Main Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga
Director: James Wan
The second national tour of Hello, Dolly! with me in the title role is busy working its way across the length and breadth of this great land. Our grand opening in Bismarck was only slightly marred by the trampoline for my first entrance being off-spike. Rather than bouncing serenely to my spot centerstage for my first line, I bounced a little too far stage left, striking a couple of chorus boys and the sparklers in my headdress set the back of Ernestina’s wig on fire. It was quickly patted out and the first nighters were so busy applauding my star entrance that I don’t think anyone noticed much amiss. The rest of the dates were uneventful, and I was the toast of the town; I was even presented with a key to the city by the Bismarck Rotary Club at a gala breakfast at the local IHOP.
From Bismarck, we made our way to Youngstown, Ohio, Fishkill, New York, Nashua, New Hampshire, and are now on our way to Scranton, Pennsylvania. While I would prefer to play some of the larger cities, folk in the hinterlands deserve amazing theatrical entertainments as well and I feel like it’s one of my missions in life to bring a little glamor to their stunted lives. We must be doing something right. I heard a couple speaking about it while I was busy shopping for a fresh bag of Ricola in the local Walgreens and they both agreed that they had never seen anything like it. I guess all of our little improvements such as the Harmonia Gardens water ballet and the first act helicopter chase of the train from Yonkers are having the desired effect.
The eight show a week grind has left me a little on the fatigued side so I just haven’t been able to keep up with my film going the way I should. I did have a little down time this week as we had a split week with a few days off, so I was able to get out my trusty portable film viewing system and, as it is late October, I thought I should treat myself to a good ‘Boo’ movie. I flipped through a number of likely choices on Netflix, each with more lurid poster art than the last but finally settled on the film, The Conjuring, which was quite a success back in 2013 and has since spawned a number of sequels.
The Conjuring is based on real people. Whether the events portrayed actually happened or not is a subject of some debate. It stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, a pair of self-styled paranormal investigators who were active in the New England area in the latter half of the 20th century and who were involved in a number of celebrated supernatural cases such as that of the DeFeo family which became known and dramatized as The Amityville Horror. This case involved the Perron family and their haunted farmhouse. The Perrons (played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) have five young daughters (played by interchangeable young folk from central casting). One would think with that family configuration, they would be out in the barn putting on a production of Fiddler on the Roof, but instead, they move into an isolated Rhode Island farmhouse with far too many secrets.
In rapid succession, the suspicious family dog turns up dead, they discover a hidden staircase to a cellar full of cobwebs and old furniture, and the youngest daughter makes a new invisible friend connected with an old music box. None of this bodes well and the Perrons call upon the Warrens to help them with their troubles. Soon the sordid history of the house is unearthed, there’s girls being flung around the room by their hair, and a howling case of demonic possession straight out of The Exorcist. The film isn’t exactly strong on plot twists. Most of the surprises aren’t, especially if you’ve seen more than two films of this genre in your life.
What The Conjuring gets right, is atmosphere. Director James Wan knows that this sort of movie is most effective when the tension is built from slow and subtle moments and that the big shocks are used sparingly and with minimal reveal so that the imagination fills in the scene. There’s not a lot of explicit anything in the film. There’s some violent knocking about, some blood, but the way in which the feeling of malevolence and dread is lovingly created throughout make the film very intense and not at all suitable for children. The filmmakers tried for a PG -13 rating but the MPAA refused saying the issue was not what was being shown, but how the audience was made to feel and there was no way to change it and so an R it became. While the screenplay (Chad and Carey Hayes) is no great shakes, it’s a masterclass in what a director with an understanding of film technique can do with thin material.
The performances are fine. They don’t stand out as either exceptionally good or bad. They’re just there. Lili Taylor, as the mother of the brood, tones down some of her usual neurotic tics. Patrick Wilson, beautiful of face and free of charisma, is inoffensive in his role. Vera Farmiga comes off the best. Her Norma Warren is dedicated both to the paranormal in which she firmly believes, but also to her man and her family and she gives the impression of deep passions underneath a placid surface which make her interesting to watch.
The historical case took place in 1971. The film doesn’t try to accurately reflect period. There are nods in costumes, hairstyling, and props but the film has sort of a timeless quality to it such that it could have been about pretty much any time post World War II. The cinematography, by John R. Leonetti, is great fun. It’s obvious he and director Wan have studied the horror films of the 70s such as Race with the Devil, The Sentinel, and The Evil. Color tones, pacing and shot set ups are continuously reminiscent of the look and this sets the time and mood more than the usual meticulously researched but overdone trappings of a Hollywood period film ever could.
While The Conjuring ends up being a genre B picture, it’s an expertly made genre B picture that delivers exactly what it’s audience wants: A good scare. It’s worth a look.
Family beach trip. Scary doll prologue. Falling through floors. Gratuitous Asian research assistant. Smashed rocking chair. Blood vomiting. Multiple uses of scissors. Lay exorcism.
Originally from Seattle Washington, land of mist, coffee and flying salmon, Mrs. Norman Maine sprang to life, full grown like Athena, from Andy’s head during a difficult period of life shortly after his relocation to Alabama.