THE CONJURING (James Wan, 2013)
As perhaps the most-anticipated horror film of the year given the amount of buzz it generated, and the numerous mentions that daily appear on my Facebook newsfeed (not including the incidental office conversations of co-workers), THE CONJURING may look like another haunted house movie given its facade, yet strong performances from its leads and a director (James Wan) known for effectively spinning quite an effective suspense yarn make it worth the trip to the cinema.
A haunted house. Check.
A family moving in. Check.
A pair of paranormal experts. Check.
A deadly secret. Check.
THE CONJURING, for what it's worth is not the best horror movie out there, enough to be leagued with THE EXORCIST, or POLTERGEIST, yet this two hour frightfest centers more on our imagination, by means of creating a chilling atmosphere and slowly unveiling the horror one by one. The scares may be predictable from start to finish (at least some of them are), but with the amount of effort put into the costumes, the production design, and the musical score, THE CONJURING gets plus points for consistency. The eerie feel is sustained all throughout, and the vivid storytelling captures our attention 100%. Clearly, the filmmakers are doing this horror film as if it would have been created in the 70s, from which the story takes place.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play real-life husband and wife paranormal experts; he's a demonologist, while she's a clairvoyant, yet their involvement in the case at hand does not surface until about after 30 minutes into the movie. That way, we are able to immerse ourselves into the ordeal of the Perron family- Carolyn and Roger (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters.
From the get-go, we get a sense that something is terribly wrong with the house through the family's dog. After that, the five children experience the apparitions one by one. Then there's that dreadful cellar filled with dusty old furniture.
I am never buying a house with a decrepit cellar. The previous owners of the house in question boarded the darn area for a reason.
The tension slowly rises, and yes the cheap thrills are there, put primarily for the members of the audience who love to scream in the cinema (and believe me, they will) but for the most part, the neat progression of the story from normalcy to terror to even more terror is what's even scarier.
Ron Livingston handles the role of the distraught father quite well; Wilson and Farmiga are believable as paranormal experts, with Wilson's calm matching Farmiga's genius, but the real show-stopper of all is Lili Taylor- who is familiar to us from her role in THE HAUNTING opposite Liam Neeson and Catherine Zeta-Jones as the woman with the big secret. Towards the last twenty minutes or so, Taylor surprises, and shocks us, with a performance so unnerving all the film's fear foreplay accumulates into that one momentous moment.
THE CONJURING works as a horror movie because it maximizes the potential of the elements present in the story: the big horrendous house, the haunted mother, the couple whose expertise in the paranormal is enshrined inside their house (what could be sicker than that?) and the vulnerability of the five daughters. Somewhere in there, the filmmakers managed to even squeeze a joke.
Oh, and yes. People dig films that has "true story" labeled on them. It makes the experience more real, at least in our minds. I didn't jump out of my seat or spill my drink or something watching THE CONJURING, but I sure felt dehydrated afterwards after all that paranormal activity.