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The Conjuring (2013)


It wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time this frequently treaded fable gets a slightly altered, cinematic treatment. Nevertheless, James Wan’s “The Conjuring” is a tension-filled, unrelentingly terrifying spook-fest that trades in buckets of gore and excessive violence for old-fashion scares that effectively and completely paralyze the viewer in fear. Complimented by a cast that fully invest in their characters and give it their all. “The Conjuring” is a devilishly authentic, heart-stopping haunted house story that is surprisingly and thankfully refreshing. While it may not be a universally acclaimed instant classic, it’s pretty damn close. There is no denying its solidness or steady stream of constsnt fright, nor the fact that Wan is one of the best in the genre currently and is heading in the right direction. “The Conjuring” is the creepy thought you try to forget, but can never quite shake.


In 1971, the Perron family move into a rickety, depleted farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Soon, the family begins to experience strange events like unexplainable bruises, tugging, and the death of their dog. Later, one of the daughters is attacked by a mysterious entity and the Perron’s seek the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are noted paranormal investigators. Upon arriving and searching the grounds, the couple come to the conclusion that there is an evil spirit dwelling inside the Perron family’s house. Now, Ed, Lorraine, and the Perron family must work with a few volunteers to rid their house of this malevolent spirit.


I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. What makes a horror film genuinely   petrifying is the level of believability and empathy it’s characters are able to evoke from the audience. The more the viewer relates and sympathizes with the tormented, the more chilling, disheartening, and horrifying the tormentor and its results become. Wan has seemingly always understood this well, but it appears that in his most recent efforts such as “Insidious” and now “The Conjuring,” he’s eking closer and closer to perfecting this most necessary genre tactic. With “The Conjuring” Wan encases all his characters with this honest authenticity, even the paranormal entity. And what you’re left with is a complex cocktail of emotion and dread that bores down into the roots of the viewers. Effectively disengaging their ability to differentiate film from reality, ultimately allowing the film to transcend the screen and sincerely scare.


Whether you believe the hoopla surrounding “The Conjuring” to be true or not is basically irrelevant. The film is nightmarish enough on its own, let alone the addition of it possibly being fact. Of course I am talking about the real Ed and Lorraine Warren, their encounters, and the film’s source material. Apparently the film is a dramatic retelling of the Warren’s life-work, in particular the Perron family case. Essentially what I’m driving at is that “The Conjuring” is supposedly based on a true story. I’ve done some research into the couples storied history and their experiences, somewhere between enough to keep me informed and not scared half-to-death for the rest of my existence. And while I’ve never experienced first-hand interactions with the paranormal (I hope I never do). It seems as if they’ve had their fair-share of communication and physical clairvoyance with the paranormal, which is just…terrific. Now “The Conjuring” is even more utterly terrifying and startling. Obviously, research and judge for yourself.


There is a vast difference between being able to create subtlety and explosiveness and knowing how to use these facets to one’s advantage. James Wan is in complete control of his films and “The Conjuring” is no exception. Wan knows when to fluidly open a creaky wooden door and when not to. As simple as it may sound, a lot of filmmakers can’t effectively place even the most played-out and mundane of cinematic tactics, this is not the case with James Wan. His camera work is as swift and seamless as ever. Tossing some sly, simplistic scares into an old, rickety farmhouse with a few unnerving sounds here and there, in addition to a possession that rivals “The Exorcist.” Wan has spawned a haunted-house flick that looks primed to enter the horror canon soon enough.


Atmosphere and horror really do go hand-in-hand. A big reason for this is a mix of visuals with a beautifully ambient, yet unsettling score to accompany it. This is the second collaboration for James Wan and composer Joseph Bishara, who initially teamed up for 2010′s frightening hit “Insidious.” Although Bishara’s original soundtrack for “The Conjuring” isn’t as phantasmagoric or memorable as 2010s “Insidious,” it’s still fairly alarming and intoxicating. Check out all of Bishara’s work if you get the chance, a very talented man.

