Horror films these days don’t scare me. This is because they suffer from a number of over-done clichés, weakly-developed characters and jump scares so predictable they fail to frighten – and with the recent explosion of the already fading ‘found-footage’ sub-genre, horror films have become a shade of what they once were. So why, might you ask, am I telling you all this? Because James Wan’s “The Conjuring” proved me wrong in thinking that I was immune to the scare tactics of Hollywood horror; “The Conjuring” proved to me that horror films today can still be frightening and disturbing while simultaneously avoiding most of the traps and pitfalls that plague so many other films in its genre.
There’s Always a Creepy House…
When Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, respectively) and their five children move into their new Rhode Island home, all seems to be going well for the family – that is, of course, until things start to go bump in the night, ghostly apparitions stalk the halls and strange noises begin coming from the boarded-up cellar. It is then that the Perrons realize they are not alone in their new home. They consult professional demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) in the hopes that they may drive out whatever it is that’s haunting them but of course, something of that nature is easier said than done.
“Sometimes it’s Best to Keep the Genie in the Bottle”
I am a huge James Wan fan and this film is no different in tone or atmosphere from his previously brilliant horror works. Wan has a way of making his films feel so creepy and so real that you’re not only on the edge of your seat with suspense, but you’re also readying yourself to bolt for the door at the next jump scare. This film is sort of a throwback to classic horror films such as “The Exorcist” and “Poltergeist”; it doesn’t rely on CGI or gratuitous amounts of gore but simply on atmosphere and tone. The house the Perrons live in is literally the creepiest haunted house in a film I have ever seen – the walls are dilapidated with peeling paint, the lightbulbs flicker and there’s even the aforementioned boarded-up cellar – so before the evil spirits even have a chance to introduce themselves, you’re already feeling a slight sensation of fear. The film even fools you into thinking a jump scare is imminent when really, it’s not. This is because the filmmakers are smart enough to know who their audience is and what they’re expecting that when the real terror does come, they’re counting on you not being ready for it.
The cinematography deserves much praise as both traditional mounted- and hand-held camera styles are incorporated – the hand-held portions are the best as they are mostly used whenever a character is fearfully tip-toeing through the house, giving the audience the sense that they’re there with them every step of the way.
Based on Real People… Really
Unlike most films of this genre, “The Conjuring” actually roots itself in reality and the Warrens, believe it or not, are real people. Whether or not it’s true if they ever had a case such as the one presented in the film, the “based on a true story” claim attached to the film isn’t some sort of Hollywood fabrication – it’s the real thing. Wilson and Farmiga are perfect in their roles, playing not only each other’s business partner and spouse, but emotional and psychological rock. Lorraine hides a dark secret which even Ed doesn’t want to know and the mystery behind it is never quite resolved, a smart move by the filmmakers which allows the audience to fill in the blanks on their own.
Though the film does have a few clichés which have been done ad nauseum in this genre, it mostly manages to stand on its own two feet and present itself as not your ordinary fright-fest. The first two acts are marvellously well-done as they slowly build tension and suspense with the most simple yet fear-inducing tricks. The third act, however, seems rushed and recycled, having copied scenes and tropes we’re already so used to in films of this genre, killing some of the established originality. But in the end, “The Conjuring” is an exceptionally terrifying horror film which proves that the classic, sans-CGI horror style is far, far from dead.