I just wanna get it out of the way now - The Conjuring is one of the greatest horror films I have ever seen. It is a real deal, a true horror movie - based on tension, ambiance, strong characters. The film that has been in development for 20 years has everything you would want from horror movie - scares, creepiness and characters you feel for as well as the villain you are afraid of. And it has something more, something that makes for a real scare that is with you long after seeing a horror film - it tells the story that might have been real. Or should I say - it's easier to believe it is real than with most horror films' stories.
It's hard to approach all the things one may think about when seeing The Conjuring because of the whole real/fictional combo. Some elements of it are indisputably real - the existence of those characters we see, of the house (which still exists and is actually inhabited as I write these words), of the person who is the main villain in the film - there is evidence she did in fact exist. But as for the haunting, the possession, the spirits? We only have these people's words and stories and it's your choice whether to believe it or not. Either way, this is a damn fine movie.
The film tells the story of the haunting of the Perron family, who has moved into their dream home in Rhode Island in 1971. Fairly soon strange things started to happen - the family members would experience the feeling of invisible entity being next to them, even holding them, there would be strange scents in the house and the barn, the doors would open and shut on their own.
The family sought the help of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The couple made frequent trips to the house to investigate the phenomena. Lorraine, a medium, discovered that there was a lot of spirits in the house but the main spirit that was tormenting the family was of the woman called Bathsheba, who was believed to be a witch.
There are many liberties the film is taking with the "real" story - the hanging of Bathsheba never happened, the Warrens never performed an exorcism, the dog wasn't harmed. All of those things are the embellishments of the story, but the interesting thing is that the members of Perron family and Lorraine Warren were involved in the making of the film, as the consultants for the crew and the cast and they say the film is pretty much accurate. So even if some things here are just Hollywood additions, the feeling of horror experienced in the house is real.
Lorraine Warren is still alive, at 86 (she even has a cameo in the film, she is one of the people who attends the second lecture of the Warrens we see in the film). Her husband Ed died in 2006. Whether you truly believe in supernatural or not, these two are real people. It is really lovely how the dynamics between them is shown in the movie. They are married to one another but they are also partners in their quest of helping the innocent victims of hauntings and possessions. You can call the real people con artists, sure you can - but the way we see it in the film these two people gave the Perrons support and hope. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga had lovely, respectful and loving chemistry and I really liked their characters.
I love stories that have a couple like that - these two - and let's just talk about the movie depiction here - have made their marriage and partnership into the kind of shield against the evil forces. They both support each other and go through all of this together. It is especially admirable that they continue to help the innocent and anger the demonic forces in the process, even though they have a young daughter who, I imagine, they worried about constantly. But they knew things, they knew how to fight the demons. And instead of playing it safe, they decided to help those who needed their help.
What I also loved about the film was the character of Lorraine. She is a true horror movie heroine. This is a woman who doesn't just believe the evil is out there. She knows it is there, waiting to strike those who least suspect it, because she has seen it with her own eyes. She continues to go to hell and back, expose herself, her mind and soul in the darkness to demons to help those who are unable to fight them.
I loved that the sixth sense Lorraine is gifted with has strings attached to it. Each time she experiences visions she goes through a trauma, as all of us probably would not only realizing what is out there but actually seeing it. Still, she carries herself with such dignity and courage one can't help but admire her strength and kindness. I absolutely adore Vera Farmiga and she did a wonderful job here, giving her character a lot of fierceness but also vulnerability and incredible bravery in the face of the most horrible things.
But Lorraine is not the only heroine of the story - we also have Carolyn Perron, who was the main victim of the haunting. She is played by Lili Taylor who is no stranger to the horror genre, having starred in The Haunting and the series Hemlock Grove. Taylor is a terrific actress who has taken on a number of interesting characters over the years (from Arizona Dream to Six Feet Under) and once again she brings in her A game here.
Taylor has a tricky part here and without revealing too much, it's because she kinda has to play two different people in the movie. She is fantastic in both of these challenges and she successfully made me feel for character as well as being legitimately scared of her.
The rest of the cast is very good - I'm not a big fan of Patrick Wilson, mostly because he usually plays assholes so convincingly, but he was very likable here. Ron Livingston did a good job as father of Perron family and all the kid actors were amazing, especially Joey King who was terrific in showing just how afraid she is of whatever it was her character was seeing.
But perhaps what's most impressive about the movie is that it was made by James Wan, who gave us Saw. I have written previously, on the occasion of reviewing Insidious, how ironic it is that a guy who kicked off the whole torture porn craze managed to pull off great scares without a single drop of blood. Say what you want about Wan, but I find this guy to be unstoppable because each of his recent movies is better than the last.
The Conjuring has many elements that are pretty much obligatory in horror movies, for some reason. We have weird music box, a child having a
Another thing is that there are many things in the movie that are left to our imagination - many times in the film we don't see what the characters are seeing, we are only witnessing their reactions, the horror, crippling fear visible on their faces. We are left to imagine what they saw and that's the best thing to do in horror film, because there is nothing scarier then the creations of human imagination.
What's worth noting is that the film goes against the tide and ridiculous trends of modern horror, especially with its ending, which was great. No twist, no gruesome evil triumph. Instead we got some hope, at last. We also got very cool reference to the most famous case Warrens investigated - Amityville.
The aspect of the ending I appreciated the most, though, was the lack of the final jump scare before end credits roll in. This is the worst thing in modern horror. Forget the awful CGI, forget the silly twist. The jump scare in the end is the worst. Sinister had it and I knocked the whole point out of the grade. Fuck you, Sinister. What a way to ruin a decent movie. The Conjuring not only ends with an ending that finally gives its audience a room to breathe, it is actually quit unsettling without cheap gimmickry. The film's last shot suggests that the evil forces may be defeated for now, but they still exist. And the ending, beautiful quote (in the beginning of the review) is why it still ends on hopeful note.
