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The second part of our set visit report from The Conjuring is now live (or should we say returned from the dead?) and waiting for you to ingest! In case you missed it, check out Part 1 here!
WARNING: THERE ARE MILD SPOILERS AHEAD
As written previously, Lili Taylor’s character, Caroline, seems to endure some hands-on experiences with Bathsheba, the witch spirit. Taylor expands on the film’s story and her character’s place in it. “She’s really scared for a lot of it, and then she’s like ferocious for the last part of it.” We’d been tipped off there is a bit of possession in the mix as well. Taylor explains her process for these scenes: “You know, that’s other worldly, is what it is. I mean, and if you’ve ever seen people who are possessed, really, really possessed, it’s almost like they don’t sound human and they’re not acting human, in a way. So that’s almost like I just put my seatbelt on and just buckle up and just go, you know.”
Ron Livingston (as Roger, Caroline’s husband) had a similar approach to his role: “There’s some (films) where I do a lot of homework and then there’s some, this film in particular, where it’s supposed to take you by surprise. So you kind of just want to get in there and have everything take you by surprise rather than have him tell you how everything went down. Patrick and Vera play the experts, and I think they’ve been good about really being all over the Warrens and learning their process and their history and how they came up. We are a real family, the parents, but at the time they didn’t know they were going to be this family. So I kind of wanted to go into it not knowing. I wanted to wander in and take my lumps.”
To amp up that sense of impending dread, it was important to adhere to strict rules when showing the film’s horrors. The Conjuring would adapt the mantra “Less Is More.” James Wan talks about his approach: “You want to pick and choose your moments. You want to have those moments where (the audience) goes, ‘Did I just see that? Did that just happen?’ Which is the kind of filmmaking that I love. The kind of films that I love have a character walking down a hallway and you’re like, ‘Did I just see someone behind the drapes?’ I love that. I love the idea of playing with the audience and being able to build on that (tension).” So what does that leave for the reveal of the film’s central “monster?” Glimpses of a hand… feet… and indeed, a full reveal.
Lili Taylor’s character endures a possession, but again, James Wan and crew did not want this to be something you’ve seen before. There are stages to this particular terror with physical challenges she would need to prepare for. She explains: “When she gets possessed, she’s other-worldly. She can do physical things most people can’t. I didn’t have to get to the strength of 10 men but I had to move around a lot and shit. There’s weird body movement involved and moving fast and spazzing out… tackling people… running.”
I asked if she watched any actual footage of possessed individuals for reference. “Unfortunately… It’s not fun footage to watch. I saw a couple of possessions. Good old YouTube. You can find everything there. I’d seen some possessions and they actually helped a lot.” To help her embrace this “change” 3 hours of makeup came into play. “It’s a fantastic progression. I love the way they plotted it out. Even just like… we had these brown contacts that sort of deadened my eyes a little bit… like just enough that I looked like I had the flu or something is just a little wrong,” says Taylor. “And then another set of contacts were darker. And then white ones. And then it’s almost like she’s getting sicker and sicker. Like what happens when we get sicker and sicker… until she’s totally sick. James is so great because what James does is, he wants it to look as real as possible, except just a little bit off, you know. He doesn’t go for the stereotypical, like what you’d imagine. It’s not what you’d imagine… or you’d imagine this sort of old lady, but he didn’t want that. Second stage possession; the second stage of contacts are a little darker brown. I’ve got a little bit of stuff happening around the lips, like sores, some broken blood vessels and I think I’m much more… almost the analogy of rabies. That the rabies is sort of… like I’m now thinking about how to get that rabies into somebody else.”
With the promise of using very little CG in favor of practical effects to complete that “old school” horror film feel, it seems we are in for one wild ride. Also, there’s something about the 70’s that just lends itself to horror. Perhaps this was not the case at the time, but looking back at that era, now shown through grainy film footage and washed out, yellowed images and the odd nature of both fashion and home décor of the time… you couldn’t pick a better setting. Wan strove to create that 70’s horror vibe, remarking that those who have seen the film have compared it to The Amityville Horror, which was excellent, seeing as how the Warrens were involved in that actual case. Of course the 70’s, in itself, offers unique horrors. James agrees the clothing and mustaches can certainly be counted among them. On a more serious note, Wan remarks: “One of the things myself and (production designer) Julie (Berghoff) wanted to do was to bring across the flavor of that period. I think that’s what’s going to give this film another level. At the end of the day, it is a classic haunted house ghost story. I’m not here to reinvent that wheel. As I said with Insidious, I didn’t want to invent the wheel; I just wanted to paint the wheel a different color. With this one, the different color I want to embrace is I want to make a classical period film. I want to capture that with the production design, the wardrobe and the photography. If nothing else, I know this will be a beautiful looking film!”
