An intensely effective white-knuckling tour de force
Look behind you
Although far from original, The Conjuring is still one of the most terrifying films that I’ve experienced in recent years.And having been weaned on horror movies and subsequently devoted most of my life to watching and writing about them, I don’t scare easy. But despite recognising practically every shock before it happened and understanding implicitly where this haunted house/possession saga was headed, this one really got me.
Chronicling the traumatic and harrowing experiences of the innocent and unsuspecting Perron Family as they are besieged by vengeful spirits and accursed hag-witches from the beyond the grave in their Rhode Island farmhouse, The Conjuring presents us with the reputedly true-life spiritual rescue performed by celebrated demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) in what proved to be their most demanding and dangerous supernatural investigation.I wasn’t all that impressed with Insidious (and it’s OTT follow-up even less so) but there is no denying that director James Wan has swallowed the ghost and ghoul playbook and knows every bump in the night trick inside-out. His mastery of the mechanics of menace is second-to-none and what he lacks in freshness should not be held against him. Those who cite his style as being lifted from every other supernatural fright flick are being quite disingenuous when he performs these tactics with such supreme gusto and atmospheric finesse.
With excellent performances all-round and profoundly effective shock tactics throughout, this is an intensely effective white-knuckling tour de force.
Powerful and very, very scary.
Conjuring up demonic visions
No need for recruiting demonologists to eradicate any digital gremlins from this transfer. Warner’s AVC encode captures The Conjuring’s 2.40:1 image with an eye for fine detail, a total embrace of inky black swathes of shadow, stark contrast for the manifestations that frequently emanate from within these stygian depths, and earthy, desaturated palette of Wan’s accurately rendered 70’s autumnal aesthetic.
For a kick-off, there is no hint of smearing, aliasing or compression artefacts materialising in the image. Edges are smooth and natural. I thought I picked up a vague trace of banding on my Panasonic VT50, but it was really neither here nor there… and I was scrutinising the picture for such things anyway. I guess if you want to see ghosts, you will if you look hard enough. The digital photography is keen, rich and acutely detailed. Despite the clean and fresh appearance that such HD crafting provides, the film remains brilliantly rustic, lived-in and convincingly jaundiced.
The image remains immensely smooth and fluid, really allowing DOP John R. Leonetti’s engrossing and immersive camerawork to carry you through the guts of the Perron household. Special mention should go out, here, to the incredible one-take tracking shot that moves up to the house, then around and through it and finally out of the back door and onto the porch, introducing the entire family to us in one sinuous and gliding tour, incorporating excellent timing with multiple performers and snazzy 360-degree turns.
Despite a deliberately pallid and wan colourscape, this is a scintillating image
Although vibrancy has been deliberately dialled-down in favour of earthy tones of brown and yellow, colours are strong and bold when the situation cries out for them to be. The thick yellow of the 70’s style titles is suitably gaudy and slightly sickly. The pale blue of the skies cool and chilly. Red is particularly well presented with occasional splashes of blood, garish crayon scribblings all over the walls and ceiling, Carolyn’s scarlet cardigan and the little rosy cheeks and scarlet ribbons on the Annabelle doll really standing out.
The flickering yellow flames of frail matches in the cellar are picked out cleanly, their surreal and short-lived illuminations equally as evocative. Skin tones are pallid and parched, matching the environs of the haunting. Faces poke through the gloom with genuinely ghost-like intrusion. Some people will undoubtedly be concerned over an element of crushing taking place in the darkest patches of the frame but, as I’ve commented countless times, I am quite immune to such things and tend to err on the side of “darker shadows puh-leeeze!” Thus, I had no problems with this transfer revelling in the blackest of blacks and positively welcomed their intense domination.
Detail in faces, objects, décor and furnishings is frequently astonishing. Exteriors reveal incredible depth alongside acute distant clarity and sharp foreground relief, firmly establishing tangible distance and scenic evocation. Close-ups are exemplary. But, just for example, check out the Annabelle doll. Grit, scratches, hair separation and the aged texture of its surface and clothing are all supremely well depicted.
Despite a deliberately pallid and wan colourscape, this is a scintillating image that produces enormous depth and three-dimensionality. Although officially getting itself a 9 out of 10, The Conjuring actually warrants a 9.5. A fabulous presentation of a distinctly stylised yet firmly natural image.
Conjuring up the sound of terror
Well, to go hand-in-ghostly-hand with the sublimely spooky visuals is an audio track that captures, conveys and conjures up all the musical menace and supernatural sonics with devilish aplomb. The DTS 5.1 HD MA track is superbly mixed and really delivers all the jolts and spine-twitching surround activity that were presented so well theatrically.
Clapping hands and giggly voices are marvellously positioned within the mix. The stereo spread across the front is wide, with the separation around the rest of the channels agreeably spacious and accurate. The impression of in-yer-face claustrophobia is uniquely depicted despite the convincing depth of the soundscape, meaning that sudden stingers have an even more galvanising effect. Distance and dimensionality are fabulously balanced and maintained. Dialogue is perfectly clear and always well-prioritised, even the subtleties of whispers and ghostly breathing.
