Directed by James Wan
Yes, this is another scary, ghost story movie. A movie that contains paranormal beings haunting a family and focusing on the innocent children residing there. A movie that has a family moving into a new house, in the middle of nowhere that has had an unthinkable, dark history behind it and that is haunted by its past residents. Nothing new here right. The thing about The Conjuring, albeit that it is not a perfect or even great film, is that it is steeped in mood, good scares and, what makes a horror movie good, the fear of the unknown. I have problems with the ending but the film is one of the better horror films of the last decade and has a feel of fear and dread that sticks with you throughout the majority of the film.
In my opinion, what makes a horror or scary movie good is the fear of the unknown. The fear of the past that one does not fully concern itself with or know about. The fear of not knowing why something is happening and to what degree these events will continue, or not. I am not a horror film aficionado by any means but I love the classics. Films such as The Shining, The Exorcist and The Haunting, the original 1963 Robert Wise version. These are not just great horror films but great films in general. They are great because they do not focus on cheap scares, creepy monsters or gore for gores sake. They are soaked in the fear of what is coming next and what we do not know about. The fear of possessed characters with good makeup on. The fear of a house that moves and scares the shit out of who is ever in it. The fear of not knowing what could be around the corner, especially two twins. The Shining is so scary still to this day and that image is truly haunting. I am not at all comparing Wan's film to these at all, but the appreciation of the older, classic films from 60s and 70s are present in this one. He has created mood, style and fear that resonates with any viewer and has created an enjoyable, if not great horror film.
The film revolves around the Perron family who have moved to a remote home in Harrisville, Rhode Island in the 70s. The film states that this is based on a true story, which always elevates a sense of skepticism, as well as one of modest reality. The film is loosely based on two books written by one of the daughters, Andera Perron, but is changed dramatically by screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes. Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) are the parents and they have five daughters. Strange occurrences begin after a game of hide and clap where they open a boarded stairwell that leads to a cellar. The families dog Sadie refuses to go into the house and birds crash into the windows breaking their necks. Things are amiss in this new family abode and obvious references to Hitchcock's The Birds and the hide and seek game to J.A. Bayona's brilliant, and the last great horror film, The Orphanage. Appreciate that.
As the youngest daughter, April, and the most vulnerable, begins speaking to a ghost boy Rory after she finds a music/toy box, more unsettling events occur. It is better to see the film without knowing too much so I will not delve so much into other plot details that occur, but the family seeks out the help of the Warren's. Ed (Patrick Wilson), a Vatican approved Demonologist and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), a renowned clairvoyant. These two have worked numerous cases and, although are no way adverse to the fears of their uncompromising professions, are in not scared of diving right in to help this family. She can feel the hurt that has happened to the previous owners of house and feels the dread that is coming to the current residents. Also, the Warren's have a room in their house that contains possessed artifacts of all the cases they have worked, including a truly creepy, sadistic looking doll.
Everything that works, and what Wan and the screenwriters have done here, is to create a frightening, tense mood. Characters that are only using matches to see what they cannot see and the creepiness of a stench of death that presides in the possessed house. The creaks and noises of that old house, the unspeakable events of pictures falling off the wall when no one is physically present and the possession of the human body and mind by a demonic spirit. Sheets being pulled off the bed and a creepy black shadow, only seen by Lorraine, that gives a chill knowing that it has been haunting the Perron's ever since they have been living in the house. These are some of the fears that work and create a frightening mood that is successful. The only thing that did not work for me was the somewhat phony, uplifting ending, but that is all I will say on that. It just felt out of place and ruined the mood of the film. And, I really enjoyed the yellow coloring of the titles that rolled up from the bottom of the screen. Nice touch.
In the end, The Conjuring is a scary, enjoyable horror film that has style, mood and creepy scares. The fear is in what we, and the characters, cannot see and we know something is not right. That feeling is created with the simplest techniques and craft that avoids gallons of blood and guts and cheap thrills. The acting and writing are well balanced and do not overshadow the story. The children roles are exceptionally well acted as well. The filmmakers of The Conjuring have created a good little horror film and even though it is not a home run, it is easily one of the better horror films of the last decade.