The Conjuring (2013)
Director: James Wan
Writers: Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, and Ron Livingston

The Plot: Our film begins in 1971 and follows the young couple Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) who move into a new home with their five daughters. The home is a large countryhouse that seems to fit their every need. Everything seems perfect until Carolyn awakens with strange bruises on her body, and shortly thereafter they find their pet dog dead in the yard. This turns out to only be the beginning of their problems. Soon enough, various supernatural events turn their new home into a living nightmare. All clocks within the house stop at the exact same time, and pretty soon clapping and giggling can be heard throughout every room. The children begin to see demonic creatures, and all inhabitants are living in eternal fear. Eventually Carolyn reaches out to paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Lili Taylor), who hesitantly take on their case. Expecting to find noisy pipes or a drafty home, they instead stumble upon one of the clearest cases of demonic activity that they have ever come across. As Ed and Lorraine try to appeal to the Catholic church in order to clear an exorcism, they must try and protect Roger and Carolyn’s family from these demonic beings that have latched onto their family.

The Review
While I am not usually one to cover anything so popular as The Conjuring, it seems fitting to cover the film for our Halloween Horrors marathon here at Varied Celluloid. Directed by James Wan, the man who came to popularity after writing and directing the hugely successful Saw (2004), The Conjuring finds this young director at an interesting point in his career. He has continually proven successful since that first big break, and his horror feature Insidious has helped cement him as an artist who is capable of delivering something that mainstream audiences are drawn to. As a filmmaker, Wan seems to be finding his niche within the world of the paranormal. While some may have expected him to continue working within the field of shock and gritty exploitation, as he did with Saw, he instead turned around and made a name for himself as a director who focuses on delivering a more supernatural approach. However, Wan, despite his great strengths, doesn’t always follow strictly to the “less is more” approach. If The Conjuring or his Insidious films have shown any weakness, it is in his willingness to show too much. Still, in terms of mainstream horror within the Hollywood system, there are few who are proving to be quite as interesting as James Wan is right at this second.

Getting right to the strengths of the movie, The Conjuring is never absent in terms of atmosphere and spooky content. If you keep up with the reviews here on Varied Celluloid, you are apt to come across reviews written by me where I bemoan the lack of subtlety in modern horror. Filmmakers often forget the entire focus of what a horror movie should be: to scare the audience. Viewers want to be spooked, they want to be creeped out, and often it seems that filmmakers are more apt to look at the genre from a cynical perspective. Although some viewers may feel as if they have seen it all and that there is nothing that will creep into their subconscious and give them a fright, that is no reason to rely solely on jump scares and pander to their cynicism. It is appreciated when a filmmaker does his best to hide monsters within the shadows and take their time to develop characters who are more than just canon fodder for a slasher villain. Wan does this within The Conjuring, and it is probably his best work to date. Featuring small ghostly happenings that reveal very little to the audience, such as distant shadows that are obviously not of this world, Wan develops a film that could easily frighten the pants off of its viewing audience. Obviously every member of the audience will not fall into these traps, but Wan doesn’t apologize for his attempts at trying to be blatantly scary. There is no knowing winks to the audience to be found here. Wan wants to scare you, and in many instances, he absolutely succeeds.

If there is a problem though, it comes from the sequences where Wan reveals a bit too much for the camera. In one of the creepiest moments in the movie, a “ghost” is revealed in a very awkward position and physically jumps at one of the protagonists. Up until the “reveal,” this sequence was being led to a very startling crescendo. The film develops the idea that something creepy is happening with a particular dresser within the film, but it remains vague all the way up until this one scene. Then, when this particular “ghost” is revealed, everything starts to seem cartoonish. What separates this ghostly apparition from a generic slasher villain? The audience had been terrified up until this reveal, and while this initial jump scare may put them in a manic state, once it wears off, the audience feels as if they are back to square one. Some of the mystique evaporates, but Wan does do his best to keep the movie consistent in its level of terror. Indeed, its hard to blame the director when he has made such an honest-to-goodness scary movie, but as a critic, I can only pine for the 5-star classic that this movie almost was.

As would be expected, the performances are quite good in the film. Patrick Wilson sometimes gets flak for being too vanilla, but on a personal note, I continually find myself impressed with the actor. He has a very midwestern look to him that fits his role here quite well. He and Vera Farmiga make a great onscreen couple, and despite their roles being given tons of expository information that they are forced to recite, they do not come across as annoying. Indeed, the characters are surprisingly well developed during the story. Very Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren is haunted by an event in her past, having to do with her psychic abilities, but she does not appreciate the coddled approach that her husband wishes to have with her. While her willingness to walk into a dangerous situation may at first appear to be rather silly, it only comes across as confidence within the movie. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor are also main fixtures within this inspired cast, and they are great as a conduit for the audience. They do not know what is going on in their new home, but they are terrified and they want the situation fixed. Lili Taylor, who most will remember for her turn in the 90s remake of The Haunting, gets to go a bit over-the-top in the film and she seems to be enjoying every second of it.

The Conclusion
The Conjuring is pretty far from perfect, that is for certain. It’s a movie that has definitive highs and definitive lows, but the overall experience that most viewers have walked away with is a positive one. While it sure isn’t going to appeal to all horror fans, there are a select few who will get what it has to offer and enjoy its attempts at atmospheric horror. It gets a solid four out of five, and is highly recommended.

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