Ron Livingston had his own thoughts on the creepiness of the decade, starting with the color palette: “It’s got those real deep blacks that they used in the 70’s and the kind of earth tones in the colors. It’s really cool looking, it looks badass. There’s a graininess. The colors… a kind of rust brown and… I don’t know what it is. I was trying to figure out why having it be that far in the past, 34 years in the past, really added to it. I wish I knew why. Some of it is, I think we’re so connected now, we all have cell phones and everyone could whip it out and call 911. There’s something about those days of when you’re out in the country, there’s that one phone in the house. It’s before answering machines. You’re a little more cut off. You’re not quite sure if the car is going to start. I think it accentuates the fact that it’s a real life story. It makes it feel a little bit like it’s historical. It’s like when you watch those murder shows on TV and they go back to some serial killer case and they’re always from 20 or 30 years ago.” I asked if it gave them an opportunity to be snappier dressers. Ron lamented that it wasn’t the Almost Famous 70’s, but more like how his Dad used to dress. “It’s not pretty. It’s more like that flannel and bad hair.”
Production Designer Julie Berghoff likes an audience to get lost in the details and through them be transported to the time and space in which a film is placed. It is much easier to become invested in a movie when the setting is completely immersive. “I guess I’m pretty detail oriented. I really get involved in that. It’s really fun for me. And I want you to feel like you’re in the house. I don’t want you to be like, ‘Oh, I’m on a set.’ I want you to feel like you’re actually in the Perron house and scared and what was it like. So I think about all the history of the house and the details. Like it’s lathe and plaster and it’s a hundred years old and it was plaster not paint. So we actually plastered the house and did lots of layers of mixing it to make it look aged, instead of actually painting it. Which is so much more beautiful ’cause the light hits it differently.”
For Berghoff, the set in a horror film is very much a character in that film, so decisions we might take for granted like the texture of a wall and the paints used to accent a room play a vital role in setting a mood. “Before I even start designing I do tons and tons of research of what I think it should look like. Who the characters are, ’cause I want to understand them, so I understand the environment they live in and the world I’m creating for them, you know. And the tree was my favorite thing on this show. Because I love trees. I think they’re amazing. They talk to you. They’re old souls, you know. And so I got to create a beautiful tree that was a mix of like Sleepy Hollow meets Twisted Sister meets big oak tree. Actually, it was a pecan tree that I was referencing in the fields. So we built a 50-foot tree, too.”
By now anyone who has been tracking The Conjuring is familiar with the tree as the central form on the movie poster, but you may not have guessed that the tree had more intent than mere spooky set dressing. “The tree is probably the iconic part of the film for me that I created, that represents the film. If you look at it, it kind of looks like a hand coming out of the earth with the fingers all messed up and twisting. I felt like the tree was really old and amazing and then the witch cursed it. And so it just died over time, and the limbs fell off and fell nearby. But it was such a big tree that it’s still standing. Like the carcass of it is still standing. And then vines grew all over it, but they didn’t really grow ’cause the tree is cursed. Kind of that feeling. I painted it more on the darker side. Like it’s representing death so to speak.” Berghoff goes on to explain that the witch hangs herself from the tree, so the tree and the ground the tree grows from is cursed to the furthest extent of those far reaching roots. This land is poisoned. This sets the tone for The Conjuring and acts as a meager introduction to the witch/spirit known as Bathsheba.
Carey Hayes (writer) adds to that stark tone. “The original farm was on either 300 or 500 acres and when Bathsheba killed herself, she literally hung herself, but prior to that she proclaimed her love for Satan and cursed anyone who would try to take her land, and then, over that course of time from the late 1800s to the present, there has been a phenomenal amount of deaths on what was once that 500 acres.” Co-writer Chad Hayes comments: “Really unusual deaths, like you’d have a better chance winning the lottery than you would… You’ll see it in the movie, we put them in there. Drownings, suicides, hunting accidents. Car accidents. People lost in the wintertime.”
