“We’ve been called ghost hunters. Paranormal researchers. Wackos,” says Ed Warren to the classroom. His wife Lorraine adds, “But we prefer to be known simply as Ed and Lorraine Warren.”
I first heard about James Wan’s The Conjuring at last year’s NY Comic Con. It was on the Friday morning that I passed by the Warner Bros./New Line booth, where they were giving out free swag. I happened to get the last (or one of the last) T-shirts that featured the logo for The Conjuring. I wasn’t sure if the title was for a movie or TV show until I found out that there was going to be a panel for it the next day. I attended the panel, which featured director Wan and stars Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor, and was impressed by the footage that was shown as well as the anecdotes that were offered. This film became my second highly anticipated horror film of 2013 (my first being the Evil Dead remake). Nearly two months after its released, I finally got to see The Conjuring. Was it worth it?
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2013’s The Conjuring starts off with a prologue in 1968, where Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate a possessed doll that haunts a pair of college roommates. A few years later, the Perron family moves into their new home in Harrisville, Rhode Island, for a fresh start in their lives. They soon discover that their house may be haunted, so they go to the Warrens for help. The Warrens travel to the Perrons’ home, where their initial investigation leads them to believe that the property needs an exorcism. The Warrens bring their two assistants to the Perron home so that they can collect enough evidence to submit a request to the Vatican for an authorized exorcism.
Wan gathered an impressive cast for this film: Patrick Wilson (as Ed Warren), Vera Farmiga (as Lorraine Warren), Ron Livingston (as Roger Perron), Lili Taylor (as Carolyn Perron), Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver (as the Perron daughters Andrea, Nancy, Christine, Cindy, and April), Shannon Kook (as Drew), John Brotherton (as Brad), Sterling Jenkins (as Judy Warren), Marion Gayot (as Georgiana Moran), and Steve Coulter (as Father Gorden). Wilson, Farmiga, and Taylor are strong standouts with their performances. Livingston is strong as well, although he has slightly less screen time than the other three. I’d like to see Lili Taylor get some attention when awards season hits (perhaps in the Best Supporting Actress category?).
Wan’s direction is excellent. He delivers the scares using old school approaches (practical effects and makeup over CGI). The screenplay by Chad and Carey Hayes is well done, having invested a lot of time and research into the project. John R. Leonetti’s cinematography was creepily effective, particularly in scenes where lit matches were the only light source. The makeup designs by Kelly Golden, Ozzy Alvarez, and Danielle Noe were well done (not just the period hairstyles, but the possession makeup effects as well. Joseph Bishara’s score is chilling and dramatic, focusing on brass and vocal effects. Kirk Morri’s editing keeps the film moving at a good pace (especially early on when cutting back and forth between the Warrens and the Perrons). Julie Berghoff’s production design was top-notch, faithfully recreating ’70s-era houses while creating an atmosphere of dread through her designs. Overall, Wan has made one of the best horror films of the year (please ignore the disappointing Insidious: Chapter Two, the other horror film he had released this year).