Horror movie maestro James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) is apparently based on true events. This film centres on a particular case study from the work of ‘demonologist’ couple Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren, whose job it is to investigate and analyse paranormal phenomena. Ed and Lorraine are invited to inspect a house in the countryside where disturbing events are occurring: clocks stopping, foul smells in the house, picture frames shattering, disembodied voices, strange visions. Who you gonna call?
We begin the film with an introduction to Ed and Lorraine Warren through their examination of a case involving the disturbing doll Annabelle, which is also based on a true story. Through this, we learn about the Warrens’ role in the story in an engaging way that isn’t over the top on exposition. It’s a good set-up for the remainder of the film. We then follow the Perron family as they move into their ‘beautiful’ countryside home and begin to experience paranormal phenomena. The creepiness factor escalates at a fairly rapid pace from there on out.
Note: If you’re ever going to live in a dilapidated house in the countryside, you need to learn from this film. If your dog won’t go inside the house – you don’t want to live there. That’s my Horror Movie Survival Tip #1. It’s also my Game of Thrones Wedding Survival Tip #1… please comment if you understand that reference.
The Conjuring is genuinely scary. I watched it at night time (on Christmas Eve… somehow that seems wrong), and I had to shut the blinds in my house before going to sleep. That’s how you know a horror film has definitely freaked you out. I found that the scares earlier on were much creepier than the later on in the film as their source was more ambiguous. The film was scarier before I knew what the actual source of the scare was, if that makes sense, as the film does tend to resort to ‘haunted house slash possession film’ cliches towards the end. Still, once the source was identified, there were plenty of jump-scares and accompanying loud noises to keep my hands over my eyes.
One strength of The Conjuring is its character development, particularly with its adult characters. The central conflict is the characters’ initial disbelief in paranormal phenomena, which then evolves into their desperate need to get rid of the phenomena. The characters were well-developed from the beginning, particularly the Perron parents, Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingstone). Haunted house films are always interesting from a family perspective because you see how the kids react to the paranormal, being totally accepting of the infinite horror that is destined for them; and then the adults, who initially might be much more cynical and disbelieving, but end up being the most scared of all. I found that Lili Taylor’s and Ron Livingstone’s transitions from the parents who thought their kids were imagining things to freaked out adults who need to take control of the situation was developed in a very believable way. It’s a credit to the actors who actually embody the roles so well.
The cinematography and shotmaking of the film is also impressive, with plenty of strange camera angles to complement the tone of the film. As part of Ed and Lorraine’s paranormal investigation, they make good use of film camera to catch footage of any ghosts or strange occurrences. This film footage is integrated very tastefully into the film and adds to the overall suspense. The film is set in 1971, and the set design is quite faithful to that time period, if a bit stereotypical. The music and sound design is also great, particularly the sound design, which adds to the creep factor in every scene. Floorboards creaking, a single piano note emanating from the cellar, or the sound of a rope hanging – all of these sounds evoke feelings of anxiety in The Conjuring. The sound design was actually one of my favourite things about this film.
My problem with The Conjuring is that there’s not much mystery to it. You pretty much know everything already by halfway through, partially due to it being explained in the film and also due to it being slightly predictable. I feel like if you’ve seen a number of classic horror films, you’ll be able to pick this one pretty quickly. As I mentioned earlier, the film tends to resort to cliches of the genre when it comes to haunted houses, ghosts and possession – and it seems like a lot of ideas were borrowed from the classics that introduced those cliches into the mainstream. However, despite essentially figuring out how the film was going to occur – it still scared the wits out of me.
Another issue that I had with this film was that the script seemed over-packed. There are a number of paranormal entities at play here – the doll, the witch, the ghosts, the possession – that at times the film can seem crowded. The doll storyline, whilst interesting in the beginning, does seem too tacked-on to be of relevance to the overall plot. Except now they’re making a sequel revolving around her, so maybe it makes sense from that perspective (cha-ching!). My point is that even though this seems like a film with a straightforward plot, at times it felt crowded, which upon reflection is not a good thing.
The Conjuring is a good horror film that could have been a great horror film. It has its positive qualities – being genuinely scary, good character development, great sound design – but ultimately this didn’t live up to the hype for me. I suppose after hearing so much about it, I was expecting a film that gave me a bit more than horror film cliches. Still, if you’re after a scare, you can’t pass a good possession story.
Watch the trailer here.
Cool review yo. I thought the film was alright, it looked really good and the character development was a welcome change from the basic stupid people in most horror films. However the film wasn’t that good. I thought it was one of the most overhyped films of the summer, it barely scared me and it was a little predictable.
Thanks, I totally agree! My problem is that I’m easily scared. Even if I find something incredibly predictable, I’ll always fall for the jump-scare. Too much hype for this one though.
I hear that, I’m easily susceptible to jump scares and that’s why I never watch horror films in general, especially in the cinema. This coming from the guy that watched both Evil Dead and The Conjuring last year. 😛
I agree with most of your points, but I still like it more than you. Maybe because I saw it in the theater, before all of the hype and thereby didn’t have the raised expectations you seem to have had.
It must have been really awesome to see in the cinema!
Nice review. I’m not that much into the horror genre and I haven’t watched this one yet. Even the worst horror films scare the hell out of me. So I think I’m gonna give this one a try — if only because of Vera Farmiga. 🙂
Thanks! I’m very easily scared during horror films as well, and this one was no exception. Vera Farmiga is great in it though, so it’s definitely worth a watch!
Wahoo! You win the secret prize! The prize is surviving the Red Wedding.
Nice review Anna. I can’t say I loved this movie like everybody else did, nor was I as petrified as some, but it definitely built-up a nice amount of terror and tension, altogether allowing me to have a good time. Especially in the packed-theater I was located in.
Thanks! 🙂 I was thinking whilst watching about how great it would have been to see it in the cinema. Although I probably would have embarrassed myself terribly.
Loved GoT reference 🙂 I loved Conjuring, I think even with all the cliches it’s one of the better horror movies of recent years – thrilling, well made, elegant and strongly performed. Vera Farmiga was lovely.
I agree. It’s too genuinely scary to be a bad horror film. Especially the hand-clapping game moments, I was terrified.
Can’t wait to see what they do with certain other weddings in the next GoT season!
Nice review. Glad I skipped this one! The two horror films that leave me genuinely afraid? “The Birds” and “The Shining.”
Thanks! It’s worth watching eventually, I wouldn’t rush to see it though. Those are definitely two of the best classics, this one doesn’t even come close to them! I love The Shining.
Great review. I really enjoyed The Conjuring as well and even though I’m a horror veteran I was still surprised and jumped at some of the scares. James Wan’s haunted house films are derivative but so well made that it’s forgiveable.
It was the clapping parts that really got me. Have you seen the Spanish film The Orphanage? I thought that one was a great horror film that didn’t have to resort to jump moments to get its scares.
Yeah, I saw The Orphanage but was so distracted while watching it that I didn’t really enjoy it. The bit that got me was the cop chasing after the main and the wardrobe sequences…
Great review Anna. I’d actually argue that director James Wan has wallowed in mediocrity since the innovative and fiendishly good Saw. I was very disappointed with Insidious despite some good moments and Dead Silence and Death Sentence were both poor. I haven’t yet seen The Conjuring but I always like a good ghost story. Despite the genre producing some stinkers I still go back for more. I’ve heard some mention that this was one of their favorite films of 2013. I’ll have to check it out but I’ll keep my expectations low.
Thanks! I tend to agree. Saw was so great, but it’s just overkill now. It’s good to see Wan doing other things, but a lot of that work is so derivative. Definitely keep those expectations low! 🙂