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.