Before anyone had heard of The Exorcist or watched Ghost Hunters on television, there was Ed and Lorraine Warren in the field of Paranormal research. Ed Warren’s career as a ghostbuster and demonologist went all the way back to 1952, when he established the New England Society for Psychic Research. The married couple were cult celebrities for decades before ghosthunting became a mainstream attraction, frequently appearing on television whenever the subject came up.
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood decided to adapt their story for the big screen. Director James Wan’s The Conjuring is an adaptation of what Ed Warren claimed was his scariest case, a real haunting and possession in a Rhode Island home. The Conjuring has taken documented events from the Warrrens’ case file and gussied it up with top-notch actors and the best special effects, for an entertaining horror diversion.
The story is quite simple at its core. Back in 1971, Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) move into a giant Rhode Island farm home. Almost immediately, strange occurrences start happening to the couple and their five daughters. Inexplicable cold spells, the stench of rotting meat and ghostly visions begin to haunt the home. The youngest daughter starts talking about an invisible friend, “Rory.” The mother seeks out help for their problems from the Warrens, a couple teaching about paranormal experiences at a nearby college. Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are true believers in hauntings and possessions, seeking the experiences out for research and looking to provide solutions. Ed Warren keeps mementos from his prior occult dealings inside his home, as a collection.
The Warrens determine a demonic, inhuman entity has attached themselves to the Perron family, manifesting in a variety of ways. A backstory is provided for the home’s troubles, though the explanation is quickly glossed over until it is needed in the narrative. A number of helpers are brought in to give support and assistance, including an off-duty police officer and young college student. Ed Warren goes to the Catholic Church for approval of an exorcism, only to be delayed by its bureaucracy.
When push comes to shove, nothing in The Conjuring is that new. Take The Amityville Horror and sprinkle it with elements from The Exorcist to produce a decent story framed around the exploits of the Warrens, if not wholly innovative or unique. Horror fans should feel comfortable with it but mainstream audiences might be a little bored.
The Conjuring was primarily shot using Arri Alexa digital cameras. It also uses a host of CGI and composites to fill in the various effects. Aside from some minor ringing in select shots and light amounts of noise, this is a solid transfer that handles the dark shots well. The cinematography is fairly clean for a horror film, eschewing dramatic changes to its color timing for the 1971 period setting. Warner Bros. has graced the 1080P video with a respectable AVC-video encode, averaging 24.74 Mbps for the main feature.
Crisp black levels are essential to The Conjuring and this Blu-ray’s picture quality does not disappoint. Shadow delineation is fantastic, excelling when called upon for Wan’s carefully-staged moments of pure darkness. The contrast works for the mostly neutral palette, showing off slightly desaturated primary colors inside the haunted Rhode Island home. Given the darker lighting and tonality, depth and pop are somewhat muted. The Conjuring’s close-ups lack the intense amount of high-frequency content found in the best demo material. It is still a highly-sharp image with strong clarity.
The Conjuring passes the main test for all horror films in this category, properly controlling light and shadow when the story needs it. The sterile cleanliness of modern digital video is mildly incongruous with a production design intended to replicate 1971, but that is more a subjective critique. No doubt, this Blu-ray looks quite good and up to the standards of big-budget films these days.
The Conjuring may not be a perfect movie but its 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is one of the best mixed experiences in recent memory. In fact, most of its scares in the first two acts would be much less scarier without the incredibly effective usage of the surround and bass channels. This is a dynamic mix that thumps when the listener least expects it. Knockings that come out of nowhere, eerie noises which emanate from across the room. Sounds pan across the room as objects fly around due to demonic activity, from hurtling chairs to entire bodies.
Dialogue is appropriately placed in the overall volume so whispers and quiet events can be understood without a problem. The Conjuring is not an action movie but the Foley work is top-notch and authentic, ratcheting up the tension of a haunted house without becoming cheesy.
Three foreign dubs are offered as alternatives, all presented in 5.1 DD at 640 kbps: French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The following subtitles display in a white font, often outside the movie’s 2.40:1 framing: English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
Warner Bros. has rounded out this package with a typical assortment of featurettes for a new release. They are not overwhelmingly in-depth on their subjects but provide topical, cursory looks at a number of issues connected to The Conjuring. Lorraine Warren is still alive today and her brief interview snippets shed some light on the event and her beliefs. The cast make only token appearances in the interview snippets, leaving director James Wan to carry the load.
The included UltraViolet digital copy is redeemable on Flixster. A DVD version of the film completes the combo pack. First pressings will include a slick lenticular slipcover, highlighting one of the film’s scarier scenes.
The Conjuring: Face-To-Face with Terror (06:39 in HD) – The surviving members of the Perron family give interviews recounting their ordeal back in 1971. Particularly chilling is to hear Carolyn Perron recount her fear of the farmhouse and refusal to even watch this movie adaptation of her own life. She certainly believes in the events that are documented in the movie.
A Life in Demonology (15:39 in HD) – A mini-documentary covering the Warrens’ long careers in paranormal research, dating back to 1952. Lorraine Warren and a host of current paranormal experts go over their experiences with hauntings and occult behavior.
Scaring the “@$*%” Out of You (08:04) – Director James Wan goes over some of the storytelling choices he made in The Conjuring. This trifle does become a bit self-serving, as the producers fawn over their pick for director.
UltraViolet Promo (01:22 in HD) – Precedes the main menu.
We’re The Millers Trailer(02:28 in HD) – Precedes the main menu.
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