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The Conjuring (2013)

The Conjuring

Over the past few years, I’ve developed a liking for the horror/scary/thriller movie genre, with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining being a personal favorite. However, I’m not a fan of the blood-and-guts-style horror films that are so prevalent these days, so I’m pretty picky when it comes to which ones I’ll end up seeing in theaters. The Conjuring, directed by the director of Insidious (which I mostly liked), looked to be one of the horror films that was more of a on-the-edge-of-your-seat type of film than blood-and-guts, so I was quite looking forward to seeing it.

The Conjuring tells the supposedly true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively), two paranormal investigators, as they investigate the haunting of the Perron family’s house in Rhode Island in 1971. The family has witnessed clocks freezing at the same time every morning, picture frames being knocked off the walls, legs being yanked by an unseen entity while the children sleep, and even mysterious figures popping up in the cellar or elsewhere in the house. The Warrens discover that the house has a past associated with a witch who tried to sacrifice her baby before confessing her love to Satan and hanging herself. The race is on to find proof confirming the haunting and receive authorization from the Catholic Church to perform an exorcism.

Every member of the cast does a great job, with the standout performances obviously coming from Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens. The two characters are Roman Catholics, a fact that is never shoved down the throats of the audience or presented as anything but two people who love and trust God. Their faith is never presented as silly or nonsensical, which is welcome after seeing many other films that tend to use Christian characters to poke fun at the religion. Another key performance comes from Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron, the mother who is eventually possessed by the demon; the scene of her exorcism the most intense of the movie, with Taylor bringing plenty of weight and an incredible sense of anxiety to the screen. Though I have past acting experience, I can’t even imagine what kind of preparation goes into a role like this, but she pulls it off well and gives one heck of a performance. Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver, the actresses who play the children of the Perron family, do a great job as child actors, bringing solid performances that are on par with the performances of their adult peers.

I really enjoyed the camera work in the movie, with the use of a still camera in calm moments contrasting with the use of a handheld camera in the more intense scenes; the latter technique works really well in a film like this because it sometimes contributes to your eyes seeing things that may or may not be in the background of the film, increasing anxiety in a powerful way. The filmmakers also place cameras in unusual spots at strange angles, giving the sense that you are watching the scene from the perspective of the demon itself. The setting of the film, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, is typical of this genre, but it never seems cliché. Props like an antique music box and antique piano are introduced early on, with me scorning the filmmakers for falling into the traps of clichés, but I must admit that I was wrong. While these items definitely do play roles in the film, they are not used in a way that feels stereotypical.

An unusual aspect of this film that is not typical of the genre is the Christian undertones. As mentioned, Ed and Lorraine Warren are devout Roman Catholics, so they approach their paranormal investigations from a biblical standpoint. Official approval from the Church is sought before performing exorcisms, the pair talks about how they were brought together “for a reason,” and the idea that it only takes a little bit of light to dispel a lot of darkness is presented strongly. The movie also stresses the importance of family in a huge way, most apparent in the climax of the film (which I won’t spoil here).

*spoiler-ish*

My only complaint of the film is that I expected Lorraine Warren to get possessed at some point in the film; it is hinted at pretty heavily, at least, I thought it was, but it never pays off. I thought that her becoming possessed could have added extra suspense to the film considering her role as one of the people meant to rid the Perron family of the demon. However, after pondering this for a while, I thought that the decision to keep her possession-free might not be a wasted opportunity after all but rather a testament to the power of God. Lorraine Warren contrasts with Carolyn Perron because the former is a practicing Christian while the latter is not, explaining why she was possessed and Lorraine was not. That being said, I still think that the possibility of the demon possessing Lorraine was hinted at too strongly for it not to have paid off. Oh well.

