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A match ignites in the dark. A trembling woman’s frail features are barely lit by its glow. We see a staircase below her descending into that blackness. The anxiety of the moment can be heard in the heavy breaths taken by our heroine.
The match burns too low and burns her, causing her to drop it, and the light flickers out. As she eases slowly into darkness, trying in vain to light her way with wooden matches, we wonder if some creature that loves the empty shadows will reveal itself… and when.
When the answer jolts you from your comfortable spot in the real world, you remember this is EXACTLY the kind of movie James Wan has perfected. The slow creeping dread, that anticipation of terror around the hallway corner, a shadow in the distance that stands… not quite right. This is his world, and The Conjuring looks to take all that he’s learned and scar you for life with it.
WARNING: THERE ARE MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
Moments later, Lili Taylor (or rather her stunt double) is in a wire rig ready to be flung about the room by malevolent forces. Patrick Wilson sets the scene: “This is sort of the meat of the movie where Lily Taylor’s character, Caroline, she’s just been pulled down the stairs. The spirit of the witch – sounds like a Rush album – is pulling her downstairs, and she’s flying around the room. A little backstory; my guy, Ed (Warren), up till this point, does not give exorcisms. He’s not a priest and that’s certainly reserved for priests. And this is the point in the movie where he has to decide; there’s really no time to wait for the word from the Vatican to assign someone to come give the exorcisms and, at this point, we come down there and she’s been thrown around the room and really is being taken hold of by this entity so then I’ve gotta give the exorcism myself.”
Ron Livingston adds further details: “The house kind of has some various spirits that are attached to it that haven’t left, basically. One of them in particular has taken possession of Lili (Taylor) at this point. And it has actually followed us. You know there’s the question in haunted house movies, ‘Why don’t they just leave?’ And in this one we do leave, and one of the things kind of attaches to her and brings her back. So we kind of run screaming in from the motel and try to get her out and take her away to the priest to perform the exorcism. But the spirit won’t let her leave the house, and at that point it starts to get kinetic. She goes flying down the hallway, spins around and gets dragged down the stairs. And we run down to find her flying around and banging into things. So, pacing wise, if the movie has some build and then all hell breaks loose – you’re looking at one of the moments where all hell breaks loose.”
Got your attention now? We thought so. Chad Hayes, one of the film’s writers, elaborates further: “All part of the ending, yeah. It’s interesting because the point of view of the film is Lorraine Warren is a clairvoyant – she sees things other people don’t see and so she literally can – we switch to her POV all the time, and it’s awesome because everyone else is looking around, like, ‘What’d she see?’ I don’t want to give away too much, but she gets to see things that others don’t, and we get to see it as an audience from her POV. It’s really neat. It just all felt very compelling and a lot more interesting than ‘family buys the wrong house, drives up and it begins.’ And we got a chance to tell family POVs. This is really about three families – the witch family, the Perrons and the Warrens – and this collision course they’re on.”
From day one, there was a push to step away from the odd, funhouse tone of Insidious and strike a more serious chord, as is fitting for any case involving Lorraine and Ed Warren, the famous paranormal investigators most known for their involvement in the events that became the film we know as The Amityville Horror. Wan remarked, “The nature of what this film is, and the fact that it’s based on people’s stories, I want to honor that as much as I possibly can and ground it in reality as much as I possibly could. The film that I want to make is a more classical chiller. If you look back at the original Amityville Horror, I think it was kind of in-your-face for the time. But if you look back at it now, it’s definitely a much more moody piece. One of the big inspirations for me on this film is the feel of that period. Still one of my favorite movies is the original The Haunting. I love that style, I love that feel and I want to take that feeling and apply it to this story.”
Producer Peter Safran had his own thoughts on the genesis of the film: “It’s a precursor to Amityville and the Warrens’ experiences in Harrisville, in some ways, lead to the path to Amityville, and everybody just recognized it. It was a really interesting story, and also it was interesting to tell the story from both the investigators’ point of view and the family’s point of view because so many of these movies are simply family moves into a house, creepy stuff starts happening… and it’s not til the third act that you really get to meet the investigators who come in and resolve it. In this case we had both stories at the same time, and then they intersect early on and it brought a more human element to it.”
Ron Livingston compared the pacing of the film to “that old Hitchcock build style, but he cross-cuts it with Ed and Lorraine Warren as a way to introduce you to them. It’s two different paces. They’re doing lecture stuff with students showing films of their other cases, so you’re getting scares there and getting a condensed version of how some of their past cases have gone, so it also takes care of a lot of the exposition. Meanwhile there are seven hapless people in the house who have no idea what is going on with the audience yelling, ‘NO NO NO… DON’T GO DOWN THERE!’”
