Directed by James Wan, who is widely known for directing the 1st SAW movie back in 2004, The Conjuring is a supernatural horror movie that is closer to being a chapter in an autobiography rather than any old haunted-house flick. Why do I say this? Because the film’s focus on Ed and Lorraine Warren is just as, if not more important than the story itself. Without these 2 characters, The Conjuring would just be a Frankenstein’s monster of other horror movies (although with that alone, it was still done very well). What do I mean by that? Well, if you can imagine The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, Child’s Play and Poltergeist put in a bowl and stirred up, chances are you’ll know the story already.
Our tale begins with a little bit of exposition. Ed and Lorraine (Played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are doing a lecture, which focuses on a case they had in 1968, involving 2 women who were being haunted by a demon. A demon that was possessing the body of a Doll called Annabelle (the Annabelle doll in real life is actually an adorable-looking Raggedy Ann Doll…’looking’ being the keyword. The doll in the film however makes you wonder how or why these nursing students would keep something so creepy?). Meanwhile in Harrisville, Rhode Island, the Perron Family, Roger (Dad, played by Ron Livingston), Carolyn (Mum, played by Lili Taylor) and their 5 daughters, move into a dilapidated farmhouse that they bought through a bank auction. The year is 1971, 2 years before the movie The Exorcist came out, 3 years before the infamous DeFeo murders in Amityville, and 4 years before the Warrens investigated the Amityville house for hauntings. The Perron parents spend time unpacking while at least 3 of the girls are given time to play the game “Hide and Clap” (which I never played, but looks fun). When 1 of the girls is found, the blindfolded girl accidentally breaks a wooden panel in the closet. Upon some investigating from their father, they find out that the hole is in fact the entrance to a very, very dusty basement. A basement were bad things happened *wink wink*. Eventually stuff starts to happen that wouldn’t happen in a normal residence; The family dog refuses to enter inside, and then mysteriously dies outside, the morning after the family moved in. Birds start ‘pulling a Hitchcock’ on the side of the house, Carolyn starts to develop bruises in the middle of the night, rooms are freezing despite the heat being on, legs of sleeping children are being tugged, the youngest daughter now has a new imaginary friend, and mysterious noises are pumping through the being of their new home. Eventually they approach Ed and Lorraine Warren for help, leading to a fun and wacky adventure.
Now that the loose premise of the story is out of the way, lets talk about the creative aspect, as well as possibly some of the facts behind the fiction: In a world were CGI is the norm, this film would come as an enormous surprise, because the CGI is in fact, minimalist. It is used to create shadowy figures that certain lighting choices couldn’t create without disrupting the mood…and that’s it. Basically everything else in this film could be touched in real life. It’s classic make-up and special effects. As far as horror is concerned, it’s simple, and yet brilliantly made. Excellent lighting choices, excellent set design, costumes, make-up, and the sound…the music and sound effects are phenomenal! They could almost make the movie by themselves! Seriously, play the soundtrack and/or sound effects, and then walk around any home at night with some rooms left dark, it creates the mood perfectly! Five stars for the audio department alone, even if its approach is different to Silent Hill or Project Zero (Fatal Frame). The acting was excellent from everybody, including the 5 daughters (Who are all between about 10 and 22, in real life the oldest was 12…but it’s not a bad thing for the film if they can act). The film spends a lot of its time playing on the fears of normal things in a house, creating the horror we can’t see. The sounds of squeaking doors, the pitch-black darkness of room corners, the creaking floorboards, and of course, things only an individual can see, whether they actually see them, or it’s all in their head. These simple things are then complimented by the horror that our characters can see. Our main villain is in fact the film’s music composer wearing a pile of make-up. The make-up, combined with the lighting choices…excellent. Well and truly excellent. As for the characters – I actually like Ed and Lorraine Warren as people in this. The film takes the time to develop them, and I’ve found them to be pretty likeable. Consider this – Without the presence of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, the cases they solve are still interesting, but without them in each story, I don’t think there would be the same degree of investment. Ed & Lorraine, who are in their own right were like a real life Holmes/Watson on paranormal activity, are fascinating. They did many cases together, including Annabelle, Amityville and of course, this case. I liked them enough to want to see more of them in films, and judging from their CV, there are plenty of movies that could be made on them. The Perron family was also interesting, and it intrigues me that the real Perrons overlooked the film’s progress, and from the looks of things, actually liked it. If those involved want to bless your work, you’re doing something right.
There are plenty of people out there who would go into this movie and treat it entirely as fiction. That what Charles McKay’s book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds” says on haunted houses applies to every haunted house. While the reality of 3rd parties making a racket to scare people out of a house is a plausible explanation, and there is a scene in this film were Ed and Lorraine explain to another client that the “footsteps” in the attic are floorboards expanding and detracting mixed with the sound of the heating pipes. The film makes it clear that ghosts aren’t what make a house smell of rotting meat, cold, and much darker than usual – it’s demons…and I say this as somebody who has experienced a room darkening, getting colder, and the feeling of somebody standing behind me. For me, ghosts don’t exist, but this sort of thing does – and I think it adds a great authenticity to the film’s credit.
Would I recommend this film? If you like horror movies and are looking for something that might scare you as much as a good J-Horror flick, then yes. If the work of the Warrens interests you, this is a good film adaptation about them. The film is rated-15 in the UK, and yet there is no sex, not much bad language and not too much violence. What bumped up the rating was the fear factor. The fact that it’s based on actual events does add to the suspense. It’s incredibly creepy, and contains well-placed jump scares. However, don’t let young kids watch it, unless you don’t mind being awake all hours of the night. Now that I’ve mentioned all of this, did I like this film? I did, but it didn’t have the same enjoyment factor that I would get from some of my favourite horror movies. The Conjuring is scarier than the likes of Halloween, Poltergeist and Nightmare On Elm Street, but it doesn’t have the same humour or enjoyment. The main villain, while well-done, is not as iconic as the likes of Sadako, Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees or Xenomorph (Alien). It’s possibly because it steps away from certain formulas that I like, and focuses on the horror a lot more than usual, much like how The Exorcist would. There’s not a problem with that, and I respect the approach. But the slightly lesser enjoyment factor is the reason for lowering my score. Also, will I see Annabelle?…maybe sometime.
Overall Rating: **** out of 5