their lives to studying, warding off and sometimes directly battling the forces of evil. Together these Connecticut-based demonologists project a down-to-earth folksiness that belies the seriousness of their convictions and the hair-raising intensity of their spiritual warfare. Their understanding of the occult world is so rigorous and methodical (they debunk several misconceptions early on) as to inspire immediate confidence in the scripting smarts of brothers Chad and Carey W. Hayes (who also collaborated on 2007′s less effective Bible-thumping thriller The Reaping).

The story was inspired by an alleged case of demonic possession so horrifying that the Warrens kept it under wraps for years, despite having been quite open about their work in their numerous books, lectures and TV appearances. It’s 1970 when Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters move into their dream home in Harrisville, R.I., only to swiftly realize they are not the sole inhabitants of this secluded lakeside farmhouse. The demonic manifestations seem fairly routine at first: doors opening and slamming of their own accord, an obligatory spot of animal cruelty, the girls feeling a strange presence tugging at them in their sleep, and dark bruises appearing on Carolyn’s legs and back. Yet it takes almost no time for The Conjuring to immerse the viewer in its spell, as it teases seemingly minor jolts into frissons of terror, and turns a simple game of hide-and-seek into a tour de force of sustained excitement.

Impressively, the film achieves its most startling effects through motion, not stasis. Wan’s command of horror technique isn’t just virtuosic; it’s borderline rhapsodic, playing the audience like Hitchcock’s proverbial piano (a literal example of which is shown collecting dust in the Perrons’ extremely frightening cellar). Cinematographer John R. Leonetti’s widescreen compositions are forever in flux: The handheld camera pursues the characters from room to room in long, patient tracking shots, shifting from one uneasy perspective to the next and prowling every inch of the house’s cavernous, ramshackle interiors.

In terms of what he does and doesn’t show, Wan strikes an ideal balance between the power of suggestion and the satisfaction of a good, in-your-face scare, and he and editor Kirk Morri expertly modulate the film’s dramatic rhythms, allowing the audience an occasional breather between setpieces without losing the momentum. Crucially, the sense of danger only accelerates when Ed and Lorraine temporarily move in with the Perrons and seek out answers, delving into the house’s chilling history of witchcraft, possession, suicide and satanic ritual murder. Along with an investigative assistant (Shannon Kook) and a skeptical but helpful cop (John Brotherton), they even set up film cameras hoping to catch some glimpse of the apparitions at work, like something out of an analog prequel to the Paranormal Activity franchise.

Ultimately the sort of relentless, expertly tricked-out scarefest that leaves one feeling happily drained rather than deeply, permanently unsettled, the film nonetheless heightens its impact by playing the material utterly straight where it counts. The two lead actresses represent the major casting coups here, both maxing out their scream-queen potential without skimping on dramatic heft: Taylor gamely submits to all kinds of physical and emotional extremes as the loving wife and mother on whom the house exacts its most frightening toll, while Farmiga movingly conveys Lorraine’s astounding courage as well as the enormous sacrifices her sixth sense requires. She and Wilson (also in Insidious) achieve a rock-solid rapport as two eccentric but authoritative individuals who selflessly and unapologetically view their marriage as a force for good in the world.

Ticket Cascadia
More Film...
Southside With You
Barack gets the girl

A 20-something woman living at home prepares for a day out. Her parents tease her as she fixes her hair. Is it a date? No, just a work associate, a Harvard law student with the firm for the summer, taking her to a community meeting to discuss “broken faucets and underfunded schools.”…

more »
Hell or High Water
Making them like they used to

Oh, they do not make heartland crime dramas like they did back in the ’70s—smart, ornery, low of budget and high of attitude. Steeped in seedy characters and lousy luck. Above all lacking in the least amount of body fat, moral or cinematic.

Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point, Badlands.

more »
Florence Foster Jenkins
The flat lady sings

Perhaps she was a tragic figure, or a clinical case worthy of Oliver Sacks, or the incarnation of a dishonest middlebrow culture. But in the end, Stephen Frears’s enjoyable, sentimental movie turns this bizarre real-life figure into a version of Eddie the Eagle, swooping and crashing…

more »
Events
Today
5Point Adventure Film Festival

10:00am|Downtown Bellingham

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Barbecues and Beach Parties

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Ferndale Street Festival

6:00pm|Downtown Ferndale

Final Sin & Gin Tours

7:00pm|Historic Fairhaven and downtown Bellingham

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Doubles

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Sedro Car Show

9:00am|United General Fitness Center

Wondermud

10:00am|Bellingham BMX

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Discover Birch Bay Days

10:00am|Birch Bay Drive

Island Market

10:00am|Islander Grocery

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Improv for Kids

10:30am|Improv Playworks

Fidalgo Bay Day

11:00am|Fidalgo Bay Resort

A Swinging Weekend

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Holly Street History Tour

1:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

This Old House

2:00pm|Point Roberts Community Center

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Drinking for Dogs

4:00pm|Green Frog Acoustic Tavern

Downtown Throwdown

4:00pm|Public Market

Scary Monster & the Super Creeps

5:00pm|Heart of Anacortes

Toys for Tots Benefit Concert

5:00pm|Eagle Haven Winery

Moonlight in Margaritaville

5:30pm|Maple Hall

An Evening with Ann Morris

7:30pm| Lummi Island Library

Circus on the Water

8:00pm|Lookout Arts Quarry and Boundary Bay Brewery

Swinomish 2016 5 Point Film Festival
Tomorrow
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

A Little Night Music

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

Discover Birch Bay Days

10:00am|Birch Bay Drive

A Swinging Weekend

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Chuckanut Classic

6:30am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Veterans Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Run to Fight Blindness

9:00am|Cascadia Eye

Marsh Mucking

10:00am|Tennant Lake Interpretive Center

Anacortes Open Streets

11:00am|Commercial Avenue

International Concert Series Finale

2:00pm|Peace Arch Provincial Park

Cirque Literary Journal Reading

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Chuckanut Writers Info Session

4:00pm|Village Books,

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Andrew Subin
Monday
Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

We Grow Market

3:00pm|Northwest Youth Services

Music Enrichment Project Meet and Greet

4:00pm|Piper Music

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books

Get Out More Tour

7:30pm|Backcountry Essentials

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

5 Point Film Festival Northwood Steak and Crab Village Books Swinomish 2016 Andrew Subin Artifacts Wine Bar Bellingham Farmer’s Market Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1