The official synopsis breaks down the story further: “Based on a true story, The Conjuring tells the horrifying tale of how world renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were called upon to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in a secluded farmhouse. Forced to confront a powerful demonic entity, the Warrens find themselves caught in the most terrifying case of their lives.”
Telling the story from two main viewpoints posed unique challenges for cast and crew, but Wan was more than up for the task and, bolstered by those who have worked with him on previous projects and trust in the way he crafts a film, sought to bring a level of authenticity and genuine feeling to the characters and settings. Once the cast heard the stories and read the script, they were on board 100 percent. Peter Safran comments: “Vera has embraced the Lorraine of it all in an enormous way. She and Patrick went up to Connecticut to spend time with Lorraine. They just spent hours and hours together, and I think it became very important for Vera from a personal point of view to make this really be a testament to Lorraine and what she and Ed spent their life doing. Patrick has clearly embraced it as well, but it’s different. Ed’s not alive so he’s kind of created his own version of Ed… the authority that Ed brings to the table as a former military man, but Vera… she’s really Lorraine.”
Despite the physical absence of Ed Warren for reference, Patrick Wilson was prepared to dive head long into his character: “Vera (Farmiga) and I, we both talked and we wanted to, as much as the system would allow us, swing with a big stick and make really bold characters. We didn’t really want to just be Vera and Patrick going through a contemporary horror movie either being scared, scaring people or rescuing people, so we sifted through a lot of the physical things that I could find online: crosses, pictures, rings, clothes. She was very specific in the clothes she wore. Everybody was all on the same page so you could make a character, but I think you care about it because they come with a sense of honesty and really wanting to help people out. I think there really is that sentiment that you have to go in to also. When you talk about ‘71, pre-Amityville or Internet or people editing at home, this whole supernatural world was so uncharted, so anybody that dedicated their life to wanting to help people out, it’s not like they made any money. Yes, they were interested in the occult, but I think that they genuinely wanted to help people so I think there was an honesty with them, and I think that you’ll get that, hopefully, with our performances”.
Wilson continues: “I think it’s fascinating, a couple that dedicated their life to the occult, supernatural, demonology; and the guy was one of seven or eight demonologists, the only person at the time that was authorized or supported by the Vatican to give an exorcism who wasn’t a priest. He knew more about this world than most priests around the world. I don’t think most priests delved into the demons and the backstories and the hundreds of years of spirits. I don’t think anyone knew that better than Ed. He read. Everything about him, he was always reading and studying and from a very early age just really loved this world. I can latch onto somebody like that, who has that kind of passion even though it wasn’t my passion, but it’s something I can really respect. There is that kind of sentiment with Ed, of going, ‘You can’t tell me what I’ve seen.’ And trust me; you get into the demonology in some of the books that he’s written. A lot of it’s pretty far out there. It’s pretty deep and supernatural, so you’re sort of like, ‘I wanna read, but the more I read, the more I (think), “Okay, let me just go for the ride.” It’s tough. But when I’m Ed, I believe.”
Click here for Part 2 of our visit to the set of The Conjuring!
Read our review of The Conjuring here!
Related Story: The Conjuring News Archive
About the Film
From New Line Cinema comes a feature film drawn from the case files of married demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Conjuring stars Academy Award nominee Vera Farmiga (“Bates Motel,” Orphan) and Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy, Insidious) as the Warrens and Ron Livingston (HBO’s “Band of Brothers”) and Lili Taylor (Public Enemies) as Roger and Carolyn Perron, residents of the house. >
Joey King (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Shanley Caswell (Detention), Haley McFarland (TV’s “Lie to Me”), Mackenzie Foy (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn), and newcomer Kyla Deaver play the Perrons’ five daughters, and Sterling Jerins (World War Z) is the Warrens’ little girl, Judy.
James Wan (Saw, Insidious) directs from a screenplay by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes (The Reaping). The film is produced by Peter Safran, Tony DeRosa-Grund, and Rob Cowan with Walter Hamada and Dave Neustadter serving as executive producers. Reuniting with the director are members of his Insidious creative team, director of photography John Leonetti, editor Kirk Morri, and costume designer Kristin M. Burke, and his Saw production designer, Julie Berghoff. The music is composed by Joseph Bishara.
New Line Cinema presents an Evergreen Media Group/Safran Company Production of a James Wan Film: The Conjuring. The film will be distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company.
The film opens in the US and the UK on July 19, 2013.
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