Grindhouse Review: The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013)
Directed By James Wan
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy and Kyla Deaver

Riveting, nightmarish, intense and flat-out scary are a few words that capture the emotion and atmosphere of director James Wan’s latest masterpiece of modern horror, “The Conjuring.” The film is based on a “true story” from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a married couple who specialize in the paranormal and happen to be two of the greatest paranormal investigators of our time (according to the film).

In 1971, Carolyn and Roger Perron (Taylor and Livingston) are looking for a fresh start as they move their family into a dilapidated Rhode Island farmhouse. Soon after arriving, strange things start happening around the isolated estate with escalating nightmarish terror. In desperation, Carolyn contacts the noted paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga and Wilson), to examine the house. But when the Warrens discover the truth about the house’s history, they learn that the whole area is steeped in a satanic haunting. The evil spirits target not only the Perron family, but the Warrens as well. The Warrens will have to call upon all their skills and spiritual strength to defeat this spectral menace at its source as it threatens to destroy everyone involved.

First of all, we’ve heard this story before. A modern family moves to an estate that happens to be a part of a demonic haunting. Upon entering the new home, one by one the family members encounter situations that project that something of the supernatural is happening within the walls.
To help mend the situation, the family contacts an expert to help get rid of the antagonist before it causes anymore harm. Although the story and characters follow this classic but redundant formality, the focal point of the film doesn’t follow the new age of horror films, but goes back to the roots of what true horror is: suspense.

As I said before in some of my previous reviews, suspense has disappeared from many modern horror films. Most of the modern films rely on extreme graphic violence, nudity, too much use of a variety of curse words and eye-candy actors that have no clue what the definition of the word “acting” really is. However, here we have a modern director who is known for his shocking graphic nature (the “Saw” franchise), upcoming stars who have the talent and the anticipation to go beyond themselves to become their characters and a familiar story that does work with the material, which was rehashed from old horror films such as “Poltergeist,” “The Amityville Horror” and one of my personal favorites, “The Exorcist.” Despite the rehash from older paranormal and demonic possession films, “The Conjuring” does deliver the scares and give you a sense of where the characters come from, creating that emotional anchor that makes you feel for them and creates tension that can cut through glass.

It’s really hard for me to pick an example that can express my love for this film and for what it stands for, but I must share the one moment that did cause a few sleepless nights after viewing the film. About 45 minutes into the film, there’s a small scene where one of the daughters wakes up in the middle of the night to discover that something is behind the door of the bedroom. After staring in fear into the shadows behind the darkened door, another one of the daughters wakes up to find her younger sister heavily breathing. She asks, “What’s wrong?” Then, in her panicked state, the one who sees the unknown entity very softly says, “There’s someone standing behind the door.”

Although this moment has been done multiple times before, it was the scenes and situations that lead up to this particular moment and the stellar performance from the actress that sold the atmosphere that something of the unknown was standing behind the door, watching the girls sleep. Witnessing that particular moment after being enthralled with the use of the Steadicam, sound, music and the masterful editing that captures perfect timing with the scares, I realized for the first time in a long time that I was actually scared of what was going to happen next.

Although you’ve seen this story and witnessed these character types before, it’s the craft of the whole production that sets the darkened tone and gives horror fans the scares that they have been missing.

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