Those odd events seemed to trickle out of the film and into the lives of everyone involved, crew and subjects alike.
Chad and Carey Hayes, as the film’s writers, hold the subject matter close to their heart, but a more sinister power would remind them that their ideas were based on real, supernatural events. During a set visit by the actual Perron family, that creeping dread would come rushing back. Carey and Chad set the scene. “We met the Perron girls… these girls came to set. And you still see the scare in Cindy (Perron)’s eyes. The witch was actually hanging from a tree and we’re ready to shoot it and Cindy looks and freaks out and just turns the other way. It brought back too much. And one of ‘em said, ‘Something really bad is going to happen out here today.’ and I was like, ‘Oh, great.’ And do you know what happened? Her mother, Carolyn, fell and broke her hip.”
Producer Rob Cowan gives his perspective: “The family came to the set and they came for one day and it was like a family reunion. They haven’t been together for quite a little, but they collected from all over the place to come to our set on that day. The only person who didn’t come was the mother, who they said doesn’t leave much where she lives and doesn’t fly well. There was a moment where she might come anyway, but she didn’t come. So they come to the set and literally right after the incident with Cindy and the witch, they got a call that the mother had tripped and fallen and broken her hip and had to have an immediate operation. Literally, when they went down to her, she said this is Bathsheba, the witch, doing something to her. But it was that day, that afternoon, they’re all standing on our set and the mother trips and really quite seriously broke her hip and had to have it replaced. They operated that day.”
“I thought they’d be fine because they knew and it was in the middle of the daytime and everybody’s around and they’re doing his (Joe Bishara’s) make-up and fixing him up and getting him ready to do a scene, and all of a sudden, one of them bolted over to Pat. I just look up at the top of the hill and… Pat’s hugging this woman. It was Cindy. The second-to-youngest; April’s the youngest. It’s funny because we’ve been dealing with eight-year-olds and she’s 50 or whatever. But she really had a bad reaction. It was quite interesting. They all have different viewpoints on what they’ve seen. It was kind of interesting having them all there because they all had different experiences in very different ways, even the father, who kind of embraced it. We asked him, and everybody always asks him… we tried to put a little bit of this in the movie; they stayed there for ten years. Why would they not leave? He said, ‘I would have stayed. I’d still be there now.’”
Cowan continues, “His wife just really couldn’t deal with it any longer. He said to us that the ghost, witch, whatever it is, was much harsher on his wife than on him. He said he actually had good experiences with it where he would be by himself and sense that she was there or see something that felt like she was there and he said it was fine, he didn’t have any problem with it at all. So all the kids had different viewpoints. With Cindy… it was interesting; you’re never sure whether it was just an apparition or were they actually… but Cindy said that’s what it felt like she had looked like. She really felt like we had recreated it. We hadn’t done it on any way other than, ‘This is what we want it to look like,’ but she really said that was exactly what she looked like. So they do all feel like they had seen. But I also think they saw different things. Each of them saw it in a different way.”
Producer Peter Safran relayed a tale of the supernatural invading the lives of his cast. “Lorraine said there is no such thing as coincidences. I’m definitely a believer at this point. I’ll tell you one thing that was very interesting. Vera. We’d sent her the script back in December and she’s in New York… James is in LA. She got the script; she read it immediately. Got the call from her reps; she loved it and wanted to get on the phone with James on Skype the next day. So she read it that night. She went to sleep. She came back in the morning to get on her computer to Skype him and there were three deep scratches on her computer screen. Completely inexplicable. Like… they weren’t there the night before when she read the screenplay on the computer, but they were there in the morning. And there was just no way to explain what it was but stuff like that has happened constantly. A lot of people found themselves, when we were in prep, waking up between 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning, and when we mentioned this to Lorraine, she said, ‘You know that’s the Witching Hour. That is it.’ And… again… maybe it’s just in your head, but so many people were having that happen… and again, who knows what the reality of it is but it certainly… It’s in all of our consciousness at this point.”
Read our review of The Conjuring here!
Related Story: The Conjuring News Archive
Before there was Amityville, there was Harrisville. Based on a true story described in the book House of Darkness, House of Light: The True Story by Andrea Perron, 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.
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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