This movies continues a predictably long line of Hollywood milking the low budget unseen horror film. Long line? Perhaps you’ve heard of Paranormal Activity (1-5), The Grudge, Insidious, Mama, Sinister? Horror movies work because they play on a fear. Typically fears of the modern consciousness and sometimes our subconscious fears that particularly attentive writers have tapped into as they create their projects. The writers usually say it is their own fear put to page and when created lets the audience realize it is their fear too.
The 80’s it was the slasher; the faceless killer, the stranger and something that could not be stopped. The 90’s had no real identity of it’s own and is actually very weak in the genre instead giving us the Teen Scream. This was a more literal transition of the Slasher film to focus on the teens themselves, such as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H20, Urban Legends, etc. At the end of the 90’s we were given the start of the found footage horror with Blair Witch; which began the start of the supernatural horror we are in now. In this decade, we are inundated with a slightly different take on the Supernatural/Unseen horror where it is blended with the Home Invasion. Movies like the Purge and Your Next, Dark Skies are all representative of this new wave of horror in their more physical sense. Insidious, Paranormal Activity and the Conjuring are a blend of home invasion and the unseen.
Granted these are just my perceptions on the horror genre and I could go on these at length (and may if so asked), so lets get down to the review itself.
2013 saw the release of a few movies in this vein and the Conjuring is the most successful. It actually ranks 5th in the most successful Supernatural horrors of all time. It had a production budget of $20 million and brought in $137. Not a bad haul and the reason that Hollywood will continue to take this route. The conjuring also uses one other theme of new horror -“Based on True Events”
Director James Wan (saw, Insidious) is the proud papa of some serious horror franchises. Despite my personal feelings on this genre, he has a clear understanding of how to shoot to build tension. How to get performances of his actors old and young that are believable and make them feel like people. It’s actually one of the strengths of the Conjuring, that every performance is balanced and well done enough that the characters fears are played to their most subtle and nuanced.
The story by the Hayes brothers, Chad and Carey, is set back in the 70s and focuses on a family who move into an old farmhouse. Shortly after they move in they begin to see and experience strange events, mostly centered around the children. To make matters worse the father Roger (Ron Livingston – Office Space) Perron is a truck driver who could be away for days at a time. The mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor – The Haunting) is even being attacked by these entities and reaches out to a married couple who specialize in Paranormal investigations. The couple Ed (Patrick Wilson -Insidious, A Team) Warren and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga – The Departed) Warren give lectures on the exorcisms and events they have helped people through. Much of their focus tends to be on the demonic and they even keep a collection of possessed objects in their home as a kind of museum. When the Warren’s arrive in the Perron home events begin to escalate to horrific conclusion. Where Ed must make a choice to save the lives and souls of the Perrons.
I’ve spoken briefly on the acting already. Every actor performs amazingly leaving nothing on the floor and holding nothing back. To be clear this isn’t over acting, but actors, adult and child alike, who put their everything into the performance. They get close in the final act to overacting due to the nature of what they must do and playing out an exorcism. I have to admit Wilson, Livingston, Taylor and Farmiga make this more intense than the Exorcist for me.
The technical aspects of the film are sufficient enough where they rely on the jump scares more than any other technique. The make ups for the dead and possessed are at this time getting a bit overwrought and while I cannot condemn them for it, I can say it’s maybe time to move to a new type of genre. The make up can only be done so many times and anything after this is getting redundant. The CGI when it happens is used to enhance the make up and create transitions to show claw marks, burns and other manifestations. These are definitely to the movies credit. I also cannot complain about movie that relies strongly on camera tricks and practical effects over CG.
I can see why the conjuring was successful and while this new breed of horror isn’t my cup of tea it works. The inspired and based on real events is also getting old, but again when you consider that there are tapes of the interviews between Ed Warren and Carolyn Perron from 1971 it adds a certain element of horror to it that cannot and should not be denied.
Overall I have to say it’s a solid film, and while it didn’t scare me, that will scare more than enough people out there. I do think Hollywood needs to stop while it’s ahead and get to a new genre before they milk this one dry.
Tomorrow’s review knows where the bastard sleeps.