We're looking at our favorite fringe awards contenders just to widen the conversation. Here's Tim Brayton on the year's biggest horror hit.
Since as far back as the thudding echo of footsteps that stalked Jane Randolph in 1942's Cat People, savvy horror directors have understood that one of the surest ways to wring the audience into a terrified frenzy isn't to wage a frontal assault on our sense of taste with gallons of stage blood and pig organs, but to instead mount a side attack on our ears. Some of the scariest movies of all time have gotten that way above all because of their skillful use of sound effects, and the sound editing in director James Wan's terrific The Conjuring - led by supervisor Joe Dzuban - is so hugely important that it was even foregrounded in the film's outstanding teaser trailer. Anybody can show a ghost jump out of the darkness to give you a quick, cheap freak out. It takes genius to get the same jolt from of the well-applied use of harsh, distant clapping.
And if that's the only thing that The Conjuring had to recommend its audio landscape, we could stop right there - a terrific setpiece is fine, but not the stuff that year-end recognition is made of. But while the Clapping from Hell is easily the *showiest* aspect of the film's soundtrack, it's not at all the most important. For that, we might sooner listen to the frequent near-silence that penetrates the story's central haunted hause: to create the idea of a place that hums with danger and malevolence, the sound team literally built in humming, a deep vibration in the bass that frequently crops up just to mess with our perception. And then, there's the hard flatness of the "normal" sounds, which land on the ears with a sort of shrill hollowness. The sound contributes significantly to the feeling that this house where so much of the film's terror occurs is a dead, suffocating place.
In all great horror, the effect on the viewer isn't just created by the big gestures, but by a backdrop which permits those gestures to hit with the most impact. That describes the distorted sound of The Conjuring to a T: unrealistic and vivid and deeply unsettling. This horror hit is not dignified enough to attract trophies, but the craft, and the glorious way it knocks the viewer around, is as impressive and effective as anything with more overt artistic aspirations.
Actor Tye Sheridan | Editing Stories We Tell | Screenplay In a World... | Supporting Actor Keith Stanfield | Song The Great Gatsby | Score Nebraska | Costume Design Lawrence Anyways | Foreign Film Neighboring Sounds | Supporting Actress Cameron Diaz | Picture The Spectacular Now | Make-Up Warm Bodies | Sound Mixing World War Z | Director Edgar Wright | Production Design The Conjuring | Supporting Actor Ulysses the Cat