I don't particularly mind jump scares. They always work on me. Even if I'm absolutely certain something is about to jump on screen with creepy music in the background and I'm hiding behind my purse, hair, hands, my own sweat, I'll still jump when it happens. Yes, it's a horribly cheap trick. But sometimes it can be used in a creative way.
Wan figured out how to do that in Insidious. In Saw and Dead Silence the jump scares, as effective (for me) as they were, were just littered all over the place. Each scary scene, each tense moment would end with those. But in Insidious the jump scares were used to dose the tension, to get your heart pumping because something even bigger was about to happen. Same goes for The Conjuring.
There are only several of jump scares in the whole film and they are always followed by huge, intense sequence filled with genuine tension. The film's epic finale, featuring what I think is the best exorcism scene since The Exorcist, is just relentless at keeping you at the edge of your seat. It is fantastically done and it has emotional punch too, because the film established those characters so well.
The beginning for the film was also memorable and actually one of the freakiest parts of the film. It was a terrific way to introduce us to the Warrens.We observe them during a lecture when they talk about their case - a case of Annabelle, the doll. This is another thing that is based on "real" events, except in reality Annabell was a Raggedy Ann doll. She is much scarier in the film and her scenes are very freaky. Seriously, what is up with Wan and the dolls?
The film is beautifully shot and the score is quite unusual in its subtlety - funny thing is that Joseph Bishara who plays the demons both in Insidious and The Conjuring, also composed the music for both films and it is just so different. Insidious had one of the simplest, yet scariest scores I've heard in horrors and The Conjuring, while it still has plenty of creepy music, features beautiful tracks too, as there is a lot of warmth in the movie, mostly because of the family aspect of all of this.
I feel the need to mention one major issue. There seem to be a group of people out there (including one of the actual movie critics) who expressed opinion that the movie - wait for it - justifies Salem witch trials. This is one of the most ridiculous statements I've heard about any film recently and the fact that an actual movie critic who I assume is getting paid for his opinions expressed such nonsense is very troubling. I also read that the film is "women hating propaganda" but that claim is so nonsensical I'm not even gonna dignify it with more than one line of text.
That guy mentioned something about being a descendant of a woman killed during what I'd like to call one of the many things representatives of the Catholic Church should apologize for, on their knees, while beginning for forgiveness. To back up such an opinion (especially as baseless and poorly researched) by example of tragedy that actually happened is despicable. Let me ask you this - if a person shot 100 random people, for no reason and one of those people turned out to be a rapist, pedophile, murderer who deserved to die would you say that the actions of that person were justified regarding all of those 100 people?
The film simply states that the woman who was a witch is the ghost haunting the family. Lorraine mentions that woman was on trial during Salem witch trials. On trial. Not killed in the result of the trial. They are not saying that all the killings that happened there should have happened. They are simply stating that this one case was actually involved with supernatural. In their opinion. Based on hearsay. If it actually happened. And it's a freaking movie.
And let's dig deeper here. The woman was on trial and was found not guilty. In the real life she died an old woman. In the movie she hanged herself. Lorraine mentions something about woman proclaiming she loved Satan. Most of pagan religions don't even recognize the existence of Satan. Holes all over the place and that's all right because it's a movie, but when we have those hysterics looking for deeper meanings, movie cliches are starting to get turned in twisted messages. Never mind that whether or not some of the woman were "guilty" (if it is even possible) or not is beside the point - Salem witch trials was genocide, pure and simple. Those trials were illegal in every way, the accused had no means of defending themselves and the proceedings were based on pure, disgusting hatred.
And here is another thing - based on whether you believe in supernatural or not "based on real events" is a subjective term.So here is what is happening right now - people are picking up the parts of this movie as real and fake. They are simultaneously saying that the people who believe in ghosts are naive, that the Warrens are frauds and that the film is justifying witch trials because it is saying one woman was a witch and was on trial in Salem. You really can't have it both ways, folks.
Another charming claim I hear is that the film is pro-catholic. Well, wow. Lorraine and Ed are Catholics and they say it would be better if the five Perron children were baptized. That's it. And the one priest we see is your typical catholic priest who is not in hurry to help the family because "they are not members of the church" while Lorraine and Ed keep asking him to help.
The way I saw that film is that even with those terrible fucking cliches - let's kill a dog, let's say it's a witch and let's hang her because all witches are evil (or in other words one of Hollywood's favorite caricatures) - the film was quite moving and profound tale of good versus evil, regardless of what religion you are. And I'd like to think that this is what people involved in the production were trying to do - make a good, scary and in the end actually uplifting horror film that shows the power of faith, whatever it is you believe in.
While I'm always appalled by these caricatures of witches shown in all those horror films (worshipers of pagan religions are being continuously slandered by that, even if its not the intent) and I'm very much against Catholic Church as an institution, I have no problem whatsoever when the characters in the film are Catholics but they are good people. The Warrens didn't use their religion to preach hatred - they used their faith as the weapon against supernatural, evil forces and they saw past those things that one priest in the movie couldn't. They connected with the family they were helping which enabled them to win in the end.
But really the only thing that should be talked about regarding the film is that The Conjuring is the finest horror film in a very long time.
After I saw the film, I saw Dead Silence. And I don't know thanks to which one of those it was but as I sat in my room, reading about the Warrens, writing parts of the review, I felt a presence.
Standing right behind me.
(2013, 112 min)
Plot: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.
Director: James Wan
Writers: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor