|release date||July 19 2013|
|studio||New Line Cinema|
|writer||Carey Hayes, Chad Hayes|
|starring||Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Joey King, Shanley Caswell, Haley McFarland, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Sterling Jerins|
|tagline||Based on the true case files of The Warrens|
|trailer 1||Trailer #1|
|trailer 2||Trailer #2|
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.
When I was eight years old I was traumatized by Tobe Hooper and Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist. The movie shook me so hard that my parents had to get me a bed that touched the floor; it was the only way to keep the clown from getting me. At the age of 33, I would do just about anything to relive that experience. As you get older, you become desensitized and cynical. It becomes increasingly difficult to be shocked, scared or impressed; you realize that you’ve seen pretty much everything before. This is the inherent problem with James Wan’s The Conjuring that must be ignored. The Conjuring is a film that doesn’t really deliver anything new, per se, but should be recognized as one of the best haunters since Poltergeist (joining the ranks of The Ring and Paranormal Activity).
In the first act of The Conjuring, one of the children has her leg pulled as she sleeps. Panicking, she looks under the bed in a solid homage to Poltergeist. The camera twists and turns upright as she stares in horror at a black shadow behind her door. This moment, which I’ve glazed over, is the high note of the film. This is the scene that will have the hair on your arms standing straight up, and your brain screaming in excitement, “Holy crap, is this movie really going to be THIS good?” This is also when I realized that, for a brief moment, James Wan had reconnected me with my youth and rattled me. It’s a core-shaking sequence that’s so viciously terrifying, yet you barely see anything. It’s a master artist painting the most wonderful picture.
While it never quite gets that good again, there’s a roller coaster of set piece scares that keep this slow burn flowing. Its editing is genius, introducing devices and then splashing the scare at a later, unexpected moment. You could hear the audience’s uncomfortable chattering in anticipation of the forthcoming jolt; the suspense clearly had the audience holding their breath, with a massive exhale after each scare. While it’s similar to most haunters, from the shot selection up to the framing of scares, it just does everything better.
But I digress; it’s time to dial it back a bit. (Minor spoliers.) As good as The Conjuring is, there are some (very minor) problems, most of which stems from the film’s length. It’s just a bit too long, and even pushes the finale too far with a melodramatic epilogue. And speaking of the finale, it feels like it’s missing a beat, and there’s a nagging lack of resolution. This is not to say Conjuring ends on a “to be continued” kind of note, but there were a few character beats that never come full circle. It agitated me just enough to feel moderately underwhelmed when the credits rolled. (End spoilers.)
Reflecting back, I think ending a “ghost” film is inherently problematic, which is where Conjuring falters. Once shit hits the fan, it becomes increasingly more difficult to be “scary” and forces the director to utilize sound design and jolts to garner a reaction. Thankfully, the film is in the hands of a horror master who delivers more than a handful of mind blowing surprises that are cause for repeat viewing. As both Insidious Chapter 2 and The Conjuring appear to be James Wan’s farewell to the horror genre, audiences will celebrate Conjuring as his most impressive work, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest horror directors of our time.