Thursday, March 22, 2012

Abandoned Cabin Fever: "Conjurer" (2008)

Director/co-writer Clint Hutchison treads into overly familiar territory with this well made horror film.

Photographer Shawn (Andrew Bowen) and wife Helen (Maxine Bahns) head to the countryside after the tragic loss of their unborn child. They move into an old farmhouse formerly owned by Marlin's (Tom Nowicki) mother. Helen's brother, Frank (a seemingly ageless John Schneider), is going to build the still hurting couple a new house on the land near the old house. City bred Shawn reluctantly tries to settle in to country life, as Helen transforms back into her old self. But what about that little abandoned cabin on the back of the property?

While exploring the cabin, Shawn finds a jar containing some teeth, and punctures his thumb- an oozing wound that doesn't seem to heal. Helen and Shawn become sexually active again and Helen is pregnant right away. A progressively nervous Shawn seems happy, but he begins hearing creepy sounds coming from the surrounding woods, and a large crow is suddenly haunting the farmhouse. Shawn tries to get back into photography again, which opens up a whole new aspect to the creepy weirdness (including one jump scare involving Shawn's photographs that had the remaining seven hairs on my head stand up straight).

Shawn investigates and according to a neighbor, and Marlin's elderly mother (Edith Ivey), the cabin was cursed by a Civil War era "conjurer," or witch, who has a special interest in pregnant Helen blissfully goes about setting up the new baby's nursery.

I recognized leading man Andrew Bowen from some regional electric co-op ads on television, and he is fantastic as Shawn. His character is nicely written, including a past family tragedy that adds some depth without seeming forced, and Bowen is natural and likable. Bahns also scores as Helen, she brings a sad undercurrent to the role that often had me ill at ease. Schneider plays a good protective older brother to Helen, not once could I think of a "Dukes of Hazzard" joke.

Hutchison's direction is also sure and solid. The photography and locations are great, and the creepy sound design works. I did have huge issues with the screenplay, though. The pacing lags near the middle as a viewer can only watch a character enter an abandoned cabin so many times. There are many creepy small moments but not enough big scares, and the very pat ending was so frustrating and overly convenient (and makes little sense the more I thought about it), I had to rein in my initial enthusiasm.

"Conjurer" has enough to very slightly recommend it, and I found it an improvement over Hutchison's ultimately forgettable "Terror Tract"...what's with this guy and housing developments, anyway? (* * *) out of five stars.