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Can We Talk About Lili Taylor in ‘The Conjuring’?

This week, we’re highlighting some of the year’s most underrated performances that deserve wider recognition. Today we look at Lili Taylor’s return to the horror genre in ‘The Conjuring.’

Lili Taylor has a reputation as being one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood. While some will forever associate her with her role as Jo, the nervous bride in Mystic Pizza (i.e me), Taylor has worked with an incredible group of directors throughout her career—Robert Altman, Mary Harron, Stephen Frears and John Sayles to name a few.  Always adaptable, Lili also has done significant work in the horror genre.In addition to starring in Abel Ferrara’s black and white Vampire movie, The Addiction, back in 1995, Taylor also starred in the 1999 remake of The Haunting and was featured in the 2013 Netflix series, Hemlock Grove.The opportunity to appear in James Wan’s The Conjuring allowed Lili Taylor to add to her horror repertoire in a significant way. In the film she plays Carolyn Perron, a woman who joins her husband, Roger, in moving their family of 5 girls into a rundown secluded farmhouse in Rhode Island. It’s the 70s and times are tight for the hardworking couple. Carolyn runs the household while Roger, a trucker, is gone for long periods of time. Though their financial troubles are never discussed in depth, Taylor shows the strain on her face as she attempts to convince the girls to be open to their new environment.

As the family begins to experience paranormal activity, Taylor’s Carolyn grows less and less sure about the home. In a particularly frightening sequence, she believes she is following one of her daughters down to the basement, but finds herself trapped at the top of a stairs with a ghost. Wan and cinematographer John R. Leonetti work with Taylor to maximize the effects of her lighting matches to get a glimpse of her tormentor. As Taylor’s hands tremble in the darkness, she uses her bright eyes to display her elevating level of terror. When ghostly hands appear behind Carolyn, the audience can’t help but scream along with her.

As Taylor’s hands tremble in the darkness, she uses her bright eyes to display her elevating level of terror. 

What’s interesting is how Wan and Taylor show the stages of Carolyn’s possession—it’s doesn’t just happen overnight. As Taylor begins her physical transformation, she is unsteady on her feet, easily able to brush off her family’s concern as by claiming that she has a case of the flu. When bruises begin to appear on her body, Taylor as Carolyn shakes them off as hazards of the move. As the situation worsens and sores begin to appear near her mouth, Taylor does a miraculous job of conveying Carolyn’s demonic transformation—her eyes begin to look hollow, her reaction time is slower and her movements alarmingly stiffen.

Wan is a known advocate for practical effects that solidify The Conjuring’s place in the horror genre. As the possessed Carolyn, Taylor has no need of CGI or camera tricks. She contorts her mouth in horrible positions, rolls her eyes back into her skull, and screams at the top of her lungs. Her body movements become jerky and unnatural—you easily buy her ability to fling her husband around the room.  While special effects compliments of Justin Raleigh do assist Taylor’s becoming one with her inner demon, some of the scariest moments in the film occur when her face is covered with a bag as her friend Lorraine attempts an exorcism. The guttural cries of rage and anguish are undeniably coming from the marvelous Taylor.Taylor makes Carolyn’s eventual return to normal equally believable.  There is an indescribable look on Taylor’s tear streaked face—full of relief, shock, confusion, but most of all, love for her daughter. Taylor’s convincing performance puts the audience through an ordeal that mirrors Carolyn’s and her joy at being herself is shared by all.  

As the possessed Carolyn, Taylor has no need of CGI or camera tricks. 

Though the Perrons won’t be back in The Conjuring 2 (it will focus on the famous Enfield poltergeist in England), Taylor’s unique and powerful on-screen presence will surely be missed. However, with The Conjuring writers Chad and Carey Hayes back onboard, this still will be a horror sequel with great potential.



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