Final Rating: 8.1/10
Horror movies tend to feel like porn movies. There is a rushed plot to get to the thrills of the movie. Most modern horror movies lack any form of grace because of this, regardless of how well done certain aspects of the movie may be. The Conjuring tends to stray away from most horror cliches and, for the most part, does a sterling job in making a legitimately scary movie that is also a good movie as a whole.
What is based on, apparently, a true story, The Conjuring depicts the “real” events that the Perron family experienced and the Warren couple investigated during the 70s. The Perron family are lead by Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston, while the husband and wife duo of investigators are played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. All four of these leads do a great job in their own different ways. Livingston works well as the provoker of questions to further the story line, Taylor is a sweet caregiver of whom is very open for control, Wilson is the wit and the anchor while Farmiga is the heart and the fighter. That’s right: We have characters that aren’t disposable.
In fact, it is shocking to see how much of the movie is based more on the sanity of everyone in these specific situations as opposed to how in danger they are. Director James Wan saves the threatening aspects of the movie for the right places. On that note, that’s what makes The Conjuring excel as one of the better horror movies in recent years: The pacing and the atmosphere. Many modern horror movies will have one of two approaches. The first approach is to have everything seem normal until the film progresses, as the film will end in a nightmarish climax. The other approach is to just have climactic-like moments throughout the entire movie, as films, like Wan’s Saw, will constantly throw disturbing images at the audience. The Conjuring does neither. What it does, instead, is have a large string of scares, of which are creative most of the time, that slowly get more and more unsettling. This strategy works because the film shifts back and forth between the Perron family and the Warrens. The Perrons will slowly discover that there is something paranormal within their house, and the Warrens will teach about their past experiences (with a creepy history behind Farmiga’s character that will remain in the back of your mind the entire movie). None of the movie, as a result, feels like filler, which is mind boggling for a horror movie.
Many horror movies suffer from this other fault I find quite often. Horror films, along with fantasy and science fiction films, tend to assume that anything will be accepted since unreal fiction is being worked with. This usually results in terrible escapes, stupid resolutions, and the dreaded Deus Ex Machina. The Conjuring cleverly explains the reasons behind many of its events. Why does this sound occur three times? Is this jack in the box essential? What about the disbelief of some people and the belief of others? It all works out very well, and the film runs very smoothly as a result. With Wan’s other films, which include Saw, Dead Silence, and Insidious, it was as if he had scares in mind that he wanted to put on film and thus was forced to make a story of some kind to get the movie sold. The Conjuring is written by Chad and Carey Hayes in such a way that you know everything happens for a reason in this movie.
The amount of scares in this film are countless, and it’s thanks, mostly, to the creative sound direction. The sound mixing, editing and selection, is so expertly thought out. Even if a scare didn’t work out as well as I had hoped, which amazingly isn’t too often, the creative sounds are astonishing. There is a large influence from films like Suspiria and The Shining, where ringing gongs, chaotic instruments, and shrilling ambience, are used in full force, and the occasional demonic choir section will put emphasis on specific moments. The visuals, while not the most original or breathtaking ever, are done well for the most part, and the occasional shot is really well done.
The only slight concern with the movie is that a few scares do not work, but what can you expect with a film that has so many? The scares never just abruptly end either, so they never feel forced. This, however, will make the odd awkward scare linger on a little bit more as opposed to being brushed aside. Then you have the one or two cliches that will be tossed in, and they’re completely unnecessary. It’s almost as if Wan himself was being frightened by his own creation and needed some normalcy to not be scared. These hiccups are very small in number, though, and are not severely detrimental to the film.
The one thing that truly makes this film shine in the end is the climax. It doesn’t seem likely that a film with so many scares sewn together would have a climax that would even do anything to its audience, but it’s quite a powerful scene. It’s a little bit frightening, very unnerving, and even a little bit depressing. The final pay off may be a bit typical, but it is done beautifully. Yes, a movie directed by James Wan has a beautiful moment. If the movie doesn’t teach you that odd things do occasionally happen, nothing will.
I’m not sure if The Conjuring will be a horror classic, but it most likely won’t be beat this year within that genre. It has enough scary moments to please horror buffs, enough brains to silence film students and enough heart to attract most viewers. It isn’t an earth shattering film, but why does it have to be? Isn’t it enough that a horror movie is leagues above even decent and is released in the summer nationwide? If you take The Conjuring as it is, despite the absurdity that this is somehow based on a true story (this wasn’t Wan’s idea either, these people apparently exist and swear by this story), you may have the most fun you’ve had at a horror film in years.