Sorry to all my readers for such the long hiatus between summer and, well the 2019.
To play a sort of catch up while I work on a complete 2019 list of films I saw in theatres, I will be taking a look at a horror film I’ve never seen before: The Conjuring (2013). Though a relativity new release, this film has already become synonymous with other Halloween and Horror classics. I initially planned to complete this review in October (when I watched it) but alas.
Warning: This is a Spoiler Review
Directed by James Wan and Written by Carey and Chads Hayes, The Conjuring tells the story of paranormal investigators and demonologists Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Warren’s 1971 investigation of the Perrons’ residence in Rhode Island. There, in the secluded farmhouse they recently moved to, Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor), Roger Perron (Ron Livingston), and their five daughters experience strange, supernatural occurrences that threaten not only their safety, but their lives, forcing the family to seek help from the Warrens.
There’s a lot to like about this movie. First, director James Wan (of Saw and Insidious fame) puts his directing skills to the test in the first installment of the Conjuring Universe, creating a beautiful, bleak, tense atmosphere. For me, the scariest part of the whole thing was the buildup and tension. Whether it be the music box, the sound of a clock ticking, or in the scene with the mother and daughter playing hide and clap. It made my heart stop more not knowing what I was seeing, rather than seeing a full fledged “demon face.” It made me more unsure of what will happen next, such as when Carolyn went to look in the closet (which ended up being nothing- making it all the more frightening.)
I certainly must give props to the set and costume design who really brought the time period to life as well as this dark, foreboding house. The cinematography and a lot of the sound design was also amazing, not only keeping certain things in or out of focus, but especially in certain scenes, such as Carolyn in the hallway after the pictures fell, and it’s just a long take of her investigating every room. There were also some unique choices of helping to ground the movie in the events and people it was inspired by, such as when the pov switches to taped footage of the Warrens in the basement.
The most effective scares I thought were the quieter, subtler sounds. When you see and hear the front bench swinging, with a faint voice somewhere whispering to the cop “look what she made me do.” That stuff really made my skin crawl. I think where the film seriously falters is during the final act. It reminds me of Insidious’ (also directed by James Wan) final act where everything descends into madness and shit hits the fan. However, between birds flying all over the place, the cop trying to get the youngest child away from Carolyn, to the blood curdling possession, it was all a sensory overload and too over the time in my opinion. I feel that the final act would have been much more effective if the music was lower, and it was the four of the people in the basement performing the exorcism. On top of that, The Conjuring doesn’t really do anything all that new with the whole Haunted House sub-genre of horror. While it is effective at presenting the formula in a satisfying manner with compelling and likeable characters, it doesn’t really do anything too new or unique to really elevate itself from a standard haunted house film.
Speaking of characters, I think what really elevated the film was the performances and writing, especially for Ed and Lorraine Warren. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga did a great job grounding these people in a sense of reality (especially with a career that could be very out there for many people). You really get a sense of these two people and all that they’ve been through (especially Lorraine), but even with their unique gifts, that they will do anything to protect each other. It’s incredible how they immediately step into this very desperate family’s lives and jump right into the situation, almost as if they’re talking about a leaky pipe or something else that’s second hand knowledge to them. I also really cared for the family. Even with five different girls (and the film being written by two grown men) I really loved these girls and felt each of their individual personalities, though they weren’t that deeply explored. All the kids, and especially Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as the parents, were phenomenal. You really got a sense of these people as a real, functioning family, but also their increasing fear and desperation. The acting all around was superb.
So even with a standard premise and a disappointing third act, great atmosphere, directing, cinematography, acting, and effective scares make this a solid horror film that’s worth a watch.