It pains me to say this but…my generation has been robbed of legitimately “scary” horror films. For some reason a lot of fledgling directors and writers assumed that gory and violent translated to scary. In the early-mid years of the last decade my generation was exposed to the “torture porn” era of horror film-making from Splat-Pack members: Eli Roth(Hostel, 2006), Darren Lynn Bousman(Saw II,III,IV), Rob Zombie(The Devil’s Rejects, 2005), Alexandre Aja(The Hills Have Eyes, 2006), Greg McLean(Wolf Creek, 2005), Neil Marshall(The Descent, 2005), Leigh Whannell(Writer of Saw I, II, III) and, ironically, James Wan(The director of The Conjuring). Most of the films made insane amounts of money at the box office and launched the careers of their respective directors, but the director who has, arguably, been catapulted the farthest is James Wan. Wan is responsible for directing the original Saw and has since directed Dead Silence/Death Sentence(2007) and most recently, the supernatural thriller Insidious(2010). One could tell quite easily, from the films already listed, that Wan is a visceral director and knows how to unsettle and disturb his audience with different techniques and craft…but nothing he’s done can prepare you for his brilliant work behind the camera with The Conjuring.
The Conjuring, based on the true story of the Perron family and the demonic haunting and activity they experienced in their farm house in Rhode island circa 1970, is the most intense, suspenseful and downright horrifying film I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. PERIOD. Why? Because the film doesn’t rely on gore or blood to get under it’s audience’s skin. It relies on psychological terror and scaring the crap out of you with the dark and unsettling subject matter. Oh…. And with bloodcurdling imagery of ghosts, demons and possession. It’s a hell of a film, no doubt. A scary movie that is actually scary! Imagine that!
So what separates The Conjuring from the countless other cheap thrills and plain terrible horror films that Hollywood throws at us every year? Well for one there’s the acting. Patrick Wilson(Insidious/Watchmen) and Vera Farmiga(The Departed/Bates Motel) as Ed and Lorraine Warren is a great example of perfect casting. A big hindrance in any film, let alone a horror film, is having characters that are annoying, unlikable and without chemistry. Wilson and Farmiga, playing the real life couple that researched and investigated cases like the one in The Conjuring, among many others, are believable and down to earth. They are likeable because they are human beings with real passions and real fears and because they are one of us, in many ways, despite Lorraine’s “gifts” regarding the supernatural. Just because they are experts in the paranormal doesn’t mean they aren’t as afraid as the rest of us. The child actors playing the daughters of the Perron family are all wonderful. Child actors can be incredibly difficult to work with as very few can convey the necessary emotions required for intense or emotional scenes, but every single one of them in The Conjuring are excellent, especially considering the intensely draining sequences they had to film. the actors in any horror film have to make the audience believe they are genuinely terrified and that what’s happening on camera is real and not just movie magic. This cast nails it.
Then there’s the incredibly moody atmosphere, a must in any respectable movie of this genre. Throughout the entire film there is an impending sense of dread, most of it achieved by the meticulous production design and minimalist approach to the cinematography, so even when there’s nothing jarring or scary jumping out at you on screen you still feel the presence of evil in every shot. It’s not easy making your audience feel on edge for the entire running time of your movie just with camera shots and sound effects but Wan and his crew more than succeed here.
Then there’s an aspect of the film, and arguably the most effective, that elevates it, truly elevates it, above the other horror films released in recent memory: It plays on common and believable fears; The fear of the dark, fear of being watched while you sleep, fear of a seemingly empty house, fear of failing to protect one’s children from harm and fear of what you simply can’t control or reason with. Oh…and the fear of creepy dolls. It’s almost impossible to watch The Conjuring and not find yourself relating to one or more of the character’s fears or struggles, whether they are internal or external. It’s that ability to connect to the characters that makes The Conjuring that much more intense and involving. No one cares when the jerk or obnoxious person is killed off, but when you have good-hearted, down to earth people, especially children, getting hurt or terrorized, that’s when your audience begins to feel for them and hope the worst doesn’t bring them down.
I could go on and on as to why The Conjuring is a brilliant piece of movie making but I think I’ve said a sufficient amount already. You may notice I didn’t write down the actual plot of the movie or give away any of the best scenes. Well, quite simply, one needs to experience the movie for themselves. To try and describe individual scenes and scares would be to diminish their impact and that would be a crime for a movie of this class and caliber. I’m proud to say that I was in the movie theater opening night when this bad boy of a film opened and I’ll treasure the memory of the entire theater screaming their hearts out for the rest of my life.