Tuesday, October 29

Some quick thoughts on The Conjuring (2013)

Always late to the party, I finally checked out James Wan's surprise theatrical phenom the other night and I'm hard-pressed to add anything new to the chorus of praise. The Conjuring intentionally hearkens back to the '70s possession spree, and like the best examples of that cycle, skillfully focuses on the ordeal in very human terms. Surprising considering the latest genre darling at the helm carved his name with power tools and butchered bodies.

The warm reception this throwback received globally speaks to this quality. Mainstream horror has recently become oversaturated with dwelling upon the immediate suffering of whatever the threat, be it ghost or monster or madman's trap, has chosen to attack with little concern for the psychological aftermath. The old "keep the blood runnin' down the screen" mantra.

That's not to say genre movies need to be after-school specials, but as proven by the most lasting horror staples, the easiest method to garner an audience's respect is through well-honed characters. Wan never lets attention stray from those often desperately trying to help, even in the most intense scenes of horror, rather than the obvious terror of the afflicted. This only makes the bond with reality stronger, as most have experienced the struggle of trying to help others in at least potentially serious circumstances, rather than dissolving into a scene of grisly violence probably alien to the average person. An defining aspect shared with The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), and The Changeling (1980).

"...but we prefer to be known simply as Ed and Lorraine Warren."
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do a tremendous job as the Warrens at humanizing people, a demonologist and a psychic, often portrayed on film as eccentrics. The pair ground their performances with the usual banter and stresses of a married couple as do Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston as the Perrons, the family under extraordinary circumstances. So the viewer, even dunderheaded tweens, quickly grow to trust their opinion even with their subtle religious methodology (likely to provoke debate for years much like The Exorcist).

It's also refreshing that while the Perron's children are targeted, they don't become the vessel of possession like many screen ghost stories have driven into the dirt in recent years. Of course, if this is all supposed to be true, that's not something that can be accredited to creativity. As a related aside, I've read negative comments solely predicated on whether or not the real Warrens or Perrons are being honest, if you're basing your opinion of the film on that, you're frankly stupid.

If there was a gripe, it's the demon witch ladies looking too typical of "old hags" with grey skin, frizzed hair, and runny mascara. Maybe that's just from years of listening to Art Bell with verbal depictions of the demonic entities being far more unsettling than wigged-out shopping cart ladies. Still, the scares are certainly there and Wan delivers an experience that'll actually creep you out by "the dead hour" far more than some TV show of teens with dowsing rods in green night vision. The Conjuring is one of those rarities that belongs to an elite group, playing off basic fears, that again re-establishes the staying power of the horror genre. It'll be a classic in short order.


Stewie said...

Wonderful review! I couldn't agree more about people's opinions on the Warrens should have no bearing on this movie. I think the Warrens are pretty unbelievable, but that played no part in my enjoyment of this fine film. True or not, it scared the hell out of me.

Party Slashers said...

Yes it was extremely refreshing to see protagonists in the film fleshed out for once. It seems like protagonists in many horror films are just plot devices to fall victim to whatever evil is being portrayed. This is a story about people you can actually connect with. What was also great was the fear of uncertainty that Wan employed throughout the film. Two memorable moments being when Perron heads down to the basement with a lit match and all we hear are sounds. Also the final moment in the film when we peer into the mirror, anticipating something freaky to happen really put me on edge, and drove me crazy when it just cut to black.

...do you dare tread upon the staircase?

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