Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Modern horror movies have become little more than fictionalized snuff films, with few scares and less humanity. While horror need not satirize society as George Romero’s seminal zombie pictures did or tap into a zeitgeist anxiety like THE EXORCIST, it should at the very least frighten its audience. This gripping tale of paranormal terror does just that. Based ostensibly on a true story, the film is set primarily in 1971 in and around a Rhode Island farmhouse with a past that includes witchcraft and filicide. Unaware of this Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) move into the rustic home with their five lively daughters. Strange noises, sentient doors opening and closing, and frequent sleepwalking by one of the girls, quickly fray the family’s nerves. After they begin to explore the cluttered, dusty cellar, the phenomena increase and become more malevolent, so the Perrons turn to paranormal experts Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson). Lorraine, a psychic recovering from an exorcism gone awry, persuades her husband, a demonologist with ties to the Catholic Church, to verify the claim. The Warrens surmise that a demon has attached itself to the Perrons and soon discover it has done the same to them when it starts threatening their daughter as well. With admirable restraint writers Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes parcel out hints of the impending horror in the film’s first half. Director James Wan shrewdly follows this example, using off-screen sounds and vague shapes lurking at the edge of vision or just out of focus to foment anxiety. As the demon begins to manifest itself Wan uses misdirection and asymmetrical framing to create a palpable sense of dread and keep the viewer off balance. His most potent tool, however, is his remarkable cast. Wilson’s wonky sincerity and Livingston’s flannel-shirted stability lend credibility to the escalating events, while Taylor and Farmiga, with their ferocious commitment within the film’s genre trappings, draw us in. We experience their desperate terror when the scares come and, in the end, their relief, and take comfort in the triumph of human decency.

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