The Conjuring (2013)

22 Jul

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

You know, I can believe that if there are spirits or demonic presences that haunt or lurk about certain surroundings, then they would prefer to just joke around with the human inhabitants because these things have nothing else to do except cause misery to counterbalance their own woes. Then maybe they’ll attack or wait a long while until they either give up or someone who has experience in exorcism or disposing of these sort of supernatural means will finally come along and make things peaceful for the people again. These spirits, they never really get to the point quick enough, do they? Well, if they did, I guess everyone who has said to be in contact with such entities wouldn’t last very long (and to be sure, reportedly, a lot of them didn’t). Maybe it’s a notion of the more terrified you are, the more vulnerable you are and therefore the easier you are to ultimately be taken over by those same spirits until you are lost entirely, physically or mentally.

When going to see a “demon movie” or “ghost story” or “haunted-house movie,” it’s probably best to have a good idea of what you can gather from the (mostly-) invisible presence of darkness or evil, because while the film characters can give their interpretation, they’re usually not too sure or their arguments don’t make much sense. I bring this up because James Wan’s new horror film “The Conjuring” features protagonists who actually do know more or less what they’re dealing with when it comes to the “haunted” aspect. They are “demonologists” who have explored and searched many different places for any traces of supernatural elements, and they know quite a few things from experience, but they’re not quite sure of much of everything they’ve encountered. And I found that to be a refreshing move, because while these paranormal investigators are experienced, they don’t pretend like they know everything; they just go with what they’ve gone through with past occurrences. And that’s something you can also bring for yourself when seeing another one of these supernatural-horror movies (not knowing exactly what’s going on, but keeping an open mind if it’s interesting enough).

These people are Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), an infamous demonologist couple, and “The Conjuring” is more or less an interpretation on one of their more interesting and disturbing cases from decades past. For those who don’t know, Ed and Lorraine Warren were real-life people who did study and investigate the paranormal (one of their more infamous cases is the controversial “Amityville” haunting). “The Conjuring” tells about their investigation in a farmhouse in rural Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971, and the film does go the “based-on-true-events” angle, which I’m not sure is going to fool anybody because when it comes to these types of films, cynics love to snicker at that tag on the poster. And just to get this out of the way, “The Conjuring” is not a perfect horror film. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen quite a few of these supernatural-horror elements before in many other movies, but when I saw them appear on screen, I was constantly taken out of that “based-on-true-events” concept. I know that this is based on real people and I know there really was a paranormal investigation and a supposed exorcism, but it’s kind of easy to tell what’s fact and what’s fiction…for the most part.

But I shouldn’t really nitpick on that little detail because after all, “The Conjuring” is an interpretation on the story and of course is on hand for an effective horror film. I liked “The Conjuring”; I can be honest and say that it’s my favorite horror film since “Sinister” about eight months ago. This is one that relies on atmosphere, characterization, and execution to build suspense and tension and terror rather than just going for the blood and gore, unlike, say, something as junky as the “Evil Dead” remake. “The Conjuring” is creepy and tense without having to result to gross, visceral visuals to scare people. It’s smarter than that. No slicing. No dicing. No “torture porn.” Not even a high body count. And even when a character will do something ill-advised just once in a long while, you’re still on edge because you’re not entirely sure what exactly is going to happen. That alone makes “The Conjuring” worth watching and a nicely-done chiller.

A good chunk of the credit for why “The Conjuring” works has to go to the director James Wan, who has made himself known for starting the “Saw” franchise and 2011’s haunted-house film “Insidious” (whose sequel “Chapter 2” is coming soon). Wan clearly loves the horror genre so much that he has studied what can make a film like this work, and he’s more than competent in crafting a suspenseful, scary production. I’m not sure how Wan does it, but he manages to even make an overdone “video-camera point-of-view” moment, midway through the movie, unnerving.

But we can also get into “The Conjuring” because the people in this movie are likable and feel like real people (which, of course, is a given, since these were based on actual people), so that we care for them while also finding ourselves wrapped in this bizarre situation along with them. I like these two demonologists, who keep a certain level of rationality despite what they deal with, and also the family that they’re assigned to help. This is the Perron family—father Roger (Ron Livingston), mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and their five young daughters—who are victim to many, many strange things happening in a rural farmhouse. You name it—bumps in the night, skin bruises, unusual noises, suicidal birds, a dead pet, and a twist to a family game called “hide-and-clap.” When it gets to be too much, the family turns to Ed and Lorraine for help and hope that they can protect them from this demonic presence before it’s too late, and before someone even more serious grabs ahold of them and never lets go. There are some quality character moments, particularly in how Lorraine and Carolyn are able to connect with each other in a certain scene where their similar love for their children (Ed and Lorraine have one daughter) by sharing a pleasant family memory. Good acting is an important asset to the reason we accept the characters in “The Conjuring.”

The camera movement is precise and wonderful, in how it moves from one side of an interior to another and especially how it sometimes tracks the characters to (maybe) something eerie coming their way. The music score is just right. The tension is existent. Effects are not overused. There are some neat scares. That and more make “The Conjuring” a worthy supernatural-horror film, and it satisfied me to where I was hoping that it wouldn’t become a franchise that will become a brand that is damaged by constant profiting. Well, even if it does, I still have a decent scary flick to turn to and remember the “good old days.” Time will tell. Who knows for sure?

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