*Comes home. Locks Door. Turns all lights in house on. Ties all closet doors shut. Secures all windows. Sets up laptop. Gets ready to write*
Alright, I think I’m ready to start this review… [hears tiniest creaking sound]
*Wets oneself. Runs into bedroom screaming. Slams door shut. Jumps into bed. Hides under all available covers. Cowers in fear. Is never heard from again*
Wow James Wan, you really want to live up to your Twitter handle (@creepypuppet), don’t you?
Maybe I’m just being a big baby, because paranormal activities and supernatural hauntings scare the bejesus out of me, but The Conjuring reduced me to a squirming, uncomfortable, terrified little child in desperate need of his favorite blankly for protection – and I f#cking loved every minute of it. I’ve never been so excited to be scared into submission, because ever since the first trailer hit for Wan’s summer horror blockbuster, I’ve been counting down the days until right now. What about now that it’s passed and I’ve seen the movie, though? I want to go back in time, get in my car, acknowledge the sleepless night ahead of me, and drive directly to my local theater for a top-notch paranormal horror enema (to get the shit scared out of me) all over again.
Based on a true story, The Conjuring details the most active case that paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren ever encountered – and this is coming from the team who investigated what we know as The Amityville Horror. Before their trip to Long Island though, there was a house in Harrisville, Rhode Island, and a family being haunted by demonic forces. Wife and mother Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) starts to fear for her family’s well-being, so she tracks down the Warrens and begs that they examine her house. From the first time Lorraine steps into their home, she can sense a dark presence, and fears it has already latched onto the family. As the gravity of the situation presents itself, Ed and Lorraine realize time is quickly running out for the Perron family, as every night becomes a struggle of ghastly proportions.
Don’t try and pin this movie as a straight ghost thriller or meaningless scare-fest though. While The Conjuring is pants-wettingly terrifying, Chad and Carey Hayes also found a way to make us care about both the Warren family and the Perron family, tying us to the outcome. I’ve seen a billion different haunters that feature your typical torture bait (like this year’s The Haunting In Connecticut 2: Ghosts Of Georgia), but when a tormented family comes along that is worth investing in, it’s like striking horror gold. Led by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, the Perron family all play perfect victims for the demons toying with their lives, and that’s including each child.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga steal the show though, portraying real-life ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren. At one point, Ed tells Roger (Livingston) that every time Lorraine connects with these evil forces, she loses a little piece of herself. Farmiga does a tremendous job selling this notion with each and every encounter, visibly showing the physical toll and mental anguish she puts herself through, all for the sake of someone else’s family. The pain she suffers builds a bond between Lorraine and the Perrons, providing emotional insight and weighty storytelling that typically escapes modern horror films. Wilson plays a perfectly acceptable loving husband and amateur exorcist as well, but Farmiga does most of the heavy character lifting between the two.
Of course, choosing a location that was organically creepy pretty much solidified an unshakeable, skin crawling eeriness from the get go, as Wan once again draws on brilliantly vibrant visuals to lull us into a true sense of insecurity – and by vibrant I mean a dark, dull, dusty, cobwebby, ominously unnerving house. While Wan shows why he’s the master of atmospheric tensions and seat gripping terror, the Perron’s house was a character of its own, and that pitch black darkness was a vengeful bitch. Just staring into the blankness and imaging what terrors were about to present themselves was enough to have me clenching the armrests on my seat, listening to Joseph Bishara’s mood-setting original score. Ugh, I just felt a chill go up my spine.
So for everyone who’s ballsy enough to sleep at night with their limbs hanging out from under the covers, I commend your courage – but The Conjuring is now my new go-to example for why I never will. I’ll be completely honest and say that there’s nothing overly complex about the horrific scares Wan utilizes, but their punch-factor is certainly attained through genuine fear and a flowing set-up. As the Hayes’ script spirals more and more out of control, the scares get bigger and meaner, but there’s still a playful air to them. Once the demons started using the “hide and clap” game the Perron daughters would play, I literally wanted to get up and say “F#ck this, I’m leaving” out of the sheer cowardly selfishness. Only James Wan can take something as meaningless as a clap and paralyze us with fear. HOW AM I EVER SUPPOSED TO ATTEND A SPORTS EVENT AGAIN?!
The Conjuring is a masterful little horror thriller that ranks right up there with Insidious as one of the best paranormal endeavors in the last 10 years. Going against the grain, James Wan proves that scares aren’t equivalent to a film’s body count, instead focusing on aspects of horror that evoke unparalleled fear like palpable tension, chilling set-pieces, exploitation of everyday fears, simplicity, and in-your-face atmospheric horror. Wan can only do half the job though, but don’t you fret – our talented cast brings to life every scare, scream, shudder, and moment of downright genius horror construction. Then the latter half of the Warren’s tale kicks in, activity escalates past a haunting and more towards possession, and Wan delivers his own interpretation of classic films like The Exorcist – which he nails with one fell strike.
Add on top that the Hayes’ script is actually based off the true re-tellings of this pivotal case in the Warren’s professional journey, and you’ve got a horror equation that equals you leaving a nice little yellow puddle in the theatre. You can just bill James Wan for the cleaning fees AMC Theatres. Thanks!
Side Note: Ryan Gosling’s band Dead Man’s Bones has their song In The Room Where You Sleep featured in Wan’s film. Is there anything “Baby Goose” can’t do?!
Side Note 2: Am I the only one who wanted Officer Brad to scream “DADDY’S HOME!” after he shot that door open?
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James Wan conjures up a truly paralyzing tale of supernatural terror with his retelling of Ed and Lorraine Warren's most disturbing case, creating scares through detailed and properly crafted horror storytelling - not a body count.