The Conjuring

The Conjuring photo starrating-3andahalfstars.jpgWhen The Conjuring was slapped with an “R” rating, the producers couldn’t have bought better publicity. Setting out to make a PG-13 film, the picture earned the more restrictive classification, not on account of blood, gore, swearing, or sex – but because it was simply TOO SCARY to get anything less. The decision to leave things as they were worked. It had the highest debut for an original R rated movie ever. Even taking inflation into account, it still ranks up there with record holders like The Sixth Sense and What Lies Beneath. I must profess the strategy worked on me. Anticipation levels were off the charts and I was primed and ready to be scared out of my wits. To be honest, I found PG-13 fare like The Ring and Insidious to be far scarier. Of course such an assertion is highly debatable as it rests entirely on personal tastes. That’s not to say The Conjuring isn’t satisfying. It’s a smartly told, well acted tale that earns its scares legitimately.

What pushes The Conjuring into watchable entertainment is the game cast that gives the proceedings an air of substance and respectability. The screenplay is taken from the true story of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga). The Amityville Horror was based on their research. Their portrayals are sound. Vera Farmiga is genuinely good at eliciting our concern. Also superb are the Perron clan—Roger (Ron Livingston), Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and their five daughters—victimized by demonic forces after moving into their new home. Naturally their domicile is dilapidated, old and really eerie. I mean the dog won’t enter the house. Lili Taylor reminds us of how underrated an actress she actually is. She undoubtedly gets the juiciest part, but she makes the most of it.

The Conjuring is set in the 70s and the milieu lends the environment an atmospheric elegance. We’re informed Ed Warren was the only American layman permitted by the Catholic Church to perform exorcisms. That’s a nice bit of information. This is intelligent terror that ironically creates tension with well worn clichés. There’s a music box, a creepy doll, birds behaving abnormally, kids in peril. There are at least a dozen conventional tropes from which this appropriates. Horror aficionados will have a distinct feeling of déjà vu. You can roll your eyes at all the movies this borrows from or just go with the flow. If you’re going to imitate you might as well copy from the best I suppose. There is a refined simplicity to the action that is rather effective. When Vera Farmiga is hanging laundry on a clothesline, a white sheet takes on a human form as it blows away from her grasp. I think it’s telling that the simple image elicited gasps from the audience. Director James Wan is continuing the sophisticated path he started with Insidious. His high regard for the classics of the genre continues as he seems to have abandoned the gross-out style he exploited with the first Saw. This isn’t really a step forward, but it definitely isn’t a step back either.

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41 Responses to “The Conjuring”

  1. GaryLee828 Says:

    Good review. 🙂

    Even though this film isn’t groundbreaking, and as you said borrows cliches from other films it’s still effective due to the atmosphere that was created, which I think is the most important element for a horror movie. But something I truly appreciate about this movie is that it didn’t give us a bunch of annoying characters who do a ton of asinine things. I liked all of the characters, which is extremely rare for a horror film, and I hoped all would survive. I really hope this becomes a trend.

    I wrote a review myself for this; check it out when you have a minute. http://garylee828.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/mainstream-hollywood-horror-films-should-be-like-the-conjuring/

    Good to see a horror movie come out that so many of us can agree on. 🙂

    • The performances go a long way in making you care about these people. I was genuinely concerned what would happen next. You’re right. That’s important in a horror film.

  2. Good review Mark. I wouldn’t say that I was scared with this flick, but I had a very good time. Definitely one of the better horror flicks to come out in recent time, that’s for sure.

  3. Nice review. I’m really curious about this one. Watched the trailer a few months ago and thought it was incredibly creepy.

  4. Great review man. I felt the picture really maintained its intensity (if not built upon it as the story unfolded) and this resulted in a high level of success. Backed with great acting (esp. when considering the trend in that department with most in the genre), i think Wan in fact did take a step forward by putting out his most matured work to date. It may echo a lot of the cliches of horror films (the dog, the kids being scared first, other visual effects) but I think all of this really, really worked in the film’s favor. I’m not one who’s easily convinced with the tricks in these types of movies, but I bought this. Hook, line and sinker. haha

    • James Wan’s Insidious made my Top 10 for the year it came out. This didn’t match that film in intensity, but it was a good effort. Great acting, yes. The cast made up for the lack of scares.

  5. I’m kind of glad that (because of surgery) I can’t see this one in theaters. The fact that the MPAA would give it an R rating for being “too scary” probably just gives them another rational pile of lawsuits to work through. If it were PG-13, it would be so much easier to get what you came thirty minutes for, and people my age wouldn’t have to deal with that annoying uptight guy who follows you to the theater you’re sneaking in to, proving to be a bigger threat as a possible stalker than the “threat” posed by the movie itself.

    But whatever, it just pisses me off that we have a bunch of Hitlers running around America giving us “Check the box [for further ridiculous propaganda]!”

    I’ll definitely see this on Blu-Ray. The trailers, for me, made it look like warmup for Insidious Chapter 2, but it does seem like Vera Farmiga has yet another great role.

