Conjuring, The (US - BD)
Matt investigates some spooky sounds and takes on James Wan's latest thriller
Director James Wan's The Conjuring tells the true story of world renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who were called upon to help the Perron family (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor), who have been terrorized by a dark presence at their secluded farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught near the center of the most horrifying case of their lives.
James Wan's film turned plenty of heads this summer as it went on to take over $135 million dollars at the box office (and climbing as it's still playing in some areas). I never did get the opportunity to check it out theatrically, but I know a lot of friends and acquaintances who did manage to get a showing in and were very impressed with that they saw. After finally sitting down to watch it for myself the other day I just have to ask--what's the big deal? It's certainly a very well made film with fine performances from all involved, and I was especially impressed with the young actresses portraying the Perron daughters who more than hold their own with the adults. I also really enjoyed Wan's choice and ability to make the film seem a part of the period in which the story took place through his use of certain photographic techniques and other standards of the era, which is something that other filmmakers have found doesn't always turn out quite as well as they--or more importantly their intended audience--would have liked.
I mean, there's really nothing "wrong" with it per se, and maybe I just let it get too built up in my mind that this was going to be the best haunted house movie since Poltergeist, and maybe, just maybe we'd be getting another classic that could sit proudly alongside Hooper's (or Speilberg's, take your pick) film and other genre staples such as Robert Wise's The Haunting or Nobuhiko Ôbayashi's underrated and under seen House. In fact The Conjuring's only real problem is that it isn't particularly scary for something that's been labeled as a horror movie, and what few moments do contain the promise of fright are telegraphed too much and too often for anyone familiar with the usual tropes of most haunted house and possession pictures to fall for. To once again use Poltergeist as an example, it's missing its own "clown under the bed", "child devouring tree" or "guy that rips his face off in the bathroom mirror", you know, those one or two scenes that truly terrify and shock an audience into believing that from here on out all bets are off and tells them in no uncertain terms to either get settled in or head for the aisle.
Seeing as from every other perspective The Conjuring is an excellent film with a lot going for it the addition of a few more substantial and meatier scenes meant to horrify would have made this one remembered for years to come, but as is if you go in wrong headed you're going to be disappointed. It's best to go in expecting a decent, period thriller about two families coping with traumatic events that are supposedly based on a true story (your mileage with that part may vary) instead of the next, great horror picture, and with that mindset you're likely to enjoy and get much more out of it.
The 1080p, 2.40:1, AVC encoded video transfer that Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided The Conjuring with should satisfy nearly anyone that watches the movie from this disc. The decision to make the movie look slightly like the period in which the events take place adds a lot of atmosphere to the story, and the video transfer here reflects those intentions quite well with deep, dark blacks, near perfect contrast and a pale color palette that runs the gamut from warm too cool, switching back and forth as the needs of the movie change from one scene to the next. I didn't notice anything in the way of over sharpening, aliasing or banding either, and since the film was original shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras you can bet that the source used for the video transfer on this disc is clear of any blemishes that might unintentionally pop up on film-based pictures. Overall this is a very nice video transfer on Blu-ray.
The supplied DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track on the disc is a very good one and pretty much hits all the right notes as far as what a good and creepy horror film sound mix should be. There's some really nice use of the surround channels going on to build atmosphere inside the old farmhouse, and the use of directional effects provide a good deal of the goosebumps as does the LFE channel which throws in a few bumps every now and again to pay off some of the amped up tension. Dialogue from the quietest whisper to the loudest scream is always crisp and clear coming from the center channel, and I didn't notice any problems with the track from a technical perspective such as pops and ticks that might take one out of the movie watching experience. Overall this is a very well done audio track that suits the film quite nicely.
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has provided The Conjuring with a few supplements that amount to about a half an hour's worth of high definition featurettes. In general these are pretty decent, but there's just not enough content here to really dig deep into the making of the picture, something that a commentary track with director James Wan and/or writers Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes would have gone a long way in rectifying:
- "A Life in Demonology" (16 minutes) - This featurette focuses on the lives and careers of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Edward Warren and features director James Wan, Lorraine and through archival recordings Edward. The piece also details just a bit the development of the feature film based on the Perron case in particular.
- "The Conjuring: Face-To-Face With Terror" (7 minutes) - Lorraine Warren and the Perron Family recall their experiences at the Harrisville farmhouse which served as the basis for the film.
- "Scaring the '@$*%' Out of You" (8 minutes) - Director James Wan discusses directing horror and suspense films and his inspiration for making The Conjuring.
The two-disc set also includes a standard definition copy of the film on DVD and a code for an UltraViolet digital copy for streaming or download.
The Conjuring is a well made and mostly effective supernatural thriller that finds director James Wan at the top of his game from a technical perspective, but even though I like the full use of the period setting I just don't think it works as a straight horror film, and in that regard I actually prefer most of his previous work. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release features very good video and audio, but is light on extras and a bit of a disappointment in that regard. Overall this one should go over quite well for some spooky Halloween renting and watching, but just remember to keep your expectations in check.
The screen captures throughout this review were taken from the Blu-ray disc, but due to .jpg compression may not be truly representative of the high definition quality of the release.
Review by Matt Joseph
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 22nd October 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French & Spanish
Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
Extras: Featurettes, DVD Copy, UltraViolet Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 112 minutes
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