Synopsis: Based on true events, The Conjuring tells the thrilling story of ghost hunters Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), who help a family terrorized by an evil spirit in their mysterious farmhouse.
The Conjuring 8.0
eyelights: its construction. the atmosphere. the deep bassy sound effects.
eyesores: the familiarity of the early scares. the crappy CGI birds.
“Diabolical forces are formidable. These forces are eternal, and they exist today. The fairy tale is true. The devil exists. God exists. And for us, as people, our very destiny hinges upon which one we elect to follow.”
‘The Conjuring’ is a 2013 horror film by James Wan, of ‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious‘ fame. It is based on the exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren, true-life paranormal investigators who became famous for their involvement in the Amityville haunting (to which there is a reference here). This film is purportedly based on a case file of theirs that had been kept under wraps for years.
The paranormal incident portrayed in ‘The Conjuring’ is also claimed to be the most malevolent encounter that the Warrens have experienced in over fifty years. It involves the Perron family, who bought an old farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island in 1971. Soon after moving in, strange things began to occur, culminating with aggressive poltergeist-like activity.
Carolyn Perron, the family of seven’s matriarch, eventually decided to reach out to the Warrens, asking them for help in getting rid of the evil spirits in the house. Even on the first visit, Lorraine Warren could sense the nature of the evil there, and told the family that they were in danger. And so it was that the Warrens brought their crew, including an off-duty cop, to help the Perrons.
It may not seem like much, in fact it might seem very much par-for-the-course for this type of film, but ‘The Conjuring’ is pretty much the most effective scary film I’ve seen in longest time. It’s all in the presentation: as noted, the story is a mild twist on a familiar tale, but Wan managed to construct a tightly-wound, highly-engaging picture, something that is extremely rare in the genre.
Even after having watching a couple of dozen haunted house films recently, even though I could see the conventions rolling by, even though I consciously tried to stay detached enough to allow me to watch it objectively, it managed to make me jump. Once. Once, but it succeeded. And, amazingly, at the end credits, I was extremely tense. I just couldn’t believe the impact that the film had had on me.
Even more impressive is the fact that the filmmakers sought a PG-13 rating for the picture to get a wider audience; there is no gore, extreme violence or any objectionable content in ‘The Conjuring’. Apparently, the ratings board wouldn’t allow a rating below Restricted because it was too scary and that nothing be done to fix it. The filmmakers resigned themselves to the rating instead of hobbling the tone of the picture.
Or so the story goes.
It is also said that Lorraine Warren and Andrea Perron, one of the five daughters, were consulted in the making of the movie and approved of this telling of their story. Now, I’m an eternal skeptic when it comes to the paranormal; I believe in the possibility, but not necessarily the claims. So I can’t help but wonder how much credibility these two truly give the picture in the end.
The filmmakers do try to make it seem real, though: There’s a text intro presenting us with the backstory, we peer into the Warrens’ personal lives (it’s established that they keep all the possessed objects/vessels in a room in their house and have a priest bless the house once a month, hear about past experiences, and even watch them debunk another haunted house claim). They are meant to be taken seriously.
But, saying that it’s based on true story is one thing, and making it so is another. Further to that, to believe that it really happened, the presentation needs to be seamless – and ‘The Conjuring’ isn’t. The problem lies in the opening sequence, where we supposedly watch interviews that were filmed in 1968, except that it doesn’t look period footage at all; it looks like an amateur modern film.
This was so discrepant that it started the picture on the wrong foot for me. But it introduces the Warrens adequately. And it does another thing right: it introduces a doll that was supposedly possessed. This doll, although unrelated to this case, supposedly existed (albeit in a different form) and, even though she gets little screen time, she captured the imagination enough that she has her own spin-off movie now.
Her name: Annabelle. (Look her up. She might be the next Chucky.)
In any case, aside for this, the opening scene was a washout. It was a mistake, and ‘The Conjuring’ has a few others along the way. For instance, there’s a scene when Lorraine falls through the floor, between the walls down to the cellar and doesn’t even get hurt. As if. At the very least, she would be all scratched up from scraping against the lumber on the way down, but it’s more likely that she would sprained or broken something.
But not here. Of course not.
At the end of that sequence, she then comes up from down in the cellar and snags her necklace on the stairs. After the shock she must have experienced, I can understand that she doesn’t notice it immediately. But she never does, even though it’s a necklace that her daughter just gave her. At the very least she’d notice when going to bed that night. But I guess the filmmakers needed to connect the evil spirits to her daughter somehow.
There are also moments when you can’t help but wonder how soundly people sleep in that house. Like when the daughters watch their bedroom door slam shut but no one else hears it. Or when Carolyn witnesses all the frames crashing down in the middle of the night but no one wakes up. Stuff like that makes me question the factuality of the so-called “true” events taking place on screen.
Otherwise, though, ‘The Conjuring’ is a superbly-constructed horror film. Sure, it has a couple of weaker moments, and a really bad CGI bird attack, but it’s strong on atmosphere and it builds the tension up with the utmost precision (I was especially fond of the judiciously placed bass effects – do watch this on blu-ray and with a decent set-up if you can). It’s certainly one of the best horror films in modern times.
I read one review where the guy said that, had this film been released in the ’70s, it would be as much of a landmark as ‘The Exorcist‘ – that the only reason it won’t be remembered as fondly is because there have been plenty of other similarly-themed movies before. I fully agree. ‘The Conjuring’ is a superior film of that genre, but it’s sadly not innovative enough to be a game-changer.
Still, ‘The Conjuring’ does a whole lot more right than it doesn’t, which was an extremely unexpected surprise. A pleasant one, naturally. And, in the end, it will likely prove itself to be a classic. I know I will see this again, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see a good spookshow. Honestly, if there were more horror films such as this one, it would be a more respected genre. It would find legitimacy.
Date of viewing: September 28, 2014