Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Darkness, Dolls, And Demons.

James Wan. The modern master of horror. With such films as Saw, Dead Silence, and Insidious to his name, there is no doubt that he knows how to get people sitting in cinemas waiting to be scared. But with the announcement that he is leaving horror behind him, it may seem these days are soon to be gone. So how is he bowing out of the horror genre? Let us see. This is The Conjuring.

The year is 1971. Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters - Andrea, Nancy, Christine, Cindy, and April (Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver respectively) - move into an old farm house. Their dog, Sadie, refuses to enter the house and the next day, after the discovery of a boarded up basement, Sadie is found dead in the garden. During the nights, the kids experience some peculiar events. Cindy sleep walks and slams her head into a wardrobe, and something keeps grabbing at Christine's feet. Carolyn eventually seeks help from paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) who agree, reluctantly, to perform an investigation. Despite initial thoughts that there is a very simple explanation for the family's experiences in the house, the happenings get worse and soon the investigating team are not looking to find the problem, but get rid of it.


Patrick Wilson, now working with Wan for the second time (excluding the upcoming Insidious: Chapter 2), and Vera Farmiga are really the main focus of the film. While the build up towards their inclusion in the Perron family's situation is wonderfully chilling, it is only once the investigation is under-way that any real plot begins to settle. Much of the attention is on Famiga's Lorraine from all angles. Wilson's Ed shows a true affection and care for her well being as she approaches the danger, becoming transfixed in horrifying visions and nightmarish scenarios. Fear is possibly the hardest emotion to present with authenticity with Hollywood horror's often over doing it and all subtlety thrown away but Famiga commonly has beautiful moments when you can essentially feel her muscles tense up and her heart stop. There is a realism in that that is regularly missed in horror nowadays. In terms of the child actors, young Joey King, playing Christine, excels over her film siblings. A look of sheer terror into the darkness, seeing something we have not, but her eyes tell us it is there. A fantastic performance from such a young actress.

'Is THAT what I look like today?!'

But The Conjuring is not without its flaws. Like Wan's last outing, Insidious, The Conjuring starts with some absolutely fantastic moments in horror. Suspenseful build up with a terrifying pay off and revisiting of innocent material from earlier in the film makes for some good scares, however, these dwindle out when a complex plot is introduced. That is what happened here. The mindless scares were thoroughly engaging, playing with the unknown, the most universal of human fears, but once more context was added, the fear stopped. Once a threat is understood, a solution is closer and The Conjuring introduced the hope of a resolution far too early. Though, it must be emphasised that the first half is fantastic cinematic horror, there is just nothing revolutionary in the latter half. It is not bad horror, just not special. Of course, it could be argued that the horror, while not revolutionary, is based on fact and that is where true fear should be derived from. This would also explain the unneeded side plot of the Annabelle doll, a murderous possessed toy that is introduced at the beginning of the film as if it were the main evil of the film only to be simply pointed at constantly in the film with exasperated mentions of 'Don't touch that'.

A wonderfully thrilling first half with some genuinely chilling moments, it is just a pity the second act does not reflect the first. An almost impossible fight to win in horror film-making, though. Too many scares and no plot is classed as superficial, too much plot and not enough scares is simply not scary enough. The balance is extremely hard to strike. The Conjuring is, however, still a better horror than many other films that try to slip into that genre, there is just too few moments of brilliance - another thing that only gets harder to complete with every new horror.

Best Bit? It is, sadly, also in the first trailer. Upon checking out the newly found basement, Carolyn strikes a match to see into the silent dark. An eerie pair of hands appear over her shoulder and clap twice. A simple but extremely striking moment of horror cinema.

1 comment:

  1. How can you think the hands clapping was the best bit? I couldn't stop laughing at that at home (I'd always sing "if you're happy and you know it) and got glared at a shushed when I burst out laughing in theaters!