Image B+ Sound A
starring Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
screenplay by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes
directed by James Wan
by Walter Chaw Based on a true story in the same way that a pineapple is an apple, James Wan's latest exercise in jump-scare theatre is the workmanlike haunted house/demonic possession flick The Conjuring. In it, the paranormal investigation team of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren, co-authors of several books and shown as the film begins lecturing a small auditorium of people on the finer points of ghost-hunting, confront their Greatest Challenge Ever when they're called to the modest New England farmhouse of the Perron family. It seems this was the former home of a WITCH! Can you fucking believe the luck? An evil witch lived in this house. Fuck. A witch. Motherfucker, am I right? You buy a house and you think that...anyway, it really sucks that a witch lived there. It all starts out innocently enough with the largely-indistinguishable Perron girls getting jerked out of bed by an invisible whatever, then evolves into a game of hide and clap (which sounds venereal but isn't, unless you're doing it really wrong) that leads to mommy Carolyn (Lili Taylor) getting thrown down a flight of stairs into a creepy, boarded-up cellar™. That's when daddy Roger (Ron Livingston) calls the Warrens... Well, he doesn't, because he's away on a week-long business trip and he's a skeptic of the Warrens, we learn after the fact... Um... He's not a well-developed character, seeing as how Wan seems distracted by all the loud noises and crap leaping out at the camera.
The Conjuring looks good and has cast itself with wisdom--so what if it relies heavily on tried-and-true clichés of the haunted house/exorcism genres without attempting to do anything novel? There's something to be said, too, for a picture that wants to do one thing, does it a dozen times or so, and ends with one of those credit sequences where we see actual photos of the fake people we just watched run around, screaming, for 112 minutes. Better films in this vein are (Robert Wise's) The Haunting, The Others, The Changeling (from which The Conjuring steals a gag), and, my personal fave of them all, The Innocents. There's some degree of religiosity in the picture (The Exorcist, after all, is like Top Gun for Catholics--or vice versa, I don't know; can you believe it was a witch?) that's echoed in interviews with the real-life Warrens, but, honestly, this thing is so allergic to anything like complexity that it's not worth anyone's time to dig around in there, either. The Conjuring is fun if you like expensive jacks-in-the-boxes and surprise alarm clocks--I mean, what the hell, who am I to judge? If you see it, I hope you'll tell me what the title means. In any case, it's harmless. I just wonder if demon-witch movies ought to be.
by Bill Chambers Play it loud, that's my advice. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA track on Warner's Blu-ray release of The Conjuring is dynamic and eruptive, the perfect showcase for a mix that relies on all the tricks of digital-era horror (swirling pans, shrill stingers, brief vacuums of silence), but doesn't blow its wad early or descend into cacophony--two things you can't say for 1999's remake of The Haunting, Lili Taylor's last foray into the genre. Filmed with the Arri Alexa, The Conjuring meanwhile looks cinematic enough in its 2.40:1, 1080p transfer. Though a HiDef sharpness causes a bit of cognitive dissonance with the period trappings, it's nominally preferable to any kind of pseudo-grit, a little bit of which may have been added to the prologue. (At the very least, these introductory scenes were contrast-boosted and slightly desaturated.) In bright, daylit scenes, the image positively gleams, but the less light there is, the more it's prone to noise, mild banding (including colour-banding), and motion trails, all of which are plausibly endemic to the source material. Nevertheless, the studio dedicates little more than one layer of the BD-50 to the picture proper, and although DP John R. Leonetti takes after brother Matthew (who shot Poltergeist) in vying for the title of "prince of darkness," shadows are so opaque as to have a flattening effect that seems undesirable, a by-product of overcompression.
Included on the disc are three featurettes of varying levels of silly. "Face to Face with Terror" (7 mins., HD) interviews the real-life Perrons, focusing on Carolyn Perron née Buchanan, the woman played by Taylor. It's extremely cagey with the facts of the real case, and to hear Carolyn reflect on the symptoms that overcame her in that allegedly haunted house is to wonder whether she was the victim of misdiagnosed depression. "A Life in Demonology" (16 mins., HD) finds lots of certified/certifiable occultists testifying to the validity of the Warrens' paranormal research. Ed Warren is dead, unfortunately, but Louise is alive, available for consulting, and still dressing like a Victorian doll, evidently. Speaking of which, the piece teases a glimpse of the real-life "Annabelle" then blurs it out, ostensibly to shield our eyes from its awesome evil but really, as anyone who's bothered to Google the thing knows, because it looks comically unmenacing compared to the one in the movie:
Lastly, in "Scaring the @$*% Out of You" (8 mins., HD), actual human beings say things like "His artistry is off the charts!" about director James Wan, who talks like a teenage girl, turning answers into questions? I didn't know they did that in Australia? "I try to think through my own head..." he remarks at one point. It's kind of a deal-breaker. Still, it's very cool to see the set, a two-storey house in the middle of a soundstage. A trailer for We're the Millers (HD) cues up on startup; DVD and Ultraviolet copies of The Conjuring are included in this combo pack.