Going into this flick, I was not sure what to expect. James Wan’s films have been very hit-or-miss for me. In my opinion, he has made one great film (Saw), a terrible film (Dead Silence), and a film which was good for its first two thirds and fell apart in the third (Insidious). Now that I’ve seen The Conjuring, I can add another great film to the list.
The Conjuring follows a family who moves into a farmhouse which is haunted. They bring in paranormal investigators to help them get rid of the horrid spirits. Sound like a typical horror flick? Maybe it is, plot-wise. When it comes to horror, it does not really matter as long as it does not fall into typical tropes, which this one does not.
Comedies and horrors are a lot alike. Their plots do not usually matter too much. They both require real people as characters to make you care about what they are doing. They both require a certain amount of set up to make the scares/laughs worth it. The longer the set-up (and the more clever the set-up), the louder the screams and the laughs. This film excels in all of these areas, making the audience care about what happens to each character, whether it be the investigating couple, Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson respectively), the tortured owners of the house Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor), or their kids (too many to count).
In the first thirty minutes, there is no real horror aside from the ‘prologue,’ per say. Whenever something happens, it is relatively subtle. The real scares happen for the following hour and a half relentlessly, terrifying the audience and I. This is due to the collaboration of director James Wan, director of photography John R. Leonetti, and art diretor Geoffrey S. Grimsman. They do amazingly, using every detail of the house to create a sense of unease throughout. There is an early shot, beginning in the driveway of the house and leading up through to the back patio as the family moves into the home. It grabs a bit of conversation from every member, slyly making the audience feel something for everyone. Some antics from the kids, silly things they do, acting like a real family. Yet, there is a dark presence in the shot, a tree in the background which later has a bit of a story to it.
There will be spoilers in the following two paragraphs!! Skip ahead if you do not want to read these!
A recurring motif of the film are the mirrors seen throughout. They are present in almost every room. Reflections are used to reveal people, to reveal the past of the house, to reveal the demonic presences. I kept expecting to see something in one of them at some point, but never did. In film I always love seeing so many of those, keeping most characters in frame, even if they are technically ‘out’. What is the deeper meaning behind the mirrors, behind the reflections, you ask? Well, the way I see it? When one looks into a mirror, s/he sees him or herself for what he or she really is and see what he or she feels.
Most of the ghouls in the film are female, or are dead because of their mothers. Demons in the house possessed mothers and forced them to kill their children and then themselves. Clearly, the film is about the fear of maternal rejection. At one point Carolyn asks, “How could mothers do this to their children?” Lorraine (another mother) answers, “because they do not consider the child to be theirs.” Carolyn is later possessed by the demon and attempts to kill her two daughters. After a somewhat failed exorcism, she is forced to reflect (pow, reflection) upon happy thoughts she had with her family to push the demon out of her. It’s very clever. Pow, analysis. I rock.
No More Spoilers Do Not Worry
There is clearly a lot to the film. A lot that works. The acting is solid all around. The direction by Wan is fantastic. Everything is suspenseful, every character is worth caring for. The sound editing is SUPERB! The sound designer clearly understood that sometimes silence is what is needed.
Yes, there is some stuff that does not work. The music at the beginning of the flick felt waaaay derivative of every other horror score ever. The score gets better around the mid-way point, but it’s slice and dice for awhile. Generally the flick is good about not showing much, but there is a moment in a bedroom where they show too much of a ghoul, lessening the impact of it. I can easily forgive it for those faults, which are not faults, so much as me finding something to nitpick.
James Wan made an incredibly, incredibly good horror film; The Conjuring is one of the best in recent years. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The best part of a good horror flick for me personally is the laughter heard in the audience. It isn’t a result of a joke, or finding something funny, but the specific laughter that follows the realization that you just screamed in a crowded theater, which most everyone did in mine. I definitely did. In a manly fashion. Ladies.