Of course, what horror film would be complete without its unfortunate victims? Someone to witness the door eerily crack open, hear a repetitive noise down the hallway, or succumb to a shadowy entity. Someone needs to keep the devil company and it surely isn’t me. Luckily “The Conjuring” has found its fair share of talented souls to deal with the paranormal. Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, and an unheralded, courageous supporting cast. James Wan and associates appear fortunate enough to have conjured up a cast as crazy and brave as they are. The Perron family, although portrayed well, is sparsely used. That being said, Livingston and his family do an outstanding job making the fear real and pull hard on the viewers heart-strings. Making for a meaningful and frightening ghost story.


It still astounds me how Patrick Wilson continually manages to fly under the radar. After giving brilliant performances in “Watchmen” and “Little Children,” in addition to a plethora of smaller, yet significant roles. You’d think that filmmakers would take notice of his talent and how he makes everything look so effortless. Nonetheless, Wilson gives another firm, heartfelt, and intimidating performance here and will hopefully proceed forward later this year when he teams up once again with James Wan for “Insidious: Chapter 2.” As for the other heavyweight, Vera Farmiga, I feel that she’s still flip-flopping. For an actress who has given immaculate portrayals in “The Departed” and “Source Code,” she still sprinkles an odd choice here and there. Don’t get me wrong, she’s terrific in “The Conjuring,” I’d just like to see a little more consistency.


Gleefully scary and decidedly heartfelt. James Wan’s “The Conjuring” is proof that the genre isn’t dying, even though it may feel like a blast from the past.

The Conjuring: 8.5 out of 10.

Insidious (2010)


Further cementing James Wan as a ghoulish advocate for the revival of modern horror. Insidious is overflowing with dismembered phantoms, old-school scares, and heartbreakingly sympathetic performances from its entire cast. Yet, despite all these positives, it’s Wan and writer Leigh Whannell’s clever, fantastical finale that provides the most hope for the future of the genre. Of course, being able to strike up a believable relationship from its two adult leads doesn’t hurt Insidious’s effectiveness either. While it may spend a sizeable chunk of it’s runtime investing in the mental state and connectivity of its characters. The benefit of swapping out a few of its frightening facets for emotional commitment and an empathetic audience heavily outweighs any opinions that the film lacks consistent scares…Please, take it from me, Insidious is plenty terrifying.


Josh (Wilson) and his wife Renai (Bryne) move into a new house with their three children. One day, their son Dalton goes exploring in the attic and falls, hitting his head fairly hard on the floor. Upon sitting up, Dalton notices something spooky in a dark corner of the attic and screams until his parents find him. That night, Dalton falls asleep and doesn’t wake in the morning. After rushing to the doctors, Renai and Josh are informed that Dalton is in a coma and that the cause of it is unknown. A few months later, Renai claims to see apparitions and forces the family to up and move to a new house. When things begin to escalate and become more terrifyingly severe in the new house, they decide to consult the expertise of Josh’s mother and her friend Elise (Shaye), who is somewhat of a ghost hunter. What the family and experts uncover is something dark and brooding.


From the moment Insidious begins, the eerie music and creepy camerawork blend into a disturbing concoction that poison’s the viewer throughout the entire film, until they’re begging for an antidote. The remedy, in a way, is the healing and endearing performances of Insidious’s talented cast. Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Lin Shaye, there is no shortage of relatable characters. Byrne is tenacious while still remaining admirable and Wilson is ferocious, skeptically unforgiving. Every little detail or feeling these two emit to one another or their children is never in question. As for Shaye, her favour and like-ability is unlimited. Even though her character might come off as a bit whacky and obscure. These personality traits seem to work decidedly in her favour.


Director James Wan once again teams up with Leigh Whannell to create a truly unique and terrifying adventure. Seemingly perfecting his dialogue and the disturbing oddities in his craft. Whannell has come a long way since his Saw days and appears to be rounding into impeccable form. As for James Wan, his camerawork and the tremendous demeanour in which he functions behind the scenes is reaching new, dizzying heights. Whannell and Wan are on the fast track to becoming a powerful, intelligent duo not to be trifled with and Insidious magnifies their growing greatness.


Without question, my favourite sequence from Insidious is when Rose Byrne is alone, cleaning the house listening to Nuvole Bianche on a record player. It’s relentlessly unsettling, epically ghastly, and continuously scary for roughly fifteen minutes.

With a soundtrack that puts you on edge and leaves your skin crawling with goosebumps, grand performances, outstanding direction, and a story equally heartfelt and scary. Insidious is nearly faultless in every aspect.

