Written by HT Schuyler.
The Conjuring was my most anticipated film for 2013. It was getting great reviews from test audiences, has a great cast, sounded scary and above all else, was the latest film by James Wan, who is easily one of my favourite working directors. After it started getting many positive reviews my anticipation grew, and finally I stepped into the theatre and was ready to see what I was sure was going to be a great horror experience. So…was it?
In 1971, The Perron family moves into an old house out in the country with high hopes and lots of ambition. But soon things start getting freaky as clocks stop moving, apparitions keep appearing, and a collection of chilling events lead them to enlist the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) two paranormal investigator who go and inspect the house, only to notice many sinister warnings with insidious intentions, leading them to fear for the lives of the family members, causing them to take on their most terrifying and difficult job of their careers.
A lot of horror films benefit from having many unknown actors in them, but occasionally a horror film can also benefit from having known and capable actors in them as well, without it becoming distracting. The Conjuring is one of those films, as having the talented cast that it does really makes the drama that more interesting, and the scared reactions that much more effective. Patrick Wilson is excellent as always, giving his character a sense of confidence and professionalism, which transcends into desperation towards the end. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga have great chemistry and act off each other very well, portraying their on screen relationship as realistic and interesting, making elements of the films climax that much more interesting. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor are great as the parents dealing with the supernatural, initially sceptic about the horror that surrounds them, then fast to act and ultimately desperate to save their family towards the end. Lili Taylor especially excels as there are many scenes carried by her reaction and performance, which she does extremely well. The other actors, mostly made up of the family’s daughters but also consisting of the comic relief cop (John Brotherton) and the Warren’s kid sidekick (Shannon Kook), and while they do a good job when they’re on screen they aren’t really given a chance to do anything that interesting besides look scared, but hey, their terror looked realistic, really making the scares leave that much more of an impact.
I’ve said time and time again that the highest praise I can give a horror film is that it actually is scary, and indeed, this film is definitely that. There are so many scary visuals that actually are effective and really stick with you, and a lot of that comes from Wan’s brilliant direction, and what he decides to show and what he decides to leave to the imagination. There are some many shots that make you feel that your are in the house with the family, and leaves such a strong impression that you’re be in that mindset long after the film is over. The scary visuals are beyond effective, and the reveal of some of the scary visuals combined with the great music accompanying it provides to be that much more unsettling. The story is constantly interesting and intense, and there is even a moment that I would go as far as to say epic towards the end when Patrick Wilson’s character must make an extremely hard decision and come to terms with what he knows he must do to save a life. The entire ending set piece is one horrifying twist after another, and by the time it’s over you’re just cowering in your seat gasping for breath. Despite the film being beyond strong in its horror aspects, it also excels very well on the dramatic aspects, giving the main characters real depth and making you sympathize and root for them to get out safe and sound. While the film doesn’t exactly revolutionize the genre, it incorporates all the best things about horror since the dawn of the genre and packs it all into one big terrifying experience. The movie also plays tribute to classics from the 70’s in a really great way, with the tone and even the title sequence being a direct throwback to that decade, which, as a horror fan, was beyond awesome.
The film is a little under two hours long, and while the length didn’t bother me or anything, it really didn’t need to be that long, as there are many scene of dialogue that are pretty useless and only their to give some characters some depth, but many of the sub plots they come up with don’t go anywhere, and are ignored by the end of the film. There is a sub plot involving Ed getting over something tragic that happened to Lorraine, but it goes nowhere, and is far from resolved at the end of the film. There are also lots of scenes that are only there to build tension, but don’t really go anywhere, and are just there to get the audience at the edge or their seat, but ultimately build nothing and add nothing to the story. While the dialogue is decent throughout, there are some really bad lines with almost embarrassing delivery in some scenes, to the point where I was cracking up at some of the scenes. Especially a scene with Vera Farmiga and Lili Taylor’s character talking about a fun day the beach their family once had, and while it does come back into play later in the film, it’s still pretty goofy and oddly out of place. The opening scene of the film, while it is very scary and introduces that scary as shit doll, it is really only there for a cheap scare and so they can bring that doll back later for another scare, but it really didn’t need to be there. I still enjoyed it though, and it made me really want to see a Dead Silence 2, hint hint nudge nudge…
This movie loses major points for me for including my most hated movie trope of all time; and that is having a dog for the sole purpose of killing it. Some horror movies it sort of makes sense, and comes into play later, but here it literally is only there for a cheap emotional tug from the audience. The dog is introduced, and it doesn’t want to go into the house. The next scene it’s dead, and that’s it, it is never refereed to again and serves absolutely no purpose. I know it seems like I’m making a big deal out of this but it’s such a pathetic cliche that really pisses me off, and a cliche I assumed James Wan was better than. Maybe the real Perron’s dog really did die at some point, but it’s such a pointless addition to the film it ultimately had no place being in there.
Horror is my favourite film genre for many reasons, one of them being how wide and diverse the topics can be. They can be about possessions and exorcisms, they can be about ghosts and haunting, they can be about scary objects such as dolls that pop up every now and again for a quick scare, but they can also be smart thrillers with intense plots and filled with psychological thrills that really stick with you. Many films cover these topics time and time again, usually with a gimmick or two to try to separate them from each other. So, in a genre full of fine examples of diverse subject matters relating to horror, what is it that makes The Conjuring stand out? Well, simply put it combines all these subjects matter into one dramatic, interesting, and above all else terrifying film experience that will stick with you in vivid detail, whether you want it to or not. Not only the best horror movie of the year so far, but one of the standouts from the past decade, and surely destined to become a classic.