The sub is not quite as demonstrative as you might have anticipated. But LFE is still heart-clutchingly deep and startling when the situation demands it. Stark effects like slamming doors, sudden thuds and shattering picture-frames have been structurally engineered to deliver spasms and they never fail to do so. Such mechanics may be obvious, but the cumulative effect is spellbinding. I glanced over my shoulder a helluva lot more than I do usually, and much of this was to do with the elaborate sound design. Movement around the channels is terrifically organic and seamless.
LFE is still heart-clutchingly deep and startling when the situation demands it
Wan’s regular composer Joseph Bishara supplies one of the most electrifying and simply sphincter-clenching scores, totally immersing the vast array of scare tactics with atonal disquiet and soul-strangling wallops of screeching intensity. Although he is still something of a new and peripheral name in genre film-scoring, Bishara evokes memories of Lalo Schifrin’s The Amityville Horror, Charles Bernstein’s The Entity and the hellish hullaballoos erupting from compositions by the likes of Christopher Young and Marco Beltrami. Eschewing dominant and recurring themes, he ignites the soundscape with vigorous squalls of lurching attacks, vividly skin-crawling periods of almost unbearable suspense and utterly unnerving passages of the deepest dread. All of this is expertly rendered within and around a mix that assails you from all sides, creating a web of distinct unease from the get go.
At the flicks, The Conjuring sounded amazing. Here on BD, it sounds even better again, the merest details coming over with clarity and the soundtrack full of crisp, sharp and undulating menace. I can’t find any fault with this audio presentation, and since I believe it improves upon the theatrical experience I am going to award this lossless track top marks. 10 out of 10, folks.
Extra Bumps in the Night
This UK disc from Warner adds three spooky supplements.
The Conjuring: Face to Face with Terror
This is a seven-minute reminiscence from the Perron Family and Lorraine Warren about the experiences they underwent in the haunted farmhouse. Whatever your opinion about their story, there is no denying that Carolyn Perron has gone through an immensely disturbing time. Curiously though, there is much talk about the rather conventional manifestations that the family experienced but nothing at all mentioned with regards to the possession that occupies the last act of the film.
A Life in Demonology
Well, this is the sort of mini-doc that would have really benefitted from being far more comprehensive. We meet Lorraine Warren, sadly Ed is no longer with us, and she discusses her rather dramatic life and vocation, as well as how well depicted the events of the Perron haunting are in James Wan’s film. We also see the real room of haunted objects and supernatural souvenirs. Although I love this subject and am devoted to all things eerie and otherworldly, and have even participated in séances and ghost hunting expeditions, there is something about the Warrens that throws doubt over their veracity. They always adhered to the story of the Lutz Family as witnessed in the film of The Amityville Horror and Jay Anson’s bestselling book … when the whole thing, or rather the saga revolving around the Lutz’s actual experiences in the house, was proved to be a hoax.
What I find amusing is that we are briefly introduced to the real Annabelle doll … and yet its face is masked with a cloud of pixels! Now why is this? It can’t be to protect the doll’s identity, surely, so it must have something to do with not worrying viewers who might suddenly realise that they have the same doll upstairs in their own attic. Imagine that, though. Even if you had grown up with that doll, and it had been passed down in the family for generations, you would still be freaked out about it.
Scaring the “@$*%” Out of You allows James Wan along with some of the actors and crew to discuss the tried and trusted methods for putting the heebie-jeebies upon audiences. It’s just filler, folks, and lightweight but still very watchable.
Seriously Look Behind You
For me, The Conjuring was easily the best horror film of 2013 and one of the better offerings from the genre in recent years (ranking it appreciably against The Orphanage, Mama and The Woman in Black, and stomping all over the likes of Evil Dead, The Last Exorcism Parts I and 2, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and any number of Paranormal Activities). James Wan is now firmly established as a master of the mechanics of the supernatural fright flick as well as the deviously grisly with Saw and, here, he displays just such an uncanny command of mood and atmosphere but is able to bolt all this around a strong story and characters that you genuinely care about.
Sure, the standard staples of the fear format are all trotted out, but these would amount to nothing more than formulaic knee-jerking if we weren’t so gravely invested in the plight of the besieged Perron family and the valiant Warrens. Great performances from everyone anchor our fears and concerns. Excellent photography and a purely skin-prickling score aid the alarming set-piece phenomena that abounds, and whether you believe the authenticity of the tale or not becomes a moot point when you are gripped by such escalating intensity.
For me, The Conjuring was easily the best horror film of 2013
As befitting a saga gripped at the mercy of accursed sounds and visions, the AV of this UK disc is superlative. The aggressive audio assaults bolster the deliberately earthy and muted palette, leading to an experience as hi-def rewarding as it is nerve-shredding. I would have preferred more extras, especially a commentary or two, but the little trio of featurettes are entertaining enough.
The Conjuring comes very highly recommended indeed. But, for God’s sake, do it right. Watch it at night and in the dark. Sleep won’t come easy, but the emotional and psychological thrill ride will have been worth it.
Our Review Ethos
To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.