Supernatural horror conjures up classic horror nostalgia
Based upon a real case documented by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, The Conjuring depicts a family’s struggle with demonic spirits when they relocate to a house with a horrifying past. Well acted and stylishly shot, the film stands out from its fellow modern day horror flicks and is clearly inspired by and redolent of classic horror films from the 1960s and 70s.
We are first introduced to spook detectives Ed and Lorraine Warren (played wonderfully by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) as they tell the tale of a creepy doll possessed by an evil demon to an audience of fans. This scary story serves as a good introduction to the world of Ed and Lorraine, a husband and wife duo who, somewhat unwisely, decide to keep souvenirs from paranormal cases in a room in their house; a room easily accessible to their small daughter. The main story, however, begins with the introduction of married couple Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) and their five young daughters. The basic plot is nothing new and follows the basic family-moves-into-new-house horror cliché. Although the plot is neither edgy nor terribly creative, as the film harks back to the style of old fashioned classic horror, the familiarity of the plot seems not to matter as the story is strong, skilfully crafted and well told.
As with most supernatural horror films, the haunting begins fairly mildly and escalates dramatically: there are a few days of clapping and faulty clocks, followed by a few days of ankle-grabbing and arm bruising/scratching and then everything quickly gets out of hand when a whole bunch of spirits appear hiding on top of wardrobes and inside closets. The first half of the film builds a lot of tension and we do not actually see a demon for a good 30mins or so into the running time. Even in the second half of the film, viewings of the evil spirits are few and far between; the director opts for chilling long shots of the monsters, or blurred glimpses through dirty mirrors as opposed to close-up shots favoured in many other horror movies. This classy and subtle cinematography leaves much of the horror to the audience’s imagination. Although they are aplenty, The Conjuring does not rely on ‘jumpscares’ to spook the audience and the filmmakers refreshingly realise that gore and a high body count do not always equal a great horror film.
The cast is strong and the acting from all involved was perfect. The characters and the actors interacted well with each other; Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson convincingly portray a loving married, and the actors playing the parts of the Perron family, especially the child stars, were equally good. Often in modern horrors, the acting is sub-par and the characters portrayed are weak and flat. The horror genre has to some extent become synonymous with poor characters, however, in The Conjuring, the characters feel human, they feel real and you begin to care about them. In so many horror movies the characters involved make stupid, illogical decisions and mistakes, but this film more accurately portrays how a sensible family may react in the event of a terrifying situation. The family decide to seek help quickly, and they stick together; many other horror stories show families waiting until someone dies to get help, or they depict parents who leave their child in a separate room while a demonic presence commandeers their soul. This means that the horrifying plight of the Perron family seems neither deserved nor amusing. The Conjuring is a well balanced film, and scenes of daylight, open countryside and light, loving family scenes are interspersed with frightening images of haunted cellars and dark bedrooms. Again, this helps to create a real story and 3-dimensional characters and therefore the audience has more empathy with the characters.
The Conjuring is a good, atmospheric horror tale, yet it is not scary enough to keep you awake for a week. Of course, this does not by any account make it a bad film, though films are rarely perfect, and there are a few ‘problems’ that come to mind. Many supernatural/possession stories attempt to create a backstory of the haunting demons. In this film’s case, as the events were based on a true story in which the historic background is terrifying and tragic, little was said about the spirits and the links to the Salem Witch Trials and it seemed that this was merely glossed over. The film could have benefitted from fewer shots of doors opening by themselves to accommodate a chilling real-life historical story. Furthermore, a few other things in the film felt a little under-explained for example the significance of the music box and the ghost of the little boy visible through it. A largely well crafted film, the climax of the film does fall into the trap of trying too hard to scare and thus loses some of its spark. The ending draws upon stock horror clichés such as shots of trembling pots precariously placed upon old shelves, speedy camera pans accompanied by shouting and flailing so that the audience has no idea what is happening in the scene, and of course, close-ups of rubber looking scary monster faces which just look cheap, dated and ridiculous. A somewhat silly climax however does not detract from the rest of the film, and The Conjuring remains a solid, enjoyable horror film.
THINGS LEARNT FROM THE FILM:
- The memories of a nice day at the beach are often more effective than exorcism when trying to vanquish demonic spirits.
- It is not a tactile move to shout out the location of a hiding child when a demon known for murdering children is after them with a pair of scissors.
SUMMARY: From the frightening, dramatic title screen to the atmospheric Hitchcockian score, The Conjuring has a feeling of classic horror nostalgia, and presents an old fashioned scary story which stands out from crowd amongst many of today’s forgettable horror flicks.