Forget the new horror films of today (if we can even call them that ughh). The Conjuring goes back to the basics and proves that the traditional tale, if done right, can be a relentless and terrifying force. Horror movies are a great form of escapism but so often they’re just made for cheap scares… and a $$$$$ The horror genre feels as if it’s dying. The great inventive slasher movies such as A Nightmare On Elm Street and Scream are gone. Beyond some great indie horror flicks, this new age of studio horror is pure shit. However James Wan has been a fairly bright spot. I found Insidious to be quite inventive and scary with its atmosphere. Ditto with Dead Silence. This James Wan’s most complete effort. The Conjuring takes all the good things about Wan’s Dead Silence, Saw, and Insidious to create a haunted house film with a few creaks but terrifying mysteries.
Here we get the based on a true story concept. I’ve found that to be way overused in recent years as a marketing gimmick. In this movie it is completely justified because of the story and how it uses this premise to scare the viewer. I loved that the movie relentlessly attempts to scare you with it’s build up rather than release. The first 5 minutes provided me with one of the scariest scenes in recent memory.
We have a classic structure for a horror movie set up. Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) live in 1970’s Rhode Island with their 5 daughters. Lili, Ron, and the young girl actors bring a level of innocence and vulnerability with ease. The house was affordable for them, so the first few nights they don’t mind the slamming doors and other odd occurrences (classic!). These freaky events fill out the first act and Wan knows that he’s scaring because he keeps pulling from the same well. Some are obvs better than others but he’s got balls. Not all of them are executed perfectly but I admire the constant attack on the audience. Repetitive to be sure, and I found more than a few pop outs predictable, but his build up is commanding. However, it’s the scares that Wan relies on like most horror movies have to do.
The film’s backbone is a story of family. So, Wan’s talent at scaring has actual resonance beyond frights. Cinematographer John R. Leonetti’s camera feels alive and moves like a ghost through the house. There are long tracking shots throughout that masterfully create an eerie tone. Wan’s blocking during pivotal moments delivers maximum horror. It makes me giddy how well this film was shot. Aesthetically this movie is pleasing and impressive. Because we care for the family, the long scenes full of building tension are rooted in great filmmaking and character. You don’t want anything to be there….
The editing/sound design is perfectly timed and delivers creepy unnerving sounds. The score is similar to Insidious though not as inventive or freaky. The sets and costume design feel authentic and almost documentary like.
While the first act is peppered with some scares, the second act is where things get more interesting story-wise. The terrors haunting the Perron family have become too much for them to handle. They don’t know what to make of it all so they seek an outside source. Enter husband and wife ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Farmiga is MVP for sure and is the one character that ventures into 3-Dimensionality.
Ed and Lorraine are real life ghost hunters who have covered thousands of cases. Most notably “The Amityville horror.” They bring their own baggage into the Perron house and it allows the film to have objectives interlacing with the scares. We care enough to become invested and this is where Wan attempts to prey on the audience in the third act.
My big problem with Ed and Lorraine is that they aren’t scared about anything happening. They understand everything that is happening which takes away the creepy mystery. I’m left watching Ghost Hunters on the syfy channel. They’re a nice character footing but I found they’re backstory renders the films less effective towards the end. I think more story and time concentrated on them (if they were actually frightened) would have been a more interesting and compelling script choice.
When you know a scare is coming and it builds and builds and then still scares you, I have to applaud the filmmakers. At a few points I was wiggling around in my seat in fear and I felt anxious for these characters. The third act is technical wizardry despite my issues with the script. It’s just a bit short and I was waiting for a final giant climax but it never happened. The film gets so ahead of itself with scares that it can’t reach that final “classic” horror level. There’s some religious themes that felt underdeveloped and honestly a bit in your face. The characters didn’t discuss it enough to make it something of depth.
I’m not an easy scare. Luckily I saw most of the great horror movies on my own in my basement during my middle school years (the best time to experience them). It’s been quite a while since a movie in the theater has actually had me scared. What makes The Conjuring stick out is Wan’s technical prowess and a commitment to interlocking character objectives with scares. He’s got quite the horror resume now. While sometimes repetitive, and fumbling in it’s arcs and themes, the scares are always handled with conviction and talent. The use of practical effects over CGI, lack of blood/gore, cinematography and building tension make this one of the most impressive horror flicks in a few years.
Definitely go see tho because it’s an “event” horror movie that needs to be experienced with an audience. Even among it’s weaknesses it scares the crap out of me at points. While The Conjuring doesn’t reinvent the genre, it hits the checkmarks of the classic haunted house premise with nightmare tension.