Conjurer (2008)

Conjurer reviewReviewed by Johnny Butane

Starring Andrew Bowen, Maxine Bahns, John Schneider, Tom Nowicki

Directed by Clint Hutchison

There seems to be some strange tendency coming from indie filmmakers in the South to create slow, creeping ghost stories these days. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad, it’s better than a tendency for torture porn that’s for sure, but the problem is that there’s an inherit set of limitations built into a slow, creeping ghost story. Overcoming them is difficult, but Conjurer does a decent job of keeping things fresh.

Our story follows a young couple that move out to a large, sprawling house on a big chunk of land in the sticks of some undisclosed Southern state (it was filmed in Georgia) a year after their first child dies while still in the womb. The plan is for the wife (Bahns) to get back to her roots in order to overcome the pain of their unborn baby dying. Her husband (Burnett), a city boy photographer, agrees to the move in order to help her heal despite the fact that he’s not happy about taking the charity from his cocky brother-in-law (Schneider).

Conjurer reviewHer brother is supposed to build them a new house while they rest and relax in the old one, but in order to do that the old cagin in the backyard has to be torn down. Not really a big deal, except for the fact that the cabin was once the home of a conjurer (aka a witch) who had some serious problems with dolling out curses to those who took away her baby and later had her hanged for being a witch.

Of course shortly after they show up the wife is pregnant again, and before you know it the husband is seeing and hearing the strangest things including a very persistent raven, a jar full of teeth, and a haunting screeching in the middle of the night. His neighbor fills him in on even more details of the accursed witch and her plans for babies on her property and pretty soon he’s in full-on panic mode to get his wife out of there before something terrible can happen to her or their new baby.

As slow burns go, Conjurer manages to keep things moving at a steady enough pace that the film never feels bogged down, never relying on the “creeping slowly down a hallway” or “creeping slowly towards a door” style of filmmaking that’s supposed to ratchet up tension but inevitably ends up inducing yawns. Instead the situations and occurrences the husband has to deal with get more and more bizarre so you’re always wondering what might come next.

Conjurer reviewIt doesn’t hurt that Bowen’s performance is far better than one would expect from an indie production, able to vary from caring husband to near-raving lunatic with a believable range. Maxine Bahns as the wife isn’t quite as good, delivering her lines with very little hint of emotion for most of the film, but she’s certainly easy on the eyes so that’s a plus.

As for the fear factor well … let’s just say that there are some elements put into play early on in the film that any astute viewer will see as a probable resolution a mile away. I’m not going to say what or how they work, but when they do come up you’ll know it. Still, director Hutchinson made some good sound and effects choices to give Conjurer just enough originality to keep it ahead of the indie pack.

No word on a distro deal for the film yet, but I’m sure it won’t take long for someone to snatch this up. Conjurer is a smart, tense ghost story that I’m sure will find its place among fans who are looking to avoid the usual ADD-causing jump scares and work instead on slowly witling away at your nerves.


3 out of 5

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Johnny Butane