Review: ‘Conjurer’

An atmospheric and cerebral ghost story.

Following a personal tragedy, art photographer Shawn Burnett (Andrew Bowen) moves to the countryside with his wife, Helen (Maxine Bahns). While waiting for a home to be built with money borrowed from Helen’s brother Frank (John Schneider), the subject of an old cabin on the property becomes the focus of Shawn’s attention after learning about the shack’s local history. As Shawn’s interest turns to obsession, a neglected wife and her concerned brother begin to question Shawn’s sanity, but will the trail of clues pointing to a vengeful spirit threatening his family push him into taking action before it’s too late?

Writer and director Clint Hutchison assembled this creepy thriller intent on spooking the imagination of genre fans. The final product looks good and conveys all the dread necessary to tell the story, but there are more than a few moments where, either due to editing or questionable acting, the story struggles to get to the next stage. Viewers will probably reach the point where they want action taken well ahead of when the main character finally decides to act, but final cut is above average for these types of films and shows promise for the future of the filmmakers involved.

The overall production reminds me of the under-appreciated The Messengers, which has a very similar setup but centers around a teenage daughter rather than a childless father. The “villain” for The Messengers is also questionable, but those additional dimensions helped to keep the creepiness factor up to carry it through, especially in the critical second act when both stories transition from setup to action sequence. To be fair, however, The Messengers had a considerable special effects budget to fall back on, whereas Conjurer manages with smaller effects and clever cinematography.

Of the smaller horror/thriller films I’ve viewed in the last year, Conjurer is my second favorite behind the almost surprisingly good Deadwood Park. To the credit of Conjurer, filmmakers managed to create a very intimate story with very few locations, but in viewing the finished footage afterward, there were plenty of tweaks that could have been added and accomplished to make it even better. It’s very likely that the shoot was rushed and unable to add pickups or re-shoots to cement the best concepts, and the result is more than a few questions left over that, including the epilogue, feel left out rather than unanswered or left up to interpretation. We’re looking forward to what Mr. Hutchison and his imagination create next, because Conjurer shows the promise of more spine-tingling things to come.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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