The Power of Good Filmmaking Compels You!
There are many fine horror films that could be counted among the scariest ever made. The Shining, The Exorcist, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, etc. However, no one would name anything that has come out in the past decade (or perhaps even longer) as the scariest. Sure there have been fine films, like The Woman and Stoker, but these films weren’t necessarily scary. That has changed now. Like a rising tide, The Conjuring has become the surprise horror smash of the decade.
Based upon the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the famed paranormal investigators who have studied and witnessed several high profile hauntings such as the infamous Amityville Horror, The Conjuring details their investigation of the Harrisville, Rhode Island home of the Perron family. Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) Perron have just purchased a quiet farmhouse for themselves and their five daughters. Things seem perfect and the family happily begins to explore their new home. Roger notices that the family dog refuses to enter the home, but thinks nothing of it.
During a game of hide and seek, his daughters uncover a boarded up stairwell into a cellar. They explore the cellar and find little of interest and put it out of their minds. Soon though, strange things begin to happen. Phantom noises are heard, one of their daughters begins sleepwalking, and the family dog is found dead outside. Rapidly the frequency of the paranormal activity takes a sharp turn upward and even Carolyn begins seeing and hearing things. Driven to desperation by her fear,
Carolyn turns to Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), who have been touring the country showcasing their footage of exorcisms and other phenomena. The Warrens agree to investigate, and moments after entering the home it becomes clear to Lorraine that something truly awful happened in the home that left a dark spirit roaming its halls. Determined to help the Perrons, the Warrens investigate further and begin seeking help from the Catholic Church. The dark spirit, provoked by the Warren’s involvement, begins lashing out with terrifying power at everyone involved.
When I first saw the teaser trailer (featured above) for this film, I was surprised at how well the tension was built throughout it. The trailer wasn’t gimmicky or filled with jumps and scares from the whole film, but instead it played a condensed version of one of the film’s early scenes. I remember thinking that this movie might have something going for it. Upon finally seeing it, that atmosphere and feeling of the trailer is built upon tenfold in the actual film. From the opening moments the film slowly but steadily builds an uneasy feeling in your gut. Most films start out with a happy, sun shine soaked intro that is a stark contrast to the rest of the (usually) bloody or CG covered proceedings.
This film however, in a brilliant move on the writers and director James Wan’s part, doesn’t waste your time with a sense of false security or insult your intelligence. You know that this is a horror movie, and you know the terror is coming, so why insert useless scenes of happy go lucky couples to try and goad you into letting your guard down. There is literally not a single scene in this film that isn’t dripping with a deliciously eerie tension. Even the scares, which usually serve as a huge release of the tension, serve to only raise the stakes in this film. This film could be compared to great sex, in that it just keeps building and building to astronomical heights until it explodes in a furious climax that leaves you breathless.
The actors and actresses do a fine job of making you believe every moment of the story, which is quite a feat considering over half the cast are children. We’ve all seen the horror films that cheapen themselves by trying to make paranormal events occurring around children extra creepy by playing off the child’s innocence. This film however realistically plays off the reactions of the children, instead of including them in the evil at hand. Some of the film’s most tense moments are when the girls are alone and things begin to go bump in the night, and this is another credit to James Wan’s fantastic work as the director. To be able to elicit such convincing performances, even from his youngest actors, is incredible. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga bring the famous Warren couple to life with grace. Their performance is rooted in who the real people actually were, and not who they were perceived as. They add legitimacy to people who would normally be portrayed as fanatics. Vera truly stands out with her touch of tortured frailty that she adds to Lorraine’s character.
The film is beautifully shot, with many shots perfectly capturing the bewildering horror of the events on screen. In one shot the camera even rotates left 180 degrees to mirror the frantic mood of one of the Perron children as she checks for monsters under her bed, to devastating effect. The long takes and wonderful framing help build the tension as much as the masterfully created sound. Horror films are notorious for their use of sound to build upon the chills, and this movie is a master level example of such practice. Groaning ropes and hand claps have never been scarier. Another notable quality of this film, much like this year’s gore fest Evil Dead, is the effective use of practical effects in lieu of slapping CG monsters and blood all over the frame. With the success of these two films, I hope other would be horror directors take note and understand that practical effects provoke a greater reaction and give the movie a more visceral feel.
By the films last scene I had a chill that stayed with me the whole ride home. This film plays with your expectations and fears perfectly. Sure, there are some things that some might say are overplayed in the horror genre, such as the classic gruff voices of the damned or the use of darkness and silence, but it has been a long, long time since I have seen a horror movie that is so masterfully put together that these things don’t feel cliche but instead feel fresh and needed. If you see one horror movie this year, make sure it is The Conjuring, for you will be seeing a modern classic.