Reel Review | The Conjuring

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“The Conjuring,” the latest from “Saw” co-creator James Wan, is based on true events, but don’t let that scare you away because they really don’t drill at that point in except for the beginning of the film. The story covers one of the cases of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren during the 70’s as they try and help the Perron family deal with some bizarre events that are happening at their farmhouse. It has an excellent balance between the two families and at first it almost feels as if you’re watching two separate films. The first act introduces the characters and throws in a scare or two, but once their storylines intertwine in the 2nd act, the proverbial you know what hits the fan. From there, the film doesn’t let go as it’s one scare after another, each of them special in their own way. The story does an excellent job of retaining tension while remaining really interesting as it slowly unveils certain character elements. I found myself vested more so in the story and characters than I usually do for a horror film. A lot of that is probably due to the acting as each performance is top notch. Each actor takes the subject matter seriously and that really helps in crafting a believable horror story. Wan has captured the overall tone of many classic horror films from the 70’s and early 80’s. It’s never mean spirited like so many horror films today and like he did with “Insidious,” he shows that grossing people out with endless amounts of gore and blood is completely different than scaring them with tone and tension. There are a couple of issues I had with the film though. First off, I wished a little more time was spent on the Perron children. They play an important role in the film and their introduction was so short that I sometimes felt confused about who was who. That being said, I don’t think people go to a film of this ilk for family drama: they want to jump out of their seats. And they won’t be disappointed, because “The Conjuring” accomplishes that as well as any film in the past decade. Secondly, nothing in the film is really that original. It’s all be done before in several other films. The thing is, there is an level of confidence in everything presented on screen that after a while you really don’t care that it’s not completely original. Rating: 23 / 25

“The Conjuring” shows how confident James Wan has become both as a storyteller and as a visual director. Wan has a deep appreciation for horror films of the 70’s and it shows with the way this film looks. Apart from a shot here or there, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference from the technical elements of this over films such as “The Exorcist” or the 1980 Peter Medak cult classic “The Changeling.” Speaking of those shots, each camera movement is done with purpose as Wan crafts some truly amazing tracking shots that never look showy, but really help craft the tension and suspense of the film. One thing that impressed me and truly showed how he has matured as a film maker is that the film isn’t over edited. He allowed shots to play out extra beats which creates this uneasy tension for audiences that are so used to an over stimulation of edit after edit all within a few seconds. Even better still is how he utilized the frame. Not so much in the manner of having some spooky in the corner, but more in the idea of open space. Often times he would go to a long shot and have so much open area around each of the actors. It almost teases you to be on your guard at all times as you’re almost expecting something to happen. It also plays well in conjunction with the films tone creating a loneliness that the Perron family is dealing when it comes to the entity in the house. I also have to give credit to cinematographer John Leonetti especially when it comes to dark scenes. He is able to light the film in such a manner that shadows are truly black and almost impenetrable, which proves extremely effective for several scenes of the film.  Rating: 23 / 25

In my opinion, horror films should always be a showcase when it comes to sound. For the most part, “The Conjuring” lives up to that high level. Often times there will be creaking and banging in the background, always placed perfectly within the mix. The film also utilizes a deep droning bass that vibrates the heck out of the theater. It’s unnatural, but extremely effective. Sadly, there was one part of the mix that just didn’t seem right. Every now and then there will be a voice from inside the house, but it just seems a bit off. It sounds over-produced and really sticks out, at least in my eyes…or ears.  The score is equally as effective as the sound. Wan brought back “Insidious” composer Joseph Bishara and he has created not so much a score but a collection of disturbing sounds and tones that work brilliantly within the context of the film. It has a Krzysztof Penderecki sound to it and iseasily one of the most effective horror scores in a while. Luckily, Wan also brought in composer Mark Isham to create a family theme and provide well-needed moments of relief. It’s a really nice cue which actually reminded me of Thomas Newman‘s work for some reason. The two composers work contrast with one another perfectly within the film. Rating: 23 / 25

I’ll be the first to admit, at the start of the summer movie season “The Conjuring” was nowhere near the top of my most anticipated list. Over the years I’ve become tired of the mean spirited and overall nasty horror films that have been popping up in theaters, which usually can be characterized as found footage, remakes or just gore fests. There is zero originality or creativity in these films. Now don’t get me wrong, there really isn’t anything original in “The Conjuring,” but it hearkens back to an era of film making where scares are engineered by strong characters, great visuals, perfect editing and chilling music. “The Conjuring” is frightening, fun and most of all, one of the best films of the summer! Rating: 23 / 25

Overall Rating: 92 / 100

(If you’ve seen the film, what are your thoughts and ratings?)

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Dave Ziemer has been reviewing movies for over ten years. He is the founder and was the Program Director of SiriusXM Radio's Cinemagic channel.

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