Yankin’ my chain
James Wan’s The Conjuring aims to be a strong addition to classic horror movie tropes rather than to redefine the genre, and it largely succeeds. As polished as some of the best of the genre in recent years, seeing the movie in a theater feels like the correct way to witness cinematic horror, of which quality movies are getting harder and harder to come by.
The story isn’t exactly original, but it’s based on something that actually happened, so we can’t really nitpick here. Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) move into a practically rotting house next to an ever-misty lake and creepy willow tree with their five daughters, who range from stereotypically bratty to stereotypically stupid-adorable. They quickly realize something supernatural is happening in the house. It begins with strange smells and clocks stopping at the same time every night, then escalates to doors slamming for no reason, demonic figures appearing in the night, and feet being yanked out of bed by unseen forces.
You know what would have prevented this entire haunting? Beds with raised frames. The demon would’ve had nowhere to pull her because the bed frame at the bottom would have been in the way. Boom, problem solved!! Call me for any exorcisms.
The locked in, trapped horror of the film’s opening half is compromised by the inclusion of a subplot focusing on famous real-life exorcists Ed and Lorraine Warren (portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). Shifting the location to the Warrens’ household (infamously filled with haunted goodies from past cases) and universities the couple is touring removes the claustrophobia of being trapped in a haunted house movies of the genre typically rely on. The widened scenery only plays to the film’s strengths, however; showing the family seeking outside help allows the film to rely on approaching the haunting realistically and smartly, which so many other movies of the genre fail to do, rather than solely relying on scares to occupy the screen.
Because the movie isn’t that scary. The hide-and-clap sequences (hide-and-go-seek with an innovative twist where the hider must clap) will scare viewers that have never seen a commercial advertising the movie. The other 99% will already know what happens. The film’s center is occupied by more daylight and conversation than is typical for a horror movie. The beginning exorcist-less scenes are anchored by plot clichés, but provided a handful of old school scares.
When the Warrens arrive at the house Lorraine quickly picks up on the presence of a demon (a large cloud of swirling darkness lingering in the corner gave it away). The Warrens authorize the entire house for an exorcism by the Catholic Church (because I’m so sure they care) and get to demon hunting. Lorraine’s unique ability to see into the past when holding objects unveils the demon’s true mission objective, and she realizes the Perrons are in much more danger than they thought.
The film earned double its budget opening weekend, which of course means we will be treated to at least five sequels and a largely unrelated prequel trilogy. If they prove to be as good as this film however, this can be a blessing rather than a curse.