The Conjuring (2013)

These last few years have seen a decent turn-out when it comes to the ‘Hauntings’ genre of Horror films and this one, while certainly not the most original, is definitely a solid entry that stands on it’s own disembodied feet. The first ingredient to success in this genre (or ANY genre, for that matter) is an effective story, and having the tag ‘Based on a True Story’ always goes that extra mile when it comes to ‘rooting’ the audiences attention. Just so happens…this one comes with THAT tag.
In the early 1970s, the Perron Family (Husband, Wife, 5 daughters) moved into an old house, purchased via auction, in Rhode Island. From the first night, things began to go horribly wrong for everyone, including the family dog who wisely avoided entering the residence…only to be inexplicably found dead the next day. From there, many of the expected symptoms of a haunting or possession became apparent. Rancid smells, sounds when there shouldn’t be sounds, people being touched and grabbed in the dark, cold spots and glimpses of spectral figures. Not to mention the fact that the wife/mother Carolyn (Lily Taylor) woke up every morning looking like she was in a bar fight the night before…with no knowledge of why. Naturally, when it becomes undeniable that there is something seriously amiss on the property, the traumatized family seeks out the assistance of a ‘demonologist’ named Ed (Patrick Wilson) and his clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), known as authorities on possession and ‘hauntings’. Despite some initial reluctance, the duo opt to investigate. Immediately, Lorraine senses something powerfully dark and vengeful around (and attached to) the scared family. And thus begins the investigation/’cleansing’.
Director James Wan, who studios must just love due to his prize-winning ability to deliver quality horror/thrillers on a fraction of most films budgets, adds another genre hit to his already impressive filmography; a filmography that started off with Saw (2004) and continued on with flicks like Dead Silence (2007), Death Sentence (2007) and Insidious (2010)…all solid movies. The fact that he’s doing the next Fast and Furious P.o.S. kills me. The man knows how to milk tension from a scene and there are many in ‘The Conjuring’ that get screwed good n tight as they progress. Many of the scares and stylistic influences can be seen to anyone who knows classic horror, especially from the 70s. You will instantly catch the references and ‘shout-outs’ to many that came before. I saw the distinct ‘flavorings’ of ‘The Amityville Horror’ (1979), ‘The Shining’ (1980), ‘Poltergeist’ (1982) and ‘The Dark Half’ (1990) scattered throughout this flick. Ordinarily, that could just be written off as lazy and unoriginal, but Wan takes these elements and brings them to the stage with a capable sense of sincerity. You acknowledge them as obvious references…but also as being well-crafted in their own right. It’s like he’s ‘High-5’ing the classics with his own version of them.
After this review, I fully intend to do some research into both Ed and Lorraine Warren as well as the Perron Family and the TRUE story behind this flick. If even half of what this film claims is real, then some freaky motherfuckin shit went down at that residence in early 1970s Rhode Island!
Something that I found cool was that, in spite of the singular focus of the film (the haunting of the Perron Family), it still manages to inject a freaky little micro-plot involving a hellishly deformed doll from Gawd-knows-when; a doll that we see in a tone-setting prologue where the Warrens detail a recent case involving a demonic entity, and it’s use of the doll as a “conduit”. Given that the Warrens are handed a hefty chunk of the narrative focus, their own fears and anxieties (stemming from a near-failure of an past exorcism) are compounded when they get themselves set upon for their ‘interference’ with the stricken Perrons. The damn doll plays into THAT.
The acting here is a step above what actually would’ve been needed to tell this story…and I, for one, appreciated it. Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy) and Vera Farmiga (The Departed) stood out in particular, as I found myself rooting for them to overcome this entity, as well as their own private fears and challenges. There were scenes where it was just the two of them speaking privately, and it felt refreshingly genuine. They came off as a couple who were together not just out of love (which is made apparent), but also from a sense of mutual understanding of the bizarre and terrible things they’ve had to experience together. Ron Livingston (Office Space) and Lily Taylor (Four Rooms) were also good together as the elder Perrons, Roger and Carolyn, with some naturalistic interplay between them and their 5 girls. The 5 young actresses playing the daughters did what was needed well, especially when it came to conveying a sense of ‘scared-shitless terrified’. Some of the most effective ‘chills’ came from just watching a couple of these girls ‘react’ to that which WE couldn’t see.
Speaking of ‘seeing’, it’s worth mentioning that the visual presentation is well-conceived…and executed. As the story gets moving, the camera is nicely restrained, using a lot of simple pans, tilts, tracks and steadi-cam shots to establish the Perrons settling into their new ‘digs’, with a couple of really competent ‘long’ shots flowing through the build-up. As the horror begins to mount, the camera ‘moves’ and compositions act in a way that reflects this. Frantic hand-held shots, some creepy ‘found footage’ material, shots that shoot through scenes in time to scary-ass sounds and reactions, all become more and more prevelant as the tension and the stakes rise. In conjunction with this, Wan also opted to use a somewhat ‘bleached’ look for the lighting and colors, which effectively ‘killed two birds with one stone’, in that he’s both throwing an homage to the horror movies of the 70s, while also visually helping set the tone of the period, also the 70s.
Speaking of the 70s (again), the attention to period details was great, from the costuming to the cars to the slang. It didn’t feel ‘set-up’.
All in all, The Conjuring was exactly what it needed to be. It’s a competently-told horror film that relies more on atmosphere and creepy thrills as opposed to vulgar displays of wanton gore and violence to scare the audience. To the more discerning film-goer, you WILL see the influences but in this case, that’s hardly a bad thing. ‘The Conjuring’ is a well executed ‘haunting’ flick, with roots in a supposedly ‘true story’, and enough chilly thrills to keep you interested and invested till the credits roll…if this type of movie is your ‘thing’.

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