'The Conjuring' Is a Haunting, Elevated

By shifting it's point of view from a hapless family to a pair of seasoned demon hunters, The Conjuring ends up being a pleasantly frightful experience.

The Conjuring

Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
Distributor: Warner
Rated: Pg-13
Release date: 2013-10-22

Let’s be honest, the main reason we watch horror movies is because we like to be scared. We experience a euphoric adrenaline rush while watching characters escape death time and time again. “Got-ya” moments provide a quick jolt, while long suspenseful scenes make us squirm in our seats with tension. James Wan’s The Conjuring toys with both of these tactics, but it is the successful use of the latter, combined with well attuned character development, cinematography and production design, that sets it apart from most other horror offerings.

Wan’s film sets us up with an unusual pair of protagonists for a haunted house story. Ed and Lorraine Warren are a husband/wife team of psychics / parapsychologists / demonhunters / crackpots (their words, not mine) famous for getting to the root of paranormal disturbances (and, as in one featured case, noisy old heating pipes). Often these types of characters are regulated to the deus ex machina of horror movies. They come in halfway through the movie to provide background on the entity terrorizing whichever family failed to do research on their new home. The Warren’s are based on a real life couple of the same name who have documented hundreds of hauntings, including the Amityville House on Long Island (on which most of these similar typed haunted house movies are based). He’s the only demon hunter recognized by the Pope; she’s has some parapsychic abilities. They have a daughter, a great repartee, and take the risks of their work very seriously.

As they should. Given the nature of the current haunting they become vulnerable--perhaps more so than the family who they are helping. The Perrons share a similar background with other haunted house families: two parents, not a lot of money, a brood of five daughters, an offer they couldn’t refuse on a large old house in the middle of nowhere. They experience a series of mysterious happenings, contact the Warrens, and, instead of things getting better, they only get worse. The presence of the heroes, the supernatural experts, only makes the spirits more volatile and the experience more terrifying.

As the audience, we experience this elevated terror largely due to our with our connection to the Warrens. The Warren’s background story provides a particular subtext to the haunting plot that raises the stakes for all involved.The Conjuring has its protagonists quickly discover the motive behind the haunting, which has the near immediate effect of making the case more dangerous, and the film more suspenseful. By giving the film a directionality and purpose beyond “ambiguous evil spirit with uncertain plans”, Wan creates something much more concrete and menacing to the characters and their lives.

It’s this type of plotting that helps elevate the film’s tension. There’s not just one demonic entity, but a plethora of them waiting in the Warren’s history that could come back to wreak physical and psychological havoc at any time. Some of these loaded guns go off, some don’t--but there always remains the possibility that our heroes are never truly out of danger. And while one or two of these smoking guns may seem like dangling plot threads, for a genre based on fear and anticipation, it’s nice to keep the scissors sharp without actually having them cut (and build for the inevitable sequel).

The Conjuring implements the usual PG-13 horror tropes of semi-gory closeups and loud noises, but when combined with a conjunction of long takes and steadicam shots that build tension, the shock scares don’t seem as cheap. The steadicam shots guide us through the house. Noises coming from every direction; tension builds as the camera follows behind a character, allowing us only fleeting glimpses as to what may or may not be in front of them. Shadows lurk around every corner-possibly hiding something dangerous. In one scene, one of the Perron daughters claims to see something creeping behind her bedroom door. Is it lurking in the hallway? Did we just miss it before the camera turned away? What’s that blurry object in the room across the hall? What about that shadow behind the door? Wan lets, the scene play out, the camera looking over the actors shoulder into the darkness, the characters squirming in fear.

Through the combination of video and audio effects, the house becomes a character. Everything from the ugly wallpaper, to the wood paneling and crummy horsehair plaster walls (no modern drywall here) gives a sense of believability to the old farmhouse. To any horror movie fan, it screams “Do not move in here! Bad things will happen!” Very early in the film, the camera roves the halls as the Perrons move in, the daughters playing “hide-and-clap” as the audience gets an understanding of the layout of the house. This knowledge becomes important when things go thumping about in the night, as we know exactly where and who the ghost is attacking, and, more importantly, how far away our protagonists are from helping them. ---interesting paragraph

The picture on the DVD/Blu-Ray combo is clear enough that all the clever mise-en-scènes employed by Wan and his team are easily readable and intentionally ambiguous. Sound is wonderfully mixed--I could easily discern characters whispering to each other without having to turn the sound down when things started to crazy.

Extras include a general EPK with Wan, a couple of producers, and members of the cast talking about how he has been able to elevate the genre beyond blood and guts with his ability to simply craft tension and build characters (certainly ironic, seeing he was the mastermind behind Saw, which put him on the horror radar and helped boost similar splatter-fests). Another segment provides some history on the Warrens and their cases (including a few featured in the film) and a third features the real-life Perron family talking about their experiences (which, given the way they are presented here, doesn’t do much to credit their story).

The Conjuring takes a run-of-the-mill haunting story and elevates it through character perspective and an expert use of cinematography, sound and production design. Wan takes pains to raise his genre beyond cheap scares and low-budget slop, pulling from classic horror and Hitchcock. It pays off and the result is pleasantly terrifying.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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