x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Thrills and scares in The Conjuring

The Conjuring is a movie that doesn't break any new ground, but its old-school virtues are refreshing at a time when many directors working in mainstream horror confuse gory for scary.

Vera Farmiga, right, as Lorraine Warren in a scene from The Conjuring. Michael Tackett / New Line Cinema / Warner Bros Pictures / AP Photo
Vera Farmiga, right, as Lorraine Warren in a scene from The Conjuring. Michael Tackett / New Line Cinema / Warner Bros Pictures / AP Photo

The Conjuring
Director: James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
***

Another week, another horror film claiming to be based on a true story. The Conjuring, though, boasts an interesting provenance stretching back 20 years to when the real-life ghost-buster Ed Warren played a recording of his interview with a mother, Carolyn Perron, whose family had allegedly come under attack from evil spirits in 1971, for the producer Tony DeRosa-Grund.

Ed and his psychic wife, Lorraine, had been involved in the Amityville horror case – which spawned books and movies – and he believed the Perrons’ harrowing experiences were a perfect fit for film. DeRosa-Grund agreed.

It took years, however, to get The Conjuring into production, based on a screenplay by sibling writers who were able to pick Lorraine’s brains for details. How much this access benefited the project is debatable, though, as the movie still feels overly familiar at times, seemingly looking more to Hollywood and the likes of The Exorcist and Poltergeist for inspiration than the real world.

But then, can there be anywhere very new to go when the story is as hoary as a family moving into an old house where, unbeknown to them, bad things happened? Following nights of escalating creepiness – banging doors, mysterious bruises, physical attacks, vaguely glimpsed spectral figures – Carolyn (Taylor) asks the Warrens (Wilson and Farmiga) for help. After visiting the Perrons’ home, they decide that the property itself needs to be exorcised and set about gathering evidence to present to a priest. Inevitably, things get worse and they find themselves in a battle for the mother’s soul and the lives of her children.

Although we’ve been here before, the director James Wan (Saw) turns The Conjuring into a superior spine-tingler by making sparing use of special effects and returning to the days when films such as the original The Haunting relied on atmosphere, sound effects and lighting to create tension and dread. He is well served by a solid and sincere cast who throw themselves into the material without ever suggesting that it is beneath them.

The film doesn’t break any new ground, but its old-school virtues are refreshing at a time when many directors working in mainstream horror confuse gory for scary. Of course, Wan’s involvement in the increasingly gruesome – and highly profitable – Saw series means that he, ironically, must take some of the blame for that.

 

artslife@thenational.ae

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