By Benjamin Lane
The Conjuring. (2013). Run time: 112 mins. MPAA: R (for sequences of disturbing violence and terror). Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, and Shannon Kook. Written by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes. Directed by James Wan.
There is something about the horror movie genre that sets it apart from every other. There is no single answer to what that something is, though, because it’s a different reason for different viewers. For some viewers, it’s their own feebleness and ability to be scared easily. For others its their being able to relate to the film’s content from past experiences. For some it is just a matter of the director’s ability to cunningly allow intensity to flow from the film, causing anyone to be invested and genuinely scared. Yet again, others are affected because deep down they truly believe that opening line presented on the screen of many horror films: Based on a true story. Whatever the reason may be, and these four reasons are not even close to being the final number, the truth remains that while you can say your favorite genre is comedy or action or even westerns, the truth is there is no genre that is as physically stimulating and psychologically effective as horror. But what is also fascinating is that beyond the label “horror” are many subgenres: haunted house, ghost story, crazy killer, giant monster, etc. Nowadays, though, it seems a popular choice for horror movie plots is the subject of demon possession. Now, I can personally say that I find it appalling when filmmakers use this tactic as a means to entertain an audience only. I believe demon possession to be something more serious than your average ghost story or haunted house. That being said, however, I am not against demon possession movies being made, when they are made for the right reasons. I love The Exorcist because I believe that is a very realistic film made for the purpose of providing factual content as a kind of warning, if you will. Is it scary? Of course! Is it entertaining? Yes it is! But it’s not just for entertainment. Which brings us to The Conjuring, the latest horror film from director James Wan (Saw, Insidious). Written by brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, both God believing men, the film tells the true account of a case of demon possession investigated by real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, which took place in 1971.
Patrick Wilson (Insidious) plays Ed Warren, alongside Vera Farmiga (Source Code) as his wife and traveling companion Lorraine Warren. These two give great performances as the troubled demonologist couple who only seek to help people overcome demonic influence and possession. They are approached by a family, the parents played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, who have been experiencing odd occurrences in their new farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Agreeing to investigate, the Warrens discover a demonic presence by the name of Bathsheba, whose purpose on earth and previously accomplished goal is to possess mothers to kill their children. This real life story is brought to the screen with tenderness and care, while simultaneously with horrific brilliance and unavoidable anxiety in The Conjuring, one of the most well done and chillingly effective horror movies to be released in years.
James Wan knows what he’s doing behind the camera when it comes to horror movies. Insidious was only rated PG-13 and that movie managed to scare me to death, and it still has the effect. Just so, The Conjuring is a terrifying film, even more so than Insidious. This is an R rated horror movie, and it is rated R for a reason. This movie is bloody and graphic, and it is done so, so well. I couldn’t have been more pleased with The Conjuring. I respect this film tremendously because, for one, the direction from James Wan, which I want to get into more detail with. In modern day horror movies, jump scares are what are always pounded into the running time. Apparently the philosophy is “the more jump scares, the more effective the experience.” Not so. But at the same time, jump scares are important in a horror film, if they are done right and not overdone. James Wan masters it. He places jump scares where they need to be, but for the most part, this movie is filled with dark, dreary atmospheric conditions alongside silence, allowing the audience to eagerly wait for the jump scare crappy horror movie directors promise will always happen, but here it doesn’t. Sometimes it does. And when it does you will be shocked. Genuinely shocked. But the other times are more effective, because it is nothing but sheer suspense. James Wan, I applaud you for that. Also, Wan nails the historical setting. These events took place in the 70s, and it was relieving to see this story unfold without modern day gadgets. The majority of this film takes place on an isolated farmhouse. No big cities. No cell phones. No computers. Just a house and a family. A family plagued, which brings us to the screenplay.
The Conjuring is written by Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, and these guys know how to write a horror film and make it work. These guys believe in the events of this film. There are scenes where the two lead investigators are teaching seminars and they show video footage of an exorcism where upside down crosses appear burned onto an afflicted man’s flesh. That’s real life footage and these guys know it, and they do a remarkable job at making it all feel real. The Hayes brothers recently were guests on the radio show called “Schmoes Know Movies” and if you enjoyed this film you should definitely listen to that interview. You can subscribe the podcast on iTunes, visit http://www.schmoesknow.com, or check out the Schmoes Know youtube channel. The schmoes (Kristian Harloff and Mark Ellis) are two awesome guys who really love movies and you should waste no time checking them out. They’re worth it. But back to the screenplay, I want to discuss something I admire about what the Hayes brothers did with The Conjuring. They knew this was going to be a horror film, and instead of leaning on the traditional route of jump scare after bloody image after jump scare and leaving the audience breathless due to shock, they leave the audience breathless due to its investment into the characters. This is one of the few horror movies that puts a great emphasis on the characters. It takes its time setting up the characters, allows you to grow to care for them, then scares the hell out of you, literally.
FINAL VERDICT: Thanks to a great script from Chad and Carey Hayes that allows the audience to care for the characters and a creepily dark 70s atmosphere set by James Wan, The Conjuring is one of the most effective horror movies in years. This is actually a scary movie that matters. One that provides you with fleshed out characters, allows you to care for them, then attacks them and in doing so scares the hell out of you. I’m not exaggerating. The Conjuring is a terrifying movie going experience.