*end spoilers*

Anyway, as you should be able to tell by now, I quite enjoyed this movie, though it was certainly more intense than I expected it to be; I’m not ashamed to admit that I crept around my house with a flashlight upon returning from the theater the night I saw the film. It’s certainly not a film for the faint of heart…in fact, I’d venture to say that this just might be the scariest film I’ve ever seen, probably because its Christian undertones and biblical connections (Jesus drives out many demons during his ministry) hit a little close to home. However, being scared is the point of the movie, and The Conjuring does a wonderful job with that, bringing an emotional script, powerful performances, and a score by composer Joseph Bishara that could give you nightmares on its own.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: R – for sequences of disturbing violence and terror


White House Down (2013)

White House Down

Roland Emmerich likes to do things to famous buildings in his movies. In Independence Day (1996), he blew up the White House. In The Day After Tomorrow (2004), he buried the Statue of Liberty in snow up to her waist. In 2012 (2009), the White House is destroyed by the USS John F. Kennedy coasting into it via tsunami. Nothing new is brought to the table in his latest directorial effort, White House Down – the White House and Capitol buildings are both severely damaged and nearly destroyed, but hey, at least we have fun along the way.

Channing Tatum plays John Cale, a US Capitol police officer, a man who has struggled to hold a steady job and to be a good father to his daughter, Emily (Joey King), who is obsessed with politics and the current US president, James Sawyer (Jamie Foxx). Cale takes Emily to the White House when he goes to apply for the president’s Secret Service, but he is rejected by Carol Finnerty (Maggie Gyllenhaal). Dejected, he and Emily join a tour through the White House when the worst happens: domestic terrorists take over both the Capitol and the White House, gathering the tour group as hostages and trapping the president in the building. John must find a way to help protect both the president and his daughter before time runs out.

I’d never seen a Channing Tatum film before this, and I found that I didn’t hate him, so great for you, Mr. Tatum. Sure, he’s not spectacular, but he could have been a lot worse. The important thing is that he does the action well, and there are even a few moments when his character’s relationship with his daughter feels at least kind of close to genuine. Speaking of his daughter, Joey King, who I’d only seen as the young version of Marion Cotillard’s character in The Dark Knight Rises (my review), is charming here, if not a bit too smart for her age, but who cares? She’s sweet, she brings the proper mindset and stubbornness of a preteen, and she provides Tatum’s character with great (if not a little bit over-the-top) motivation. Jamie Foxx does a great job as always as President Sawyer. He carries the air of authority well, and his likable personality in the role brings a lot to the film. Lastly, Jason Clarke proves yet again that he can play the crazy character well, though this time he’s not torturing suspected terrorists (Zero Dark Thirty) or shooting a rich man who ran over his wife (The Great Gatsby); this time, he’s a mercenary who takes over the White House…and apparently he can hold quite the grudge. He does well with it, though, and I like him as the villain. Other notable performances come from James Woods, who plays Martin Walker, the head of Presidential Detail, and Nicolas Wright, who plays a quirky White House tour guide who serves mostly as comedic relief. Maggie Gyllenhaal is also in the movie, and, though I’m not really a fan of hers, she isn’t awful here.

For the first bit of the film, I tried too hard to take it seriously: I thought that it was trying to make a political statement or teach a valuable lesson, and I thought that the circumstances were incredibly ridiculous, but the frequent inclusion of (quite effective and humorous) one-liners and the tendency for things to be just a bit too convenient for our protagonists – and sometimes for our antagonists as well – helped me to realize that even the movie wasn’t taking itself too seriously. Once I realized this, I started having a lot more fun, which is what I really think the purpose is here. Is there a message or a political statement to be found somewhere? Yeah, sure, probably – maybe a comment on how dedicated people can be to the people (or country) that they love? –  but that’s not the point of the film…the point is for it to be a fun action film, and it does a great job at pulling that off. Don’t go in expecting a whole lot of substance, but also know that the action isn’t mindless either. White House Down is good for what it is and good for what it isn’t; it’s not spectacular, and it’s not endless pointless explosions, but it is good for a few laughs and a few decent dramatic moments, and it succeeds the most at being what it’s meant to be: a fun summer action flick.

Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for prolonged sequences of action and violence including intense gunfire and explosions, some language and a brief sexual image