CONJURING SOME HEAD-SPINNING VISUAL VOODOO MAGIC There is a moment, approximately midway through THE CONJURING 2, where everything began to spin out of control. I’m not referring to the mechanics of plot or the quality of the film’s direction, all of which were predictably solid. No, what I’m talking about is a comparably innocuous scene, amidst all of the haunting and possession, where our paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are listening to the recording of a little girl’s voice. As the tape begins to play, the audience perspective – meaning what we are seeing through the camera lens – begins to do one of those slow spins above the recorder on the table below. It’s the kind of shot that we’ve all seen numerous times before, so ingrained into our collective filmgoing experience now that it barely warrants a moment’s thought, except perhaps among the biggest of film geeks. But this one was different somehow. As I circled above the table, in the form of a filmmaker’s camera, an overwhelming sense of lightheadedness began to overtake me. The spin in question was not a particularly long one, nor was it so fast that its obvious intention was to make the audience feel dizzy. I withdrew my hand from the popcorn bucket, thinking that maybe all that butter was indeed giving me a stroke. The scene came to an end, as did the movie, and my date and I left the theater with a sense of satisfaction at the fine, spooky bit of cinematic storytelling we had just witnessed. It was a great follow-up to the original film, prompting my partner to say that she liked it even more than the first one. On the drive home, however, she commented that she almost had to step out for a moment because she had felt sick to her stomach. “It was the scene where they were listening to the tape recorder,” she said. Now, let me say that I watched THE CONJURING for the third time, just last night, and have finally come to love the movie. At first it was a case of what I like to call the Forrest Gumps, where something doesn’t even come close to living up to all the hype when I finally get to see it. Several people whose cinematic tastes I trust boasted that this was the scariest movie they had seen in years. Well, it wasn’t. The second viewing was somewhat better, being nearly a year after the movie was released, with most of the high expectation having faded. But it all came together for me last night. Spooky as hell, emotionally involving. Sure, the clapping-game sequence was just as scary as everyone had said. But even better, for me, was the bit where the little girl is terrified by something standing in the corner of her bedroom. Something that only she can see. She’s pointing to the darkness-drenched space just behind the door. Her sister can’t see it. The audience can’t see it. But we know that it’s there, just waiting. Classic. There is a scene that felt something like this one in THE CONJURING 2. As with the first film, we are introduced to a family besieged by the supernatural, getting sufficient time to like and care about them before the ghostly shit hits the fan. The sequence in particular is one which horror fans, or those with particularly nightmarish childhoods, will immediately recognize. The camera shows us the darkened corner, with lots of space in which something can hide. There’s lots of build-up. The little girl looks under her bed, then sits back up. There’s nothing but blackness swirling behind her. She looks into that corner again, and you have no choice but to look with her. You stare into that space, waiting for the first appearance of unnatural movement. The first shadow that’s just a little darker than all the other shadows. There’s something in the room with you and it’s definitely not good. You can’t run and screaming won’t help. The only option is to pull the covers over your head and hope it all just goes away. But as the footsteps thump louder and louder, the bad thing getting closer and closer, you know that a blanket is very little protection against evil. This scene, though familiar, was carried out better here than I may have ever seen it done. My heart was thudding, my body tensed like a violin string, peering through the fingers that I had tried to hide behind. Like the scene with the tape recorder, it’s all a bunch of cinematic trickery. But when something really gets under my skin, I have to figure out how it was done. Speculating about the tape recorder scene, my girl and I wondered if they might have used some kind of infrasound in the movie. You know, the low-frequency pitch just below what human beings normally hear, said to invoke fear, unease, and even nausea without our being aware of it. Both the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series and Gaspar Noe‘s IRREVERSIBLE claimed to have used such sound to reinforce the unsettling events they put on the screen. It was true that one of the biggest jump-scares for me in this movie included the effective use of sound (it involves a makeshift tent set up by one of the children at the end of the hall, and that’s all that I’ll say). But that damn tape recorder scene . . . it felt like more than just audio sleight-of-hand to me. There was definitely a visual element to my disorientation. As with the first movie, THE CONJURING 2 is something great to look at and is predicted to be one of the highest grossing horror movies of the year. There is a beautiful tracking shot early in the film, before anything spooky has really even begun, where we seem to float through the entire Enfield house. We truly get a feeling of the space the Hodgsons inhabit. When a movie is so nicely composed as this one, it’s easy to immediately give credit to the director. James Wan, in this case, has certainly proven himself to be a stellar talent, through such bloody, spooky beauties as SAW, DEAD SILENCE, and INSIDIOUS (not to mention, an impressive foray into action vroom-vroom with FURIOUS 7). While he definitely plays a part in how everything looks, sometimes more and sometimes less, this is truly the work of the cinematographer. The man behind the visual voodoo magic in both of these movies is Don Burgess. A 60-year old veteran cinematographer, he preceded his cinematic career with black-and-white still photography. From there he began making Super 8 movies with his friends, then moved on to shooting sports documentaries to conquer the art of action. He’s worked on a wide variety of genres, collaborating with Robert Zemeckis on five films (ironically, winning an Oscar nomination for his work on – that’s right, you guessed it – FORREST GUMP). His modus operandi is to guide the audience, making them look where you want them to. It’s not only the words on a script, the guidance of an expert director, nor the palpable skills of great actors, all of which are present here, but the camera which tells a story. In THE CONJURING 2, we witness Burgess’ mastery of the camera as a storytelling tool, doing much to scare the shit out of us with a simple pan or tilt. His camera, and, hence, the audience’s eyes, stalk through the movie like an ominous spirit. This guy knows his way around in the darkness. He makes great use of the shadows in every corner and of audience fear, and expectation, that we are going to see something awful. Equally effective as the earlier tracking shot, though far spookier, is a scene in which Ed Warren attempts to invoke the spirit which has dug itself into the little girl. The scenery behind him, where she is sitting in an old chair, goes blurry. Ed’s face is the only thing we can see clearly, while in the background there is a shape. Morphing. Mutating. Throbbing with malice and the unknown. It’s all the more freaky because we never get to clearly see it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for the gore. However, the scariest moments come not with CGI, jump-scares, or what is actually shown onscreen, but with the terrors we are encouraged to imagine. It’s in this way that James Wan and Don Burgess are using our own minds against us. Maybe I didn’t find THE CONJURING scary enough the first couple of times because I just wasn’t using my own imagination. But I am now, and I can’t imagine how the hell they made my head spin this way. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Shawn EH I don’t remember feeling disoriented in the film, but I was riveted!