Take a family of seven (seven? SEVEN!?!?), a new old house, a father that’s gone all the time, mysterious goings-on, the director of SAW, and two self-decreed paranormal investigators, and what you get is THE CONJURING.
Let’s just get this out of the way. Legally I don’t have a lot of wiggle room here to say what I really want to say, but I can hurl out a bunch of name calling and apparently that’s alright. The Warren’s are assholes. Were, are, and ever shall be. Their being assholes will somehow reach out to us even beyond the grave. After all, they were the paranormal investigators that came to the Amityville Horror house and claimed it to be the most negatively haunted place they’ve ever been. However, it’s been heavily argued that the Amityville house is more hoax than truth, a very successful hoax. Assholes be assholes, I guess. There, now with that out of the way, let’s talk THE CONJURING.
THE CONJURING is about a family with some spooky stuff in their house. The Warren’s, after hearing their ghost story, agree to come dispel the haunting. There, that’s the whole movie in three lines. Pretty simple.
Okay, so the story itself isn’t stellar, but the story is the last thing you want to pay attention to in this movie. I mean, it’s a good ENOUGH story, but there aren’t many curveballs to it. What you really want to pay attention to is all the technical stuff that adds together to give you THE CONJURING.
At the helm is James Wan, a man who knows his way around the horror genre (director of SAW, DEAD SILENCE, INSIDIOUS, and INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2). He wanted a classic, clean look and feel to THE CONJURING, and that is exactly what he delivered.
The cinematography is great, never an unmotivated camera movement, the camera just feels like it’s in the perfect place at the perfect time. The score isn’t quite as good as INSIDIOUS’ sharp (bordering on painful) strings, but no need to compare scores unless they were part of the same franchise (for example, Jerry Goldsmith’s score for ALIEN can be compared to James Horner’s score for ALIENS, but Danny Elfman’s score for DOLORES CLAIBORNE can’t be compared to Howard Shore’s score for THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, if that makes sense), I feel. Back to the cinematography for a second. The camera is more than in the perfect place at the perfect time, it operates as the audience eyes. I know that sounds like an obvious thing, but watching the film, at some point, you forget you’re watching a film and you’re transported into the world of THE CONJURING, like a fly on the wall that can get close-ups.
As much as I love this movie, there are some serious problems with it that need addressed. Well not so much the movie, but the promotion of the film, would be more to the point. Even more specific, the trailers for the film, of which there were several.
First came the teaser trailer. We see a family move into a new house, and we show the kids playing a hide and seek game where the person that is ‘it’ keeps their eyes closed, as the hiders clap twice on command so the person that is ‘it’ can find them. Then we see some haunted stuff, a bunch of photos smash to the ground along the stairwell. Then Lilly Taylor (the mother) hears clapping downstairs. She hears it again coming from the cellar. She goes to the top of the cellar steps, and unable to turn on the lightbulb she lights a match to try and peer down into the darkness. The score slowly disappears, several moments pass and suddenly a pair of hands come out of the darkness behind her and claps twice, causing her fear.
I’ll be honest. That teaser trailer scared the crap out of me. Such a great scare, but such a simple scare. It works. It gave me even more reason to see it, although I already had plenty. However, when I thought about it, I came to two conclusions.
1. That scare is bad-ass! What if that’s as good as it gets?
2. That scare would have worked a lot better in the movie only because nobody would see it coming, and you want to make an audience scream, you want them to scream at your movie, not your teaser trailer.
Luckily there were other, bigger, scares in THE CONJURING. This is where my second reason of bad promotion comes in.
Let me explain to you THE CONJURING effect. If you saw the teaser trailer and the full trailer, and at least one of the TV commercials, you may as well not see the movie. Why? Because all the trailers combine to show you every damn scare in THE CONJURING. Seriously, go back and watch the trailers, they ruin every single scary scare by showing it in the trailers. I understand you want to scare the crap out of them which will make them want to come see it. But you can’t give away the whole thing. The worst part of this is that you don’t KNOW those were all the scary parts until you saw the movie and sat there, going “yup, that was in the trailer”, over and over again. Only after the film is done you learned you’ve been screwed.
Hey, though! There’s this family of seven (SEVEN!!!!) living in this haunted house. Maybe one of them dies? There’s always that sort of tension in a horror movie, who will die, and who would I care about the most until they died? Good horror movies don’t give away the body count, and certainly not the methodology for every kill. So I was curious to see how many of the family members made it out of that situation. But as if to say “Hey, Shad, F*ck you”, right before the release of the film, there was yet ANOTHER trailer. This one focused on the real life family talking through some of the things that had happened in that house so long ago. Well, I didn’t pay attention to what they were saying, because I didn’t want even more scares taken away from me. So instead, I counted the family. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven…wait…seven?!?!?! SEVEN?!?!?!? So we are guaranteed a movie where none of the family dies, we know that the Warren’s were both still alive after that ‘case’. So now, the tension of ‘will-they-or-won’t-they-die’ was all for nothing now.
So at this point, I’m watching a film where I know all the scares beforehand, and the tension of who will survive just wasn’t there.
However, the film is still a great waste of two hours. The performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play the Warren’s excellently, but right on the border, which pleased me. Ron Livingston is good (and I NEVER say that about him) as the father, but it’s Lily Taylor that steals the show as she’s the one usually making contact with the ghosts in the house.
The Warrens have a storyline of their own, as they are trying to deal with the Annabelle doll they took on their last case, saying it was so cursed they had to put it in a plastic cage and nobody could even touch the plastic cage in the Warren’s ‘museum’ of cursed artifacts. Very Farmiga does a superb job emulating Lorraine Warren (who has a short cameo in the film. In the scene where the Warrens are making a presentation to a college class, Lorraine can be spotted in either the first or second row as the camera pushes past the students. Patrick Wilson also does a great job with his character of Ed Warren. The acting all around is good. Going from terrified, to cautious, to calm, to terrified pretty much on cue all over again. These actors were really feeling their characters, and were making them special, and their own. The family unit in this film feels like a real family, one that you like, one that you don’t want to see bad things happen to them.
In the end, though, I advise not to watch any of the trailers, not even the teaser. Go in blind, knowing that it’s one of the simplest told stories you can tell. Turn a blind eye to things like finding a cellar all blocked off where the heater for the whole house is (did they just not ask the realtor if there was heat in the house). Try not to roll your eyes too much at the Warren’s scenes. Just prepare to enjoy getting the crap scared out of you. You’ll be glad you did.