Saturday, July 13, 2013

Lili Taylor Goes Full-On Linda Blair in The Conjuring

Hey there, welcome to Notes From Room 237! Glad you could make it! Have a seat right over here, don't mind the brains all over the wall.

You've stumbled across the inaugural blog entry by me, a lifelong horror geek gal, looking to add my two cents to the global conversation about gore, guts, ghosts, and other ghastly things. I'll be reviewing films, new and old, breaking down industry news, railing against the use of CGI in creature films, and hopefully getting down to the funny bone once in a while.

So without further ado, today's rant is brought to you by James Wan's latest: The Conjuring, starring Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Vera Farmiga, and Patrick Wilson. I was lucky enough to snag the last pair of passes to an advance screening Wednesday night and I have to say, this one is worth the ever-increasing price of admission.

I have to give credit to the Warner Brothers reps for making an effort to set the mood before the screening started. On the way in to the theater, they gave each audience member a little 'Demon Protection Kit' to take in, which included a glow-in-the-dark rosary (great for kitsch value alone) and a small plastic bottle of 'Holy Water.' (My immediate reaction was to shake some of the contents of the bottle into my mouth and taste it. Is that sacrilege?) Naturally some of the younger members of the audience immediately starting flinging the water around, so a rep got hold of a microphone and made a quick little speech about how it was cool if not everyone was a believer, but if we didn't want the holy water, to please return it after the film so that it could be donated back to the Church. Which got me thinking, are there novelty companies running kind of a disrespectful racket selling regular ol' water in holy water bottles? Or do they get a priest to mass-bless some water and actually sell it in cheap plastic bottle form? Anyway, I digress.

Warner Brothers also got some real-life paranormal researchers to come out and speak to the audience, but at 12:20 a.m. after waiting in the theater lobby for 3 hours, we were getting pretty squirmy, so that was that. Incidentally, if you're in the Bay Area, check out Alameda Paranormal Researchers, based out of the haunted USS Hornet aircraft carrier, they seem legit and like they do fun work.

The Conjuring, in case you live in a remote cave and haven't caught a single trailer, tells the story of a happy, carefree, bell-bottom wearing seventies family that moves into a foreclosed house, and the evil that terrorizes them from that point on. But this is not your standard haunted-house flick, despite what you saw in the trailers. No, it's going to get a lot worse for the Perron family than a few slamming doors and weird reflections in mirrors, and fast.

Enter Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the husband-wife demonologist team of Amityville notoriety. In a bizarre turn for anyone keeping up with A&E's Bates Motel, Farmiga plays the sweet-natured, loving, and fragile wife to the ever-hunky Wilson. The two have just given a Demonology lecture at the University of It-Isn't-Relevant-To-The-Plot when Carolyn Perron (Taylor) approaches them for help with the spooks that are keeping her five daughters up at night.

But of course, it isn't spirits that haunt the Perrons. The movie adeptly shifts gears from haunted house to demon possession, one of my personal favorite sub-genres. And Lili Taylor gives an incredible performance as her mind and body are racked by something so malicious, it makes The Exorcist's Pazuzu look like Yogi Bear. Oh yes, Taylor goes FULL ON Linda Blair, thrashing around to the point of physical harm, foaming at the mouth, and licking her lips lasciviously as the demon seeks to destroy her family and the Warrens with them.

While The Conjuring owes a lot to films that have come before it, James Wan brings his own distinctive style to the based-on-true-life material. With a return to the long, panning handheld camera shots that made Insidious so tensely engaging, Wan follows the horror visited upon the Perrons at just the right pace. But for those who felt Insidious was a little slow-moving, he's really stepped things up with The Conjuring. There's a scare a minute, and evil around every corner.

The Conjuring is in theatres next weekend, and I'm going to urge you to shell out the twelve bucks to see this one on the big screen. I'll even go out on a limb and suggest that James Wan may be the hero that modern horror has been waiting for, delivering chills to the moviegoing masses in a big way, minus the cheeseball goofiness that has characterized the best known titles of the last couple decades.

Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. And it was more sinister than you could possibly imagine.

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