    • Your Hitler comment left me a little confused. Check the box?

      I’m glad you mention Vera Farmiga. She is such a great actress. Higher Ground in 2011 was a brilliant character study. Plus she’s up for an Emmy in A&E’s Bates Motel this year.

      • The “Check the Box” campaign that the MPAA is doing. In my opinion, it’s like getting every passerby who merely notices Nazi propaganda, and constantly encouraging them to analyze it. Drives me nuts, and it shouldn’t be happening.

        She was great in Bates Motel. Also, The Departed, though that was seven years ago.

  6. Good review! We feel pretty much the same way about it. And I’m glad Wan has done away with the gore and has gone the more classic horror route. I look forward to what he does with Fast and Furious 7, but I hope he doesn’t abandon the horror track entirely.

  7. I read that the R rating was for the scare factor, not for blood and gore, but I don’t think I can handle it. Creepy dolls, music box etc. are just too spooky for me. I’ll probably be haunted for months!

    • GaryLee828 Says:

      Yeah, if you don’t watch horror movies often and have a hard time with them then this could definitely freak you out! lol. The only reason some of us horror buffs aren’t as affected by it is b/c we’ve seen so many other horror films, and after a while we start to become immune.

      • Yeah I’ve seen so many movies that utilize scares like this. There are exceptions that break the mold. Both The Ring and Insidious scared me for weeks!

      • GaryLee828 Says:

        “The Ring” was one of the most awesome theater experiences I’ve had. We went to the midnight showing and it was pretty crowded, and during the well scene at the end I told my friend “Watch, she’s gonna climb out of the well and thru the TV” and then her hands come out of the well – and we stand to our feet like we’re at a sporting event and I think a slew of other moviegoers were, as well. And the theater yelled, cheered, gasped, etc. when she came thru the TV. Such a scary and awesome scene! My friend was scared to go home that night. lol. “The Ring” will always be one of my favorite horror films! 🙂

      • Nothing takes the place of a movie going experience like that on the big screen. Great story!

    • I guess I’ve seen too many horror films like this. The first few times I saw that in a movie, I was scared too. It seems so quaint now, like the old Hammer films from the 30s.

  8. I agree with pretty much everything you said, except (I guess) I was more scared throughout. The ending was pretty damn scary.

    • GaryLee828 Says:

      Markus, I’m a horror buff and that opening made my heart race! lol. And I agree the ending was pretty creepy, as well. I think the whole movie had a lot of creepy elements; but I guess that since it was rated R while “Insidious” and “The Ring” were PG-13 a lot of us were expecting it to be scarier on another level.

    • I guess classics like Frankenstein or The Wolfman still scare people too. It just seemed so familiar to me by now. Enjoyed the acting though. That made the film classy.

  9. “I mean the dog won’t enter the house.”

    If that happens, you KNOW it’s time to run outside and never look back.

    I’m ready for the sequel–this time I hope it focuses more on Ed and Lorraine. This one is too much case, not enough investigators.

    I sorta loved it. I got scared a few times. Dolls are creepy. So are music boxes.

    • More sequels. Next up is Insidious: Chapter 2 from James Wan. I hope the director can explore some new ideas to make the story fresh. 🙂

      • Still can’t believe he’ll direct the next “The Fast and the Furious” movie. I’m very interested to see how he’ll do outside of horror and thriller.

  10. you gotta love a horror film that pays tribute to the old school classics. this is making me wanna watch it.

  11. Great review Mark. I was really angry because at my screening the audience was talking the entire time and yelling at the screen in the worst stereotypical way that certain groups of people are known for doing. This completely took me out of the experience and ruined the movie, to the point where I didn’t think I could write an intelligent review. That said, the parts I could hear and see were enjoyable and pretty freaky. The film has a very old-school horror quality to it that works well. You’re right that it pays homage to the genre with well-worn tropes, which you could roll your eyes at, but for the most part they work.

    • Sometimes the crowd experience can help a film and other times it can ruin it. I have had that problem with horror movies in particular. Bride of Chucky was probably the loudest audience I‘ve ever been a part of. I know it’s not a good movie anyway, but still. LOL

  12. LOVED the movie. I gotta say as scary as Insidious and The Ring were this one scared me a little more, because I found the whole idea more plausible – hell, even if there are no ghosts they are still more realistic to me than haunted video tapes and different dimensions. Both Taylor and Farmiga were fantastic as well.

    • Credible acting is so important in a horror film. I think their performances really sold me on this movie. I bought into the terror because of their reactions.

  13. Not as scary as I was expecting, however, it was quite good. Very eerie and well acted. Yes it reminded me of other horror films, but that didn’t matter to me. I liked it. 3 1/2 stars.

    • I’m a little surprised how successful this was. It’s good but not much different from a lot of other good horror films that don’t make a lot of money.

  14. Well acted and spooky but I was expecting to run out of the theater screaming and that certainly was not the case.

  15. Good review. I’m hoping to see it this weekend.

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