Conjuring, The

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Release date: July 19, 2013
Director: James Wan
Screenplay by: Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston

There were many signs leading up to The Conjuring that could have led to it being trash. The abundance of half-assed modern haunted house and possession films and the fact that its writers made the trash known as The Reaping and House of Wax were its biggest red flags. Now, we gather here at this haunted house to welcome James Wan into our arms, thanking him for contributing something actually good to the world of possession horror – a subgenre sorely lacking in great work.

The Conjuring is in part a traditional seventies horror film and in part a telling of one case in the career of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson & Farmiga). The Warren’s cross paths with a family that is desperate to have the dark presence in their house eliminated, and find themselves drawn into a predicament rougher than they could have ever expected.

James Wan immediately kicks off by confronting his past and improving on it. A doll that would probably make the bravest viewer run screaming if they saw it in their bedroom late at night makes multiple appearances, a much needed improvement on the boring use of dolls in Dead Silence. As thematically similar as this and Insidious are, Wan and his writing team do well to avoid the mistakes that were present in that film’s final act. This isn’t to say that The Conjuring doesn’t get a little wild in its latter half, playing up its seventies roots with exorcism as much as possible, but it’s far from the camp fever dream that Insidious devolved into.

What The Conjuring does right is balance that seventies feel with a genuinely unsettling atmosphere throughout. Its throwback charm comes in the cheesiness that accompanies the story at times and even in its stylistic nature, a tracking shot through the haunted house set to Time of the Season pretty much establishing the period perfectly. At times they even strive to make the house seem like its own menacing character, something reminiscent of the Amityville house.

Rather than rely on an abundance of jump scares – of which there are a few effective ones – the film takes advantage of silence and darkness.  It focuses on what’s not there rather than simply giving you some scary figure to terrify you and even when it does deliver that, you’re still  Those lingering moments of doubt and build up when you expect a scare make for excellent building of tension throughout many scenes. When accompanied by someone like Vera Farmiga who can actually look scared without being over the top, it’s all the more effective, but she’s only a piece of the well-rounded cast that populates the film.

James Wan has had quite the interesting career with horror over the years, with Saw still being his most memorable work so far. And yet, something about The Conjuring feels more mature and grounded, as though he’s learned from his past mistakes. Sure, it still has its fair share of cheese, but Wan nevertheless makes this an often entertaining and nerve-wracking little period film.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Juan Barquin

Just yer average twenty-something college student with no time on his hands who ends up watching (and writing) too many movies and shows for his own good.

8 Responses

  1. i clearly need to see this then. this review gives me hope

    • amy says:

      @Candice Frederick, most of the web’s reaction made me think the film was alright, though, no? Haven’t checked RT or IMDb. Why the hope? xD

  2. amy says:

    Do you think that modern-day set horror films, with the invasion of communication devices, could be as effective in freaking you out the way that The Conjuring did with its setting in the 70s? At a point, Vera Farmiga goes INTO this freakish house from hell to use the phone. In modern day, f*ck that- I’m going to the church and calling from there. LOL

    Is this why modern-day horror is more about psycho killers and the immediate threat, instead of the paranormal? Is this why movies like The Evil Dead make some people (namely me) roll their eyes because “dudeeeee, why would you stay in a dinky smelly cabin in the middle of the Nowhere’s Forrest to make your sister quit drugs?” xD

    Has technology ruined horror films… or has it made it evolve?

    • Camiele says:

      @amy, That’s a good question. Though I don’t think technology has affected horror films in the way that they’ve become better or worse. I think as the times change, so does the medium by which stories in general get told, and that’s as far as it goes. Technology may be advanced, but if news stories and the overall stupidity prevalent in pop culture is any indication, that doesn’t necessarily mean humans are. They do the same stupid sh*t they’ve done since the beginning of time, but now have technology to deal with on top of that.

      Though, technology also could possibly explain why people don’t have the patience for something like the Conjuring or its much better, bolder, and more intriguing predecessor The Exorcist. It’s about building atmosphere, story, and character and forcing you to interact with the movie on a visceral level, something that perhaps technology has taken out of the experience? Taken the patience out of investing in the story as a whole? It also makes people think in terms of, “Well, what would technology do?” And quite honestly, technology just means you have a faster way of getting from Point A to Point B, but it doesn’t account for what happens in between as far as I’m concerned.

      But anyway, in terms of the film itself. What I like about the Conjuring is how smart it was in terms of the overall texture of the film. There are obviously moments that were meant just for the scare, but even moments like the one with the demon on the wardrobe… it was an extended moment of suspense where the audience is waiting, just waiting. The creators made great use of light and sound to make this work as well as it did. Even though the “scary music” was overdone at points, it still did a decent job of extending those moments of silence. Great use of angle to the extent that there were things just outside periphery that sort of made you wonder what you’d seen, whether you’d seen something, etc. It’s psychological horror at its core. Though not at all the best at the genre, still done very intelligently.

  3. Camiele says:

    Oh! And by the way, Juan. I completely agree with pretty much EVERYTHING you’ve said here… HaHa.

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