Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Review : The Conjuring (2013)

Well hello again! 

The Horror Hotel is re-open for business. 

The perils of a new job, a new lifestyle, and taking a kicking from an 'as-yet-unspecified' illness, have led me to distance myself from the world of horror for a spell. I've been reading horror literature like a beast, (take a bow, Bryan Smith),  but I haven't really been grooving on the genres cinematic output. Too much going on, as it were. A mind unsettled makes for a poor companion in the cinema stalls...

That all changed when, out of the blue, I learned about a new horror film; (a ghost story to be precise), centered around the famous paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, (they of Amityville notoriety). A movie based on what they personally felt was their most disturbing case, and one kept under wraps until very recently, (and I won't divulge any details here). How could I resist? I love a good paranormal tale, even though by daylight I'm as skeptical and logical about such matters as can be; there's just something inherently terrifying on a primal level about a well-told spook story that never fails to freeze me blood and cut my imagination loose. As a rule, I always watch ghost stories alone, in the dark, with the shadows creeping around my shoulders for maximum effect as, (and all you horror aficionados will agree, I'm sure), it gets very hard to find effectively scary material out there. The more you watch and are exposed to; the less you tend to morph into a squealing little bitch.

So what was it that inspired me to drag my feeble carcass from the ailment-bound comfort of my cavern and make the quest to my local theater to watch a film of the type that I swore I'd only watch under my own controlled circumstances? James Wan, that's what.

If ever the horror genre had a director who embodied the definition of underrated, its Wan. His first film, SAW was a huge success, and in some ways its commercial viability, (and its unending cycle of sequels), diluted the sheer display of passion and talent that Wan brought to the gory proceedings. I'm not a torture porn fan, however, and it was his second horror film, DEAD SILENCE, that sealed the deal for me, and in my mind, shone a light on this most bright and brilliant of horror masters. DEAD SILENCE received mixed reviews, but for me, it was one of the scariest and most authentically nightmarish film I'd witnessed since THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. It spoke to the scared kid inside me, who still believes in the monster under the bed, the threatening whispers on the wind, and the utter fucking soulless evil that dwells in each and every doll on earth, especially ventriloquists dolls! What really baked my noodles though, was the films look...it felt like a love letter to the classic Hammer Horror films that haunted my youth, and was as visually beautiful as any film in recent memory. It felt at once both retro and contemporary. Minimal gore, maximum atmosphere and visual flair. I loved it.

Wans next proper horror film was the far-better-received INSIDIOUS, a film of two halves in many ways, which scared me so badly I almost never got through the damn thing. Its uneven, yes, but it showcased a director reaching the peak of his ability, and one with a precise grasp on what truly scares us. You can read my review of the film here...

So with total faith in the mans ability, I decided to lob my own rule-book into the fire and go see a ghost story with an audience. On the big screen. In the daytime. With my partner.

I'm suitably ashamed of myself, but I'm glad I made the effort. Wan has went yet another step further in cementing his place as a modern horror master.

As THE CONJURING opens, it becomes immediately clear that this work is a bedfellow of INSIDIOUS...the music, the drum-tight tension and the claustrophobic atmosphere are all present and correct. Some may find it to be a little too close in style and content to the film that precedes it, but there's a whole lot more going on here than an artist simply repeating past glories. This is a film made by an artist who understands the genre in the same way John Carpenter and Dario Argento once did; as a breeding ground for nightmares, in which all the tricks in the box can and should be used to bring the audience right to the brink of total fear, then push them straight over the edge.

The films setting, that of the halcyon days of the 1970's, not only serves to ground the story in a sort of culture-born supernatural-tale authenticity, but lends Wan and his supremely talented crew the opportunity to build, from the ground up, a film that feels in every way, like its been lost for decades in some dusty attic somewhere, and has been discovered, dusted off and mined for all its worth. This is as close to watching a horror film onscreen in the seventies as my generation is gonna get, and its glorious. In much the same way that Ti Wests HOUSE OF THE DEVIL transcended its 80's inspired feel and actually seemed to embody the era it emulated, THE CONJURING is as damn near time-travel as your gonna get in this CG infested shit-storm we call 2013. The soft browns and yellows of its subdued color pallet, the wide shots, the zoom ins, the costume design, the music and the performances all feel like they were ripped out of time.

Anyone who remembers being a kid and watching THE AMITYVILLE HORROR on television in the early 80's, and has fond, frightening memories of doing so, is probably going to love this thing. Its among the most visually appealing films I've seen in recent years, of any variety.

I know, I know..."Nobody gives a fuck what you think of its artistry, you cineaste loser! IS IT SCARY?!?!", I hear you cry.

Yep. Its pretty fucking scary.

There's very little you won't have seen before. After all, ghost stories often tread the same or similar paths, and its been this way since the sub-genres inception, but the scares are brought forth with such skill, and the tension is honed with such precision that what at first seems like a run-of-the-mill, (albeit beautiful) ghost story, very slowly creeps up on you unawares until, before you even realize it, has you firmly freaked out and at the mercy of its ever-building sense of evil-chaos. Wan has taken all his previous experience and honed it, reshaped it, and given it a new, more subtle edge that could well see THE CONJURING becoming every bit as beloved as INSIDIOUS, perhaps even more so. Like father, like son...

Is it as scary as INSIDIOUS? I'm not in a position to answer that yet, sadly. I saw Wans last work under my own set of rules and it ruined me. THE CONJURING didn't quite have the same effect, but it never could have, being that I saw it under circumstances far removed from my usual self-imposed 'fear-zone'. I was properly frightened though, and would dare to say that when I catch it again, at home as the autumn leaves fall...then yes, it'll probably be more than the equal of INSIDIOUS. Its more relate-able, for one thing. Better directed for another, and most importantly, it feels like this could very well happen to your family. And that's a trait that the second half of INSIDIOUS arguably jettisoned in favor of astral surrealism and night-terror imagery.

Under the correct circumstances, THE CONJURING could well rank among the scariest film I've ever seen; right alongside SUSPIRIA, BLACK CHRISTMAS, EL ORFANTO, THE CHANGELING and yes, good old DEAD SILENCE and INSIDIOUS, ( we never speak of ARACHNOPHOBIA...never!). Time will tell, but the films basis in reality, (or at least the supposition of reality), and its initially subtle sense of dread that builds to outright demonic fuckery, should be enough to scare most of the populace out of a few nights sleep at the very least.

I must note once more that Wans direction is bolstered by an absolutely outstanding cast and crew. Everyone treats this shit like its 'The Last Great Horror movie'...

It's got a brilliant cast, headed up by the ever-sexy Mrs Bates, playing Lorraine Warren, and the probably equally ever-sexy Night Owl as her old man, Ed. Both actors put in fantastic performances, and are supported by a very impressive host of secondary characters; not least the kids. Yep, this fucker features not one, not two but six child actors, all female, and the all knock it out of the park. In one seriously frightening sequence involving little more than a shadow by a door and the performance of one young actress, your guaranteed to pee down your leg a little bit. (Don't be ashamed...your not alone in this.)

The real star, for my money though, was Lili Taylor. Haven't seen her in a long time, and as my last memory of her is linked to her unfortunate appearance in the stunningly horseshit remake of THE HAUNTING, its probably with good reason. Rest assured she's brilliant here. Portraying an ordinary, loving family woman who's slowly torn asunder by the evil infesting her home, she brings a real warmth and heart to the show. I loved her.

Cinematography on the film is spellbinding. Much like Carpenters best moments, (hi there, HALLOWEEN), the camera seems to prowl the house with a sentience all its own. Its at once involving and very disconcerting. A scene featuring a (possible) threat under a bed, has the camera spinning all damn directions, and another see's it roll overhead as a character simply walks down a dread-drenched hallway. The overriding impression is that the camera is watching, very stealthily and with evil intent. Its a trip just rolling with this thing.

The soundtrack, and all the sound design, harkens back to INSIDIOUS and its freakishly satanic scoring. It's even better realized this time, however, with every musical beat mirroring the demonic imagery perfectly, and the sound design is just fucking chilling.

As I stated earlier; Wan knows all the tricks and has found new, clever ways to make them fresh again. it;s all here...the subtle scares, the big scares, the devilish imagery, the music, the atmosphere...this is as good as modern horror cinema gets.

Everyone should see this film; whether your a genre fan or not. It may well be the first horror film since THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to garner attention come the award season, but all that is just who-gives-a-shit  material. This is just damn fine cinema, and the perfect way to introduce friends and family to just how inventive and entertaining horror can be when in the right hands.I don't know how much of this story is true, and nor do I care. Give me creepy demonology and holy terrors and I'm in.

This is pure horror, and a film that will stay with you long after experiencing it. There's no gore to speak of, no sex and only a sprinkling of violent imagery. No...THE CONJURING received its R/15 ratings simply because its fucking scary.

That's reason enough to see it, right there. Now get going...

10 Hand-claps out of 10

Authors Note : As usual, I avoided all the trailers before seeing THE CONJURING. I've now seen them after viewing the film, and they do give away a great deal of the films scares; certainly within its first 45 minutes. Please, please, please AVOID all trailers for this and other horror cinema. The suits have no respect for the art-form and are more than happy to ruin or depress the experience simply to make a buck. Fuck them. Always go in blind and show the artists the respect their work deserves -Kyle.


  1. Agreed with you 100%. I gave this film a praising review as well. Regardless of what any internet trolls or opinionated jerks want to say, this was a good horror film. Plain and simple. It does it's job and it does it well. Great review!

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  3. Thanks Grimm!
    I read your review, (excellent btw), and see we hit on many of the same points. Great minds and all that!
    I'm really looking forward to seeing this one again at home in the fall.
    Keep up the great work, my friend.