Often times people will like to compare one film to another to try and give a better sense of what the film is like. For “The Conjuring” I’ve heard a lot of people using movies like “The Exorcist” and “Amityville Horror” and I don’t think that’s quite accurate. Amityville? Certainly, the film is a haunted house tale through and through. However, I think the “The Exorcist” comparison carries with it a certain tone and atmosphere that doesn’t quite pair up with “The Conjuring.” And I don’t mean that in a negative way. In fact, I think the film has a lot more in common with another classic film. In many ways “The Conjuring” reminded me of “Poltergeist.” However, what really matters is whether or not the film does enough to be it’s own entity.
“The Conjuring” tells the tale of the Perron family. The father, Roger Perron (Ron Livingston), is a truck driver who moves his family into a beautiful, but beaten down home with a dark past. Due to Roger’s profession, his wife Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and his daughters are often left home alone for long stretches of time. It’s not the most ideal situation, but Roger has to do what he can to pay for the new home. Unfortunately, their happy home is plagued with demons and ghosts who prey on the wife and children. Not wanting to give up on the house, the family turns to Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren, a famous pair of paranormal investigators, to give them some answers. Is this just a normal haunting? Or is something deeply nefarious at work here?
The film marks director James Wan’s sixth directorial feature and shows a marked improvement in the man’s ability to weave a supernatural tale. If there were lesson to be learned from “Insidious”, it would seem as if Wan had been studying them carefully. The supernatural elements in “The Conjuring” are handled with grace and the tension is layered on masterfully throughout the film. It’s not a perfect product, however, it does show that James Wan is continuing to master his craft and gives me greater hope about his future as a director.
The story in the film is “based on true events.” Whether or not you’re willing to accept that is up to you. Experienced moviegoers will know that there have been plenty of films that carried the moniker of being “based on a true event” in which the “based on” part is loosely applied. Regardless, the story provides the basis for an amazing fun house ride that has a strong emotional core at it’s center. Around every corner is a new chill and thrill that’ll make you jump and laugh, but the film never loses sight of the family drama. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor do an excellent job of making the Perron parents easy to relate too and care for. The daughters don’t receive as much character development, but they manage to avoid being annoying child stereotypes and we’re given enough to actually care when they’re in danger.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga also turn in engaging performances as the Warrens. As someone who is a bit of a skeptic, I thought I would have trouble looking beyond what I think about the actual Warrens. However, Wilson and Farmiga have a natural and loving chemistry together that allowed me to forget that side of the story and instead care for the onscreen personas. Interestingly, the film is as much the Warren’s story as it is the Perron’s. Both couples are given equal screen time and are appropriately fleshed out so that one doesn’t dominate the story over the other. It adds a layer of depth to the story that is so rarely seen in horror films these days.
Now, the thing that has ruined most modern ghost stories for me is the overuse of CGI elements. If you feel the same way then you’ll be thrilled to know that there is hardly any CGI to be found in this film. Yes, a horror film with minimal CGI. Rejoice! During the LA Film Festival Press screening, James Wan said he “was trying to create a classic studio horror film.” And I think he succeeded in this endeavor. It’s easy to see how films from the 80s and 70s would have inspired this creation, but Wan takes those films and gives them his own modern spin. The scares in the film also feel like they’re inspired by old school horror thrills. There are certainly a few moments where loud noises and jump cuts are used to get a jolt out of viewers, but the majority of the thrills are well executed and thought out. For example, this film somehow managed to make the act of clapping a chilling affair.
There’s also hardly any blood in the film. People do get hurt and injured, but the film doesn’t get too crazy with the level of gore we see. There’s one moment where a “Sam Raimi” amount of blood comes out of a person, but that’s the exception not the rule in this film.
Though the film has some pretty sinister undertones and earns it’s “R” rating, it does manage to have fun with itself and be light hearted at times. Granted, these moments are far and in between, but they do serve to break up the tension and give the audience some breathing room. Most of the comedy comes from the interactions between the characters, namely two other investigators that the Warrens bring along with them. A cop named Brad Hamilton (John Brotherton) and an investigator they routinely work with named Drew Thomas (Shannon Kook). The two essentially act as comedic relief, however their performances are well-balanced and they don’t detract from the movie by being hamfisted with the comedy.
“The Conjuring” is a remarkable film in that it not only pays tribute to the horror films that came before it, but that it also restores a bit of faith in big studio horror films. Whereas “Insidious” may have been a divisive film amongst horror fans, I think “The Conjuring” will find a greater amount of acceptance. This is the kind of film that will appease those who say “I wish Hollywood would make the films they used to make.” I highly recommend that you check it out.