Ed and Lorraine Warren are husband and wife. They are also two of the most renowned paranormal-occult investigators. During their prime, Ed was the only non-ordained demonologist recognized by the Vatican. Lorraine is a professed clairvoyant and a light trance medium. Together, they have investigated some of the most renowned hauntings in America. The story of their most malevolent supernatural encounter has never been revealed…until now.
20 years ago, the development of this film began and for nearly 14 years, they had no success. The original story had been titled “The Conjuring” and has been written by Tony DeRosa-Gund. Now in 2013, the story has finally been told with director James Wan at its helm. I have always seen James Wan’s talent with the way he is able to generate the proper atmosphere, set the right tempo and tone to express terror since “Insidious”. Now, the director seems to have refined his craft and “The Conjuring” may be one of the best American horror films to have graced theaters in the past 10 years. I kid you not.
The story begins with Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) concluding a case back in 1968. Fast forward to 1971 and an innocent family had just moved in to their new home in the countryside. Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) have may be in debt, but they are happy to own their own home with their six children. Not long after they have settled in and strange happenings begin to happen around the house. The strange occurrences are spiraling out of control, leading a desperate Carolyn to seek the help of the Warrens. Ed is reluctant, but Lorraine firmly believes that everything happens for a reason. Now, the two renowned investigators may have stumbled into something more evil and more dangerous than any they have faced before….
As with any film based on a “true event”, “The Conjuring” may have some fiction just so the story can feel much more solid for the viewer. Let’s be honest here, if one stuck to mere facts, some details of a story may struggle in finding its footing. The screenplay does an incredible job in grabbing my attention though, as Wan condenses the story of the Perron family haunting that supposed took place for 9 years effectively. The way the scares in the film were executed were simple, and yet because of the sense of timing and the simplicity of the scares, it feels damn real. Much of the credit would no doubt belong to James Wan, since he was able to avoid the heavy use of any CGI effects. I do believe that CGI were merely used to do the bruising effects and some of the subtle scares, but they were handled with a sense of restraint that they never felt cheap. The director uses simple editing tricks, the use of shadows and tricky camera work to get the film’s sense of terror through. The make up effects may feel familiar and the doll in the film reminded me of “Dead Silence” (I did not like the rocking chair scene with the doll), but really, I did not mind those things at all. The film also does a wonderful job in taking the viewer into a time machine to the 70's with the costumes and set pieces; at the end credits, the film shows several shots of actual photos of the real people behind the characters and several newspaper clippings to support the Warrens' career.
The loud bangs, a simple door closing suddenly, and claps were all used for maximum effect. Simple timing and the manipulation of shadows generated scares. I did feel that the more I got into the film, the more disturbing the haunting became. The direction and the script were able to come together to make the characters tell their story, as they come face to face with this demonic force. From subtle bumps to violent attacks, the scares carried a lot of weight. I am not sure if followers of my reviews do remember, but I have done a lot of reading about ghostly haunting and possessions and I have had a few brushes with the paranormal. Familiar devices such as 3 a.m., the putrid smell and the three knocks all hold meaning to actual demonic infestations (these are all believed to be true). Yes, they seem familiar, but trust me, you don’t really want to know what else is out there when it comes to the real signs. This is where fiction could potentially get confused with reality (such as the real "Annabelle" doll was the raggedy kind), so as with other horror movies, it makes up its own rules to further its plot. I do have to admit that even the history of the house made the plot much stronger, and it cemented what the Perrons and the Warrens were experiencing.
I guess what the screenplay does well is the fact that it actually made an effort for the audience to get to know its characters. The Perrons may carry a sense of familiarity around them, but the way their experiences and the way they convinced me that they were in fact a family made me look past their smudge of cliché. From simple things such as playing a ‘clap and seek’ game to little moments in the bedroom, the characters were able to make such a credible stand that they were indeed a family in peril. The Warrens were also given some background in the screenplay. They did feel human, with fears and a history behind them. Unlike the mediums and the ghost hunters of other horror movies, they weren’t caricatures, and the Warrens felt as if they had as much as stake as the family they seek to help. The screenplay gives us a glimpse into their lives, from their lectures to their moments as husband and wife. This makes them such compelling characters that I learned to grow concerned as they took on the Perron paranormal case. The story also answers some questions as to what happens to the cases the Warrens had investigated, and the viewer is taken to a glimpse of their ‘collection’ of occult objects. It also makes the ‘rescuers’ as people who also have something to lose, and this made them much more interesting.
No matter how good a screenplay and how competent the direction is, any film would never reach a level of suspense that can be called as ‘horror’. Vera Farmiga took the stage as the performer who just commanded the film. She was amazing as Lorraine, as her character became the strongest and the most courageous. However, she would not be as successful if not for Patrick Wilson’s performance. The two became a unit, with a close chemistry that matches the family bond brought together by the Perrons. Lili Taylor did stand out as the mother, as her character became the focus of the film in the last act. The supporting characters were just as competent, as the all-girl siblings manages to come together as children in peril but they never became the horror cliché as the stakes had been defined carefully. I wasn’t too keen with the cop and the technical analyst, but they did manage to help balance out the second act.
“The Conjuring” is a horror film with a well-developed story that is driven by its characters that the more you go further into it, the more you get invested in its plot. James Wan had a terrific sense of timing, he practiced a sense of restraint that the film became creepy and suspenseful; it never became cheap and it avoided jump scares. It is an old-fashioned comtemporary horror film. The exorcism act also made a lot of sense, and further validates the belief that one does not need to be ordained to perform such a ritual. After all, one needs to be able to hang on to goodness to overcome evil….since light overcomes darkness by illuminating it. I know, non-believers may remain skeptical (with the final text by Ed Warren before the end credits), but really who cares, since anyone can appreciate a good horror movie. The thing that made this movie work is the fact that it sold its story with its characters, with a fantastic hand in executing its terror; and that should be good enough whether you are a believer or not. “The Conjuring” may be one of the best horror movies I’ve seen for the past decade. And that is saying a lot when it comes from a horror fan.
By Joan Alperin Schwartz 'The Conjuring' is one of the most terrifying films I've seen in a very long time and I loved every second of it. Of course I love being scared, but only when I'm seating in a movie theatre. Based … more