Conjurer

December 29th, 2014 by Vomitron

Conjurer   conjurer affiche 85x120 thriller reviews reviews horror drama Director: Clint Hutchison
Writer: Clint Hutchison and David Yarbrough
Release Year: 2008

Don’t mess with the cabin.

After having suffered a miscarriage, Helen Burnett (Maxine Bahns) and her photographer husband Shawn Burnett (Andrew Bowen) move to a house on the country side. What was intended to be a fresh new chapter in their lives, will soon become frighteningly entangled with the supernatural, as the land comes with a legend of witchery and hauntings.

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Right of the bat, what we have here is an indie horror movie with a ghostly nature and a witching theme done right. But let’s have a look first at the main person behind it, writer/director Clint Hutchison. He’s been at the movie making game for a while now, but succeeds in maintaining a rather low profile in which quality over quantity shines through. Starting out with contributing visual effects to ’80s genre hits the likes of ‘The Lost Boys’ (1987) and ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors’ (1987), he re-surfaced again a good ten years later as a co-director on ‘House On Terror Tract’ (2000), a fairly well-hidden little horror anthology gem worthy of discovering.

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In 2006 he produced the surprisingly entertaining werewolf movie ‘Big Bad Wolf’. Two years later, he sat himself in the director’s chair again for his first full length feature ‘Conjurer’. While also being an editor, Hutchison no doubt is a smart man as well, because he helmed his debut film as a writer/director and left co-producing, editing and what-not-else in other capable hands. I’ll just chalk that up to the years of experience he has had, hence not making the same mistake most budding indie film makers are guilty of: trying/wanting to do everything themselves – most likely out of vanity, so they can have multiple credits to their name – and falling flat on their asses while at it. Unlike them, Hutchison remained steady on both his feet while making ‘Conjurer’. And the result speaks for itself.

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‘Conjurer’ leans towards the American way of telling a ghost story – as opposed to most films coming from the UK, Japan or Spain – but manages to avoid many of the general trappings and clichés its bigger budgetted genre brethren do fall into. For example, the use of CGI is kept to a minimum when it comes to the ghostly apparitions. The film doesn’t rely too much on loud and easy jump-scares and also focusses on the main protagonist couple as a pivot element to construct the whole story around them, instead of adding characters for the mere sake of increasing the body count or enriching the film with death scenes that serve little other purpose than to amp up the shocks and thrills. ‘Conjurer’ didn’t need all that, since its strength lies in the characters, their well-written background stories and the slow-brooding atmosphere and pacing. And yes, of course, you’ll also be getting a few creepy moments and unsettling scares; some fine low-key visual effects included. A bit of a shame, though, that Hutchison didn’t have more means to accomplish ‘Conjurer’. While the film is well-made and adequately shot, it could have used a bit of enhancement involving the look of the cinematography. Ken Blakey did a good job shooting it, and so did Hutchison directing it. But more thorough color grading in post-production to crank things up a notch, would have left a better impression on the general production values as opposed to the quite “natural” look the film is left with now.

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While one could argue that a type of film like ‘Conjurer’ has been done before, or pointing out certain elements as being clichés, don’t forget we’re dealing with genre conventions here. We’ve all seen protagonist characters with a traumatizing background story, and here we get not one but two such characters: Helen and Shawn. The loving couple has their mutual cross to bear, for one thing, but Shawn also has a sinister skeleton hiding in his closet. And what matters, is how the plot is constructed, because both background stories are entangled with the main story of the film, which in itself also incorporates a history of its own. To summarize: Helen and Shawn move into a house on the country side, unaware that the land they’re about to live on comes with a legend. A witch once lived on the property, inhabiting an isolated cabin. Her spirit not only still haunts the premises, but turns out to have some particular demands as well, from those who take up residence in the house. Or, is Shawn slowly losing his marbles?

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Given the task at hand and being the young but not inexperienced players they are, Andrew Bowen and Maxine Bahns do a good job carrying the film as Shawn and Helen Burnett. The drama in the screenplay calls for a fair range of emotions to go through, and not only do Bowen and Bahns handle it capably, never overacting anything, they also have a pleasant on-screen chemistry together, which makes them all the more believable and, as it should be, a leading couple that we care about. John Schneider, as Helen’s brother Frank, is the only vaguely familiar face in the cast and seems to be enjoying the fact that he’s in a better scripted film than the usual fair he stars in on a regular basis. Hutchison and co-writer David Yarbrough play out some fine cards throughout the screenplay, both entering supernatural territory and exploring things from a psychological angle, making sure all blends well together near the end. It’s nothing too complex and things unravel at a rather prudent tempo, but the story is carefully layered nonetheless.

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While most supporting characters – not all, I might add – approach Shawn’s mental breakdown due to his belief in the supernatural from a rational angle (even making him come off as psychotic when the plot reaches its climax), the attentive viewer will know it’s all in vain, eventually. Even his wife threatens to fall victim to her husband’s increasingly unhinged state of mind. However, having unwittingly witnessed some of the same manifestations her husband encountered on a different occasion – like the black crow – it should be evident that there’s more going on than Shawn’s downward spiral into psychosis, hinting at the possibility that Helen herself might be under the influence of the supernatural evil.

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Good thing about the story’s conclusion – and the whole film in general, for that matter – is that Hutchison never exaggerates. Things are subtle, yet clear and well though-out. And ‘Conjurer’ puts a little more heart and soul into matters than the more bombastic tales of ghosts, witchery, haunted houses and demonic possession that came out in recent years, making it a well-balanced and effective little gem that will surely gain a bit more recognition in years to come.


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Trailer on YouTube.

 

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