The Conjuring(James Wan, 2013) 3/4
Some horror films are made with only one intention in mind, to scare the audience. Others focus on stories within the characters, revealing their most terrifying thoughts. James Wan’s period horror The Conjuring does both – taking a well-crafted storyline through complex characters, all while boosting as many scares as possible. Acting as an upscale haunted house, the film takes time to build the atmosphere around the disturbed home, before scaring the hell out you. There is a moment halfway through the film when Vera Farmiga’s character is hanging laundry outside in the middle of the day. A gust of wind – or maybe a powerful entity – takes a sheet off the clips taking the form of a human body before floating up to a window to reveal someone staring down. These little moments make the film powerful because of how “cheap” the tricks are.
As the movie opens, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are giving a presentation on ghost hunting to a group of college students. Using both “found footage” and regular storytelling, the opening scenes act as mini films themselves. Using little scares and creepy stories, the Warren’s reveal their work of demonic removal. Moving to the other side of the film, we visit the Perron family as they move into a new home in Harrisville, Rhode Island. As soon as the couple and their five daughters are settled in, supernatural events begin to occur.
The events around the Perron home begin to grow worse as the forces attack each family member during the night, eventually latching onto them. Quickly looking for help, the mother Carolyn hunts down the Warren’s to beg for their skills. Within seconds of entering the Perron home, Lorraine senses the spirits and just how angry they are.
Like most demonic films, religion plays a key role. What was interesting about The Conjuring is the way it was used. In order to have an exorcism you need two things – permission by the church and a priest. The Warren’s are very religious people, using faith to guide their demonologist work. The Perron’s are not religious, making them easier to be controlled by spirits as well as increasing the difficulty to remove those spirits. The Warren’s set out to help the Perron’s, turning their home into a ghost hunting research center; the spirits that lie within the home take offense to this and the paranormal events worsen.
The scenery used in the film to create the 1970’s look may be what makes the film so wonderful. The costumes, set pieces, and character actions take the audience deep within the world of the families – pushing the case files onto the screen. The film is based off of true events and that is what makes it so terrifying. After all, those are the best horror films, right? Immediately after my screening someone in the audience said, “there’s no way that actually happened”. Those words will be spoken too much during the films theatrical run.
The team that brought you Insidious is behind this wonderfully crafted horror film. Director James Wan and director of photography John R. Leonetti use their skills to take complete control of the films environment and steal every horror film’s trick. The camera is always moving through the home, putting the audience into eyes of the spirits in a way. The only aspect that would have made the camera work more effective would have been to use more long takes, letting the camera linger and the audience shake. Stealing is never a bad thing when it comes to film. Attempt to copy a feeling created by a film and you will fail. Steal the way a film created an environment and you will come away with something that takes old and makes it new. Lighting and sound are perfectly executed; using classic modes of both to build tension and only reveal what is needed to create a scare. Throughout the film you will find yourself attempting to peek into the darkness that is created, wishing something would pop out already. Anyone can make an audience jump and feel on edge, but Wan understand the oldest trick in the book: jumps don’t scare an audience, the environment does.