Oct 31, 2014

Review: The Conjuring (2013)

I heard a lot about The Conjuring when it was released in July of 2013. It generated a lot of word of mouth and made a killing at the box office, in the summer no less instead of the month of October as you'd think. I'm not the type to go see horror movies in theatres though. I'm too much of a baby for that, but I knew I'd see it eventually.

With Malaysian director James Wan at the helm who boasts titles like Saw and Insidious, there did appear reason for me to hope that The Conjuring could be a good horror movie. I was a little leery though about writers Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes who are credited with titles like Whiteout and the 2005 House of Wax. The Conjuring however is based on true events, centered around Ed and Lorrain Warren who were paranormal investigators beginning in the 1950's. They were best known for their investigation into the real Amityville Horror case, so there's definitely a good solid base there at least.


Genre: horror
Directed by: James Wan
Produced by: Rob Cowan, Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran
Written by: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Music by: Joseph Bishara
Running time: 112 minutes
Production company: New Line Cinema, The Safran Company, Evergreen Media Group
Distributed by: New Line Cinema, Warner Bros., Roadshow Film Distributors, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $20,000,000
Box office: $318,000,141 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins, Marion Guyot, Morganna May, Amy Tipton



It's 1971 and Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) move into a rundown farmhouse with their five daughters. Their dog Sadie refuses to set foot in the house and the next day is found dead. Other ominous things start happening which convinces Roger and Carolyn that their house is haunted. They enlist the help of paranormal experts Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) who also conclude without a doubt that the house is haunted.


I was a bit put off at first with the opening segment of The Conjuring to be honest. It's about a group of students in 1968 who have some trouble with a doll which they believe to be haunted called Annabelle. Yes, that Annabelle that has become its own spinoff film. There's nothing particularly surprising about any of the scares here, but what it does is set the stage and do some "world building."

That's one thing I absolutely love about this movie. The Conjuring dedicates lots time to putting some backbone into the story, or world building. It presents the facts about what's happening and eases the viewer into actually believing that this sort of thing is possible. I'm surprised that Chad and Carey Hayes were able to do this truth be told, but they do and very effectively I might add. 

It's clear that The Conjuring is really pushing that based on real events tag. Along with the setting and the big effort in making this believable, it feels like an old school movie. It's very 70's and I like that personally. However, that does mean that James Wan is treading on familiar ground here. You could point to many elements of The Conjuring and tie it to another movie that's already done it before. It's not all bad though.

Why's that? Because The Conjuring is scary as hell. Disregarding the first bit with Annabelle, Jame Wan takes a patient approach with building up some crazy effective scares. Elements like a boarded up cellar, clocks that have stopped at the same 3:07, a bad rotting meat smell that seems to move around the house and lots more hint at something very nefarious. There aren't any jump scares, trying to keep your interest either. Just creepy things happening as things progress to scarier and scarier. 

I felt what were several near heart attacks quite a few times for how scary a horror this movie is. The climax does seem to get a little bit too CGI heavy for my taste, but it's still relatively effective. It's a bit disappointing though given that everything before it was even scarier. Once the denouement made its appearance though, I could feel every muscle in my body relaxing. So all the same, that's not to say that the climax doesn't get the job done.

I was also really pleased with the cinematography of The Conjuring. The camera is fluid and moves around quite a bit in some impressive fields of motion. More often than not it contributes mightily to the eeriness of the film with flips, pans and focusing on something in particular. I'm also a fan of Joseph Bishara's score.

The Conjuring is a richly layered horror story that does a great job at making everything seem real with a heavy focus on backstory. Although it does seem to revisit a lot of things that have already been done in horror movies, it's a scary scary film. There's a good amount of focus on its characters that makes you care about them and fear for them while all sorts of awful things are happening. It's a definitely a horror movie that I recommend.



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