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A Reel Life film section

Issue: Winter 2013

The Conjuring (2013) movie review

There's No Place Like Home


A family arrives at a gorgeous old 19th Century farmhouse, five daughters and a dog eagerly spilling out of the car. They race up the stairs, choose bedrooms. It's a new start in a new home. But something isn't right from the beginning. The dog won't enter the house... The clocks all stop at 3.07am...The mother wakes up each morning with mysterious bruises... One of the daughters feels her leg tugged in the night...

And then there's the dark and foreboding basement, boarded up and hidden, filled with junk from past occupants.

Movie Poster, The Conjuring, Festivale film review; 220x326

Movie poster, The Conjuring

The Conjuring (directed by James Wan, written by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes) is a good old traditional horror movie. Set in 1971, it's based on the true case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, 1960s-1970s paranormal investigators, whose most famous case was the Amityville Haunting (also made into two films). The suspense builds slowly yet relentlessly, as the daughters and mother, Carolyn (Lili Taylor), experience increasingly weird and frightening phenomena in the dark of night. Creeping camera shots, judicious use of music - and suffocating silence - combine to ratchet up the tension and create moments of jolting fear among the audience. (This not so intrepid reviewer even screeched at one point.)

Eventually Carolyn tracks down the Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) and begs them to investigate these strange and malevolent occurrences. It doesn't take Lorraine, a clairvoyant, long to realise something very bad indeed has infested the house and latched itself onto the desperate Perron family.

I was squirming in my seat for the entire duration of this movie, but I loved it. First the creeping fear, tempered by profound relief as the professionals come onto the case, with their antiquated (by our standards) thermal sensors, cameras and CCTV setup. Then the chilling realisation of what is really going on, the escalation of stakes for the Warrens themselves and the final dramatic climax. Thrilling and scary stuff. Intelligent too.

Normally in this style of horror movie, there's not a huge degree of attention paid to character development; but in The Conjuring the haunted past of Ed and Lorraine Warren adds depth and complexity to their involvement - with beautiful performances by Wilson and Farmiga. This is their story as much as the Perrons'.

It's also nice to see a film - a scary film - dominated by female characters with agency. It's Carolyn, not her husband (who's rather an ineffectual sort), who first explores the basement, who seeks out the Warrens, who holds her family together. And although Ed Warren is instrumental in defeating the evil, it's Lorraine's clairvoyant skills and courage in facing demons both within and without that prove the essential difference.

The Conjuring uses minimal special effects, and instead relies on good storytelling, strong performances, long moving camera shots - and a really spooky doll - to instil terror in the hearts and minds of viewers. There aren't many moments of relief and you may come out wondering how you'll sleep that night; but it's a thrilling and satisfying journey.

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Ellen Gregory

Australian release 18 July 2013
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Just the facts:

Title: The Conjuring (2013)
Written by: Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
Directed by: James Wan
Running time: 112 mins
Rating: MA15+

The Players: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor

Official website:
IMDb entry

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