|Vera Farmiga looks for spirits in New Line's The Conjuring|
The Conjuring is based on the allegedly true story of a 1971 haunting that occurred in the Rhode Island home of the Perron family. This haunting and demonic possession was investigated by demonologists/paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (famous for later investigating the Lutz home portrayed in The Amityville Horror), and Lorraine was consulted during the film's pre-production. Ed Warren passed away in 2006.
This movie was quite enjoyable; and by that I mean it was more than a bit uncomfortable and unnerving at times, and effectively creepy and suspenseful throughout. Though somewhat formulaic and predictable due to the genre, as it borrows scares freely from every haunted house tale you've ever seen, and liberally from The Exorcist, the film hit all the right notes at all the right times.
The period dress and atmosphere were effective in transporting me back to the 1970s, and I even noticed some dated camera techniques we haven't seen much of since the filmmaking of the early '80s, such as the long, slow zoom. It all comes together quite nicely with very few digital effects to create a paranormal thriller that I could almost believe came out of that era. One thing's for sure--if The Conjuring had been released in 1980, it would have scared the living shit out of a lot more people than it will today.
I'm not into giving movie spoilers, so fret not and feel safe to read on.
Moving on to the more lackluster elements of the movie, I will first mention that I'm typically a tough scare at the cinema. I thoroughly enjoy a good horror flick, but I am of the opinion that the truly great ones have all been shot already. Despite the effects-laden shockfests that Hollywood has the ability to churn out one after another, how can anything compete with the classics of horror that created those elements we've come to accept as tropes of the genre?
With such creepy masterpieces as the original The Haunting, The Exorcist, The Omen, The Shining, and even more recent honorable mentions like The Ring and Paranormal Activity, it's getting hard to come up with new things to scare us. We recycle the same tried-and-true elements of horror over and over again. The fake-out, the face in the mirror, the creepy child, mysterious whispering... the list goes on. That's why it pisses me off when there's a great new type of scare and they blow their load early by showing it in the trailer to the people who haven't even seen the movie.
In this case it's the hand clap thing. If you've seen the trailer you know what I'm talking about. It's one of the most original scares of the film, but anyone who is in the theater knows it's coming up because they've obviously seen promotion for the movie. That removes the fear that we should be feeling in that pivotal scene because we're all going, "Oh, that pair-of-hands-clapping-in-the-dark thing is coming up here!"
One other thing fails to impress the fear that it felt like the film was trying to exert, and that's the whole God vs. Satan thing. Really? Are we still at that point in our intellectual development and spiritual enlightenment in this country that this lame crap can still scare us? Especially the typical horror movie crowd? I don't believe that.
In the movie, the Warrens speak to one another about how God brought them together to help people; God gave Lorraine the gift of second sight or whatever; demons have the ability and desire to possess people or objects--real demons from biblical hell...
Before the credits roll at the end of the movie, a quote from Ed Warren is displayed on screen. To paraphrase it said, "The fairy tale is true. The devil is real. God is real. The battle for this world and your soul goes on always, and you must make a conscious choice which of them you will give your power to."
Blah blah. Yawn. It felt weird in that it was heavy handed, but that heavy hand had no effective weapon in it--it was just an empty, yet somehow heavy, hand. Maybe it's my unbelief standing in the way, but when they mention Satan in the movie and what witches and devil worshippers do or whatever, I wasn't the least bit creeped out. It felt like another one of those time warp moments. I remember being a little kid and feeling like stuff like that was unknown, forbidden and super-scary. As an adult, though, seeing that in a movie made me feel like I was either watching a melodramatic Kirk Cameron production or like they were trying to scare an eight-year-old child (who has no business attending an R-rated film) rather than the target demographic.
So overall, I thought The Conjuring was an effective horror movie, though somewhat rote in using accepted horror conventions that were created by far superior films. It felt dated but like if it had been released 30-40 years ago it would have been extremely successful. The makeup effects were excellent, by the way. Very scary. A 1980 theater showing this film would have had quite a seat-cleaning bill after the first screening. Some scares, however, play off of religious themes, demonic possession, and the biblical battle of good and evil, meaning to some folks they are completely empty threats, even when presented while the audience is open and volunteering its suspension of disbelief.
I would recommend this movie to horror fans. It's not incredibly gory, but it does have pretty frightening and intense scenes involving the dark, death, ghosts, evil entities, etc.. The foul language is mostly PG-rated, with some blasphemous utterances. Heck, the redband trailers before the movie had far more graphic and objectionable language than the feature. There are hints of sexual behavior but no nudity or sexual conduct takes place on-screen.
3.5 of 5 stars from me. Good, solid genre film. Not one of the greats, but a decent tribute to them.