There are scary movies, and then there are SCARY movies. The Conjuring fits into the latter category as it will undoubtedly frighten you to the point of laughter, make you squirm in your seat, cover your eyes, and wish you had left the lights on in the house because you will be afraid of the dark when you get home.
The Conjuring is the horror movie we dream of, because its a hark back to an older style of horror filmmaking, before torture, excessive blood and guts, and the like took over cinema screens, and found-footage too. Recalling movies such as Poltergeist, Rosemary’s Baby, Amityville Horror, and The Omen occurs when watching The Conjuring; this type of horror movie is also what Director James Wan was aiming for when he made The Conjuring, a far cry from his film Saw but closer to his 2012 scarer Insidious.
Based on a true story, as taken from the archives of famous paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga), and the case has remained sealed until now, The Conjuring has all the staples of a great horror movie: an old house in a rural area, a loving family who are looking to make a new start, a creepy basement, random leftover furniture and toys from the previous tenants, and of course an adorable little girl, April (Kyla Deaver), who is friendly as can be to anyone and everyone, even a ghostly spirit as long as he joins her for tea. It’s the perfect scenario, and James Wan directs the script by Chad and Carey Hayes to fantastically frightening (near) perfection.
The story is simple with The Conjuring, in the beginning. A family, the Perron’s, led by father Roger (Ron Livingston) and mom Carolyn (Lili Taylor), along with their daughters Andrea (Hayley McFarland), Christine (Joey King), Andrea (Shanley Caswell), and April (Kyla Deaver) have just moved from the city into an old farmhouse for a new start at life. They don’t have much money, and Roger struggles with his truck driving business.
Carolyn is a stay-at-home mother, and the girls are all very rambunctious and full of life. They are a perfect family, that is about to be put through hell when they discover their new home is haunted. What exactly is haunting them? That is a bit complicated to say, as this house has seen many years of strange occurrences, murder and death, curses and witchcraft, and pain. Just when you think you know the one evil presence that is lurking within you discover its much more perplexing than you ever expected, and a great deal more fun to watch because of it.
With all of the strange happenings going on: from feet being pulled in bed, pictures being knocked off the wall, and the ultimate scary moment when a demon jumps on top of one of the girls (I’m not telling you when because you deserve to jump and scream just as I did) the professionals are called in–the Warren’s. They have experience, as seen in a prologue to the story where they deal with a doll that is creepier than the clowns in Poltergeist and Saw combined.
The Conjuring is not just one freaky story, it gives you a taste of another before you even meet the Perrons. The Warrens have their own demons to bear, and the movie becomes as much about their own struggle with the force at the Perrons house as it is about the family. This is not a movie about ghost hunters coming to save the day; its a movie about ghost hunters and a family vying to stay alive and save themselves.
James Wan does an excellent job of creating an eerie tone with The Conjuring. From the beginning of the film, and the method in which the house is shot from a wide angle with the soon to be important tree standing tall in front of it, you immediately feel something is not right in there. It’s all too idyllically rustic and secluded. He also manages to throw in some key clues by way of the cinematography by John R. Leonetti (Insidious).
For example, my personal favorite is the darkening of the light as the cute little blonde girl, naturally, opens a music box she found in the house–that belonged to a previous tenant. The sun suddenly dims as she sits in the tree, playing the music from the box, as a shadow unfolds around her. It’s a very subtle effect, but incredibly effective in setting up the darkness that the music box will bring into this little girl’s life, and her family’s.
As any horror movie fan will tell you, its all about the sound when it comes to frightening the audience. Well, The Conjuring nails it. You have to prepare yourself to live in fear of what is coming while watching the movie, because the sound cues, or the hushed silence of a scene, is going to get you no matter how impenetrable you may think you are to scary movies.
Now about the special effects. This is the one small gripe I found in The Conjuring. I loved the mood of the entire movie, the great performances (especially Lili Tomlin, oh my), the lighting and cinematography, everything. Except for the look of the demon. Yes, you will see a demon, and it looked a bit too much like the leprechaun from Leprechaun.
It’s frightening, and clearly done with make-up effects, but the comparison nearly killed the horror of the moment for me by replacing it with laughter by remembering Leprechaun. A small blip in an otherwise great horror movie that I cannot recommend enough that everyone see. Be warned though, at the end of The Conjuring you will reconsider ever playing clap-and-seek again; or maybe, just maybe, it will become even more fun because you never know what is going to clap back.