Warning: This review contains spoilers.
I find it immeasurably fun to get scared. I don’t think I would call myself a thrill-seeker or an adrenaline junkie; albeit, I did skydive, but there is something tangible, raw and invigorating in a sense, about being terrified – being overcome with that overwhelming feeling of dread. Everyone knows what it’s like to feel at some point or another; your chest tightens up, your hands get fidgety and/or sweaty, your eyes either instinctively look away or outright close and if it’s due to a horror film, you inevitability inch closer to the screen. Or at least, that’s my reaction. When I was younger and saw the re-released Exorcist film, my reaction was to hide behind the protective covering of my hands and the additional layer of my legs pulled to my chest in front of my eyes.
In any event, the point I am making is, I love horror movies and they work for me because if it’s a good and better yet, great horror movie, I allow myself to become fully immersed within its horror. I find others have a hard time with watching horror movies because they’re just too cynical about it or otherwise don’t allow themselves to get “into the moment.” Luckily for me, it was easy to get “into the moment” with 2013’s best horror offering of the year so far, The Conjuring. In fact, let me go a step further and say that The Conjuring is quite easily the most horrifying film I’ve seen in at least four years, if not longer.
Generally, horror films have a hard time gaining critical praise. Quite a few gain commercial praise, but to have both critical and commercial adulation? That’s a rare feat in such a maligned and polarizing film genre. Surprisingly, The Conjuring did supremely well in both departments, as not only did it reach #1 at the box office on its opening weekend with a wonderful $41.9 million on a measly $20 million budget, but it received an astounding 85% on Rottentomatoes with 130 critics reporting in and the consensus being, “Extremely well-crafted and gleefully creepy, The Conjuring ratchets up the dread with a series of smartly delivered, terribly effective old-school scares.” Add in the equally creepy and unique trailer and I went into this film with high expectations. And again, luckily for me, the film delivered.
The film follows the Warren couple, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, as they investigate paranormal activities, which eventually leads them to the large Perron family experiencing some disturbing situations. First and foremost, because the film is reportedly “based on a true story,” the film is set in the late 1960s, early 1970s. As an avid follower of horror films, I find that to be the most applicable time for a horror film to take place. In placing characters in the ‘60s and ‘70s, you can strip them away of modern conveniences that might otherwise lessen the potential scares: cell phones, the Internet and such. Additionally, there’s just something grittier about the 1970s atmosphere; the aesthetic doesn’t feel as polished as today. Moreover, in doing so, the direction of the film is better suited to, as the Rottentomatoes consensus pointed out, the “slow burn.” And as a personal preference, I much prefer the slow burn to the gore/violence. Don’t me wrong, I’ll gleefully watch a film like Saw too, but if I want abject horror, I turn to the slow burn.
Certainly, The Conjuring makes great use of its time period and the elements of the supernatural to create a truly effective slow burn that accentuates the dread and creates genuinely scary moments. Yet, I think what helped in conjunction with this is something you don’t often see in horror films: great characterization and great acting. Generally, horror films have no-names and are light on the characterization in favor of the jump scares, the violence and the sex. With this film, you have the wonderful Wilson and Farmiga, who embody the Warren’s. Specifically, Wilson plays the professional, but caring husband and paranormal investigator supremely well. Likewise, Farmiga adds such a personal human tenderness to her acting, which makes it easy to sympathize with her.
This terrific characterization allows for an ending, which nearly had me to tears. The mother at this point had been full-on possessed by a demon and per the curse brought upon by the demon, she was trying to kill one of her many daughters. She had escaped the clutches of the Warren’s and their help and had the daughter alone under the floor of the spooky house this was occurring in. Ed Warren proceeds with his incantations and the like while encouraging the possessed mother’s husband to talk about how much he loves her and to fight against it. Meanwhile, Lorraine is a clairvoyant and uses that ability to show the mother a great moment her and her family had on the beach in the bright sunlight (juxtaposing the absolute darkness they and her all faced in there at the moment). At that point, you were just begging her to release her poor daughter and return to normal, which, thankfully, she did.
Naturally when a film is dealing with supernatural elements, exorcisms and demons, there is going to be the good versus evil, God vs. the Devil dichotomy at play. This one is no different and plays that up well, I believe. There was a great moment at the end when after Ed Warren places the music box from their adventure with the Perron family in their room of horrors, the last shot is that of the camera zooming in on the mirror. Now, throughout the story earlier, the music box would play and after the music ended, you were supposed to see this demon behind you. Well, obviously, the film is trying to impart upon you the question, “If you look into the mirror, what are you going to see? Are their demons in your life?” And if you want to get more specific to the religious aspect of it, will you accept Jesus into your life and soul and “exercise” those demons?
Well, I don’t know, but I look forward to the reported sequel, especially with Wilson and Farmiga reprising their roles.