There is something to be said about being scared. Your heart races. Sweat appears on your brow. You can’t sit still. Your ears strain to pick up each and every sound, no matter how insignificant. It’s a delicious feeling, one that I love. Unfortunately, and I’m sure many horror fans can empathize, it is a feeling that is becoming rarer and rarer each day. With each film I watch, my nerves become stronger, my threshold for fear larger. In short, it takes a helluva lot to scare me anymore.
When it was said that James Wan’s The Conjuring was rated R for simply being too scary to rate PG-13, I let myself feel some stirrings of hope. I wanted to believe that there was a film that could truly make me feel fear. Wan’s previous film Insidious came very close, seriously creeping me out at several times, but never reaching that point where I felt true fear. Still, I loved Insidious and hoped that Wan could take what he had done there and take it to a higher level.
Yesterday I was lucky enough to attend the Fantasia Film Fest screening of The Conjuring. Sitting in the midst of a crowd that was desperately eager for some thrills, I felt right at home. This was an audience that would appreciate the film the way it should be: with silence and reverence when needed, screams and laughter when deserved. To my right sat a young woman who told me that she hates horror films and that she would be jumping and covering her eyes the whole time. While many might think of this as a distraction, I find it fun to sit next to those people and see their reactions. It reminds me of when I felt those things and puts me in a place where I might actually feel them once again.
The story of the film is fairly well known, but let me summarize it quickly here. The plot follows the Perron family, a husband, wife, and five daughters, who upon moving into their new home are assaulted by the ghost of a demonic witch who committed suicide on their land years ago. Enter the Warren’s, Ed and Lorraine, who are a husband-wife team that helps people in this situation. From there, I won’t add anything else, simply saying that this film is supposedly based upon a true story.
Let me quickly state that the film does not really add anything new for the haunting ghost genre. However, there are many times when Wan will take what has been done and at least inject a new flair to it, creating something exciting and exhilarating. He has taken the best that the genre has offered over the years and injected it all into a film that moves quickly and doesn’t allow for much breathing room.
From the beginning of the film, the scares are strong and last. Instead of going for several cheap jump scares, Wan builds on his atmosphere, creating scenes where the fear lingers and grows. Completely understanding his obsession with puppets, I must say that Wan is a true puppet master, knowing just how to get under someone’s skin and make their nerves crawl at his will.
The film takes place in the 70’s, something that Wan stuck to, both in visuals as well as style. The opening title screen alone will give many horror fans a smile as it pays homage to many of the great classics of that era. Also, composer Joseph Bishara (who composed Insidious and even played the lipstick demon) has put together a fantastic score, one that is organic, warm, and deeply terrifying.
Now, it must be said that there is still humor within the film. Wan injects these brief little segments as a way to allay the tension, to cast some calm before thrusting you right back into the horror. It’s highly effective, because had I been left in a state of fear, after I while I would’ve gotten over it. But because of those short bursts of humor, my fear went down only to return in full force.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear by now but I need to just plainly state it: This movie scared me. I squirmed in my chair. I jumped in fear. I actually let out a brief terrified shout at one point. And I loved every second of it.
As I said before, the film isn’t anything new. But you better believe that it takes what it wants to be and does it the best it’s been done. The Conjuring is one of the best horror films in the past several years and easily the best ghost haunting movie in decades.
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