Insidious: 8.5 out of 10.

Midnight in Paris (2011)


Leaving a lot for the imagination to ponder and envy. Woody Allen’s clever, insightful, magical Midnight in Paris is what fantasies are made of. Full of inspiration and romance, Allen returns to top form with this gem. Venturing through time, showcasing the who’s who in arts and literature, Midnight in Paris is an enjoyable history lesson. Garnering four Oscar nominations in 2012 and earning a victory for best original screenplay, Midnight in Paris is ripe with invention and individuality. Reviving the likes of Earnest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and T. S. Elliot, amongst other countless, unrivalled talents. Midnight in Paris is a writers wet dream. Leading the way through the wormhole is Owen Wilson who is supported by the beautiful and talented Rachel McAdams. Midnight in Paris also features terrific supporting performances from Michael Sheen, Tom Hiddleston, Adrien Brody, and the effervescent Marion Cotillard. Directed and written by the aforementioned Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris’s hallowed glow emits a calming, entrancing warmth.


Gil (Wilson) and Inez (McAdams) tag-along on their parents business trip to Paris. Gil, who is a successful writer in Hollywood would like to make a change and begin writing novels. At first glance, he falls in love with Paris and insists he and Inez move their permanently. Inez does not agree with Gil’s infatuation with Paris or his notion that the 1920′s is the golden age. Gil is left alone for the night when Inez goes dancing with her friends. Gil decides to take a walk through Paris at midnight hoping it will spark his imagination. When the unthinkable happens, Gil is transported into a world filled with his wildest fantasies. This might be the break Gil is looking for, but it also might destroy his relationship with Inez.


Allen’s satirical, ironic twists on the rom-com genre have never been more intoxicating. Blending the feverish, impulsive, hopeless romance and the disheartening reality of its lowering priority level amongst our social and political commercialism is ingenious. Allen hasn’t conceived a story this idealistic and unique since his 2008 release of Vicky Christina Barcelona. In that span of three years, he released two films, both misses. However, all is forgiven and forgotten with Midnight in Paris. I’ll contently digest the bad in order to obtain the good, and this good is an acquired and particular taste. Midnight in Paris’s easygoing, eccentric, fruitful completeness is a pleasant sedative that lulls the viewer into the bewildering perplexity of cinemas intended stupefaction.


Midnight in Paris might cater to a certain level of expectancy, which might be off putting to some. It is fully plausible to understand how one might find Midnight in Paris presumptuous and founded upon pretentiousness. On the contrary, it has no intention of condescending to any viewer. A facet of Allen’s brilliance is the simplicity in Midnight in Paris. There is no overcompensation or unnecessary explanation for the time travelling aspect and as a viewer, among many, there is no need or desire to question the implication. Midnight in Paris is enjoyable and easily comprehended, regardless of a factual explanation. All the tools needed to connect with Midnight in Paris are traits of the human body. Laugh, weep, or spite, Midnight in Paris is one of the easiest films to adore that you’ll ever come by.


To my surprise, Owen Wilson did not earn an acting nomination at the 2012 Oscars for his role in Midnight in Paris. His performance is distinguished by the subtlety of his comedic indifference radiating from slight body movements and facial expressions. This is the most effective Owen Wilson has been since 2007′s The Darjeeling Limited, possibly even further back to 2005 with Wedding Crashers. In a surprising change of pace, McAdams undertakes the role of a villain in Midnight in Paris, or maybe that’s just my interpretation. However, coming from me, someone who’s bordering adoration for McAdams is teetering towards obsession, to say that she’s the antagonist, it must be a powerful performance. Finally, Cotillard continues her North American domination with another outstanding effort. In the film, she is the reason we search for love. To sit here and nitpick the impeccable supporting performances from Hiddleston, Brody, Sheen, and Kathy Bates seems pointless. It’s hard to argue perfection when it is only on display for minutes at a time. Take their track records and my word for it, they’re terrific.


In conclusion, just to be clear, I was joking about my McAdams obsession. I simply enjoy her films and performances, as well as think about her night and day…kidding. Midnight in Paris has the comedy and emotion to back up its boastful endeavours and melancholic moments.

Midnight in Paris: 8.5 out of 10.


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