The Conjuring (2013)

Directed by James Wan

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Yeah so for someone like me who doesn’t like to be startled, The Conjuring is terrifying.  It’s a straight up horror movie, for better or worse, and I can see why genre fans like it and why others may not.

The thing about horror movies (and this is coming from a novice) is that it seems they don’t have the same obligations as other movies, maybe even other genre movies.  The scares and the tension leading up to those scares are what’s most important, and James Wan’s movie does a pretty good job, almost frustratingly so, of drawing out those moments.  Were it not for the frightening payoffs these long, silent sequences would feel a bit self-indulgent, but of course the longer they are the more upsetting the payoff.

This story follows Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Very Farmiga), a real life couple of paranormal investigators who look into the case of the Perron family.  They live in a Rhode Island farmhouse, and creepy sh*t starts to happen, as it usually does.  The narrative is split between the Perron family being terrorized and the Warrens, who seem like characters from almost a more quirky, comic movie.

First off, the Warrens aren’t freaked out by any of this, and horror conventions seem to necessitate fear.  Second, Ed shows a friend their room of trophies, a bunch of items they have taken from past paranormal investigations.  These are the creepy hallmarks of any modern horror film, including, most notably, a doll named Annabelle (which would spin off into its own horror series).

These characters are kind of charming, because the actors are, and they’re much more active than characters in a movie like this often seem to be.  It’s around the midpoint when they finally join up with the Perrons once they are reached out to.

This being a true story to some extent, it’s interesting how firmly in the point of view of the Warrens we are.  Being paranormal investigators, we see all the paranormal sightings they see, and so we see the world the same exact way they do.  Were this maybe a movie of a different genre, the degree of authenticity to their work might be further explored.  Or we might at least hear from someone who actively doubts their work.  Instead as it is the situation in the Perron house is so dire that there is no room for such conversation.  This is just a fright fest.

But of course that fright fest is entertaining and horrifying in the ways it’s supposed to be.  The movie makes great use of repeated images, sounds and games.  The kids, for example, play a game of hide and seek their first night in the house, and you know immediately that this will lead to some terrifying moment later on which capitalizes on someone staggering blindfolded down those creaky hallways.  There’s also the music box which one young daughter says will allow you to see her “friend” (read: ghost) when the music is done playing.  Yeah they stretch that out for a while.

Finally, watching the Warrens and their team work to identify the paranormal infestation is pretty fascinating.  They set up lights, trip cords, sound equipment, etc.  It’s an approach I sure haven’t seen in many horror movies when the only goal is to survive.

So the movie’s a bit cheesy, but perhaps purposefully so.  All that really matters is that it’s terrifying, and it is.  That being said there are a few character moments and storylines which feel tired and predictable (such as putting Lorraine in a position to be truly scared, endangering their daughter for some reason, etc.) but they are only minor distractions from an otherwise straightforward horror movie.

Up Next: The Lost Boys (1987), Halloween (2018), In the Heat of the Night (1967)

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