Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Conjuring (2013)

"Welcome to our sanguinary sect of worship. Feel at home in our black conventicle as we anathematize all of those who oppose us."

Okay I got that out of the way. Man, I hope you guys really like 80's speed metal or that's going to be quite the cryptic introduction.

You know, it's a funny thing. I'm not exactly sure why certain movies get critically fawned over while others which are just like it are relatively dismissed as "okay" by the masses. In this particular case I'm talking about "The Conjuring" and "Insidious," which were both by James Wan, a very skilled director who has a knack for twisting around the cliches of the horror genre and giving us something blessedly innovate on a fairly regular basis. I think the fact that the man made what is arguably the only great PG-13 horror movie ever is testament enough to his skill. Hell, I put it as the tenth best film I saw in 2011.

"Insidious" was a obscenely good film that was scary as hell, but it was only met with lukewarm reaction. Then a few years later Wan makes "The Conjuring," which was also a good movie. But unlike "Insidious," it got rave reviews and was being praised fairly roundly as a tour de force in horror. And while I'll be the first to agree that "The Conjuring" was indeed quite a good little retro-vibe horror flick, there remains one burning question for me: Why this and not "Insidious?"


Although from a story perspective the two films are obviously nothing alike apart from a spirit there is no escape from tormenting a family and possessing one of them (okay I guess there are striking similarities), from a tone and style standpoint it's very familiar territory. If one of them scared you the other one will, too, because it's the same style of horror in each case. Only with "The Conjuring" it's rated R for some unknown, unexplainable reason. I don't know. Whatever. The world is weird, I guess.

"The Conjuring" is very much a horror film in the style an old-school 70's chiller. It's got a deliberate pace to it, the camera conceals more than it shows, and it makes you work a bit for the payoff. Many modern horror films of the last few decades are horrified themselves of the thought of the audience getting bored, which is why you get that annoying phenomenon of abundant fake-out scares trying to frighten us with somebody tapping someone else's shoulder and the like. "The Conjuring," much like every other James Wan film I've seen, has mercifully abolished this practice and requires jump scares to involve something that is actually scary jumping out at you.

Like Ron Livingston's hair.

And, much like you'd expect, plenty of scary things do indeed jump out at you in this familiar tale of a family moving into a creepy old place that you could not pay me nor I'm guessing the vast majority of people enough money to live in, because it's clearly packed to the brim with evil. I thought that was clear from the get-go, but then again I'm pretty much conditioned at this point to assume any house in the country possessing of a basement and a screen door that creaks to be the realm of Satan.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play the paranormal investigative team of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were later famously involved in "The Amityville Horror." They assist the Perron family of Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters after something in their house decides that it's going to torment the crap out of them. You all know the drill by now: Things grab people in the middle of the night, animals die, doors slam, voices are heard, messed up things are seen, an impossibly sordid backstory for the house is uncovered, and all that other good stuff.

Oh no! He's asking her to join him in his infernal depths! Mephisto's Hall of Fame!

All of this is very well done, with stretches of truly hair-raising situations which approach torturous with how intensely uncomfortable and creepy they are to sit through. That's subjective for everyone, I know, but I have a hard time anyone could watch the "clap clap" scene that was so prominent in the trailer, or a later scene when Lili Taylor is trapped in the basement to be anything other than supremely creepy. It's those moments, and there are a number of them, that just hold you down and pummel you with the tension that makes "The Conjuring" worth it.

The whole cast was great but I'd like to call out the girls that played the daughters because they were all fantastic. A few of them got lost in the fold, so to speak, since there were five of them and there wasn't time to give them all very well defined personalities, but Shanley Caswell as the oldest daughter, Andrea, and Joey King as Christine, one of the younger girls stood out among the rest. In particular I loved the scene where Christine sees something in the black corner of her bedroom. That was probably one of the scariest bits of the whole movie, actually, and it was completely sold on Joey's performance, which she knocked out of the park.

Oh relax. It's just the Devil's advocate. A salesman, if you will.

The only weak link I found in "The Conjuring" was a very silly introductory scene involving a doll that in no dimension anywhere close to our own would ever, EVER be made considering how cartoonishly evil it looks. Other than that I really don't have anything negative to say about it. This is a really solid horror flick. I still like "Insidious" a little bit better, but that's only because "Insidious" was a little more creative with the plot. "The Conjuring" does what it does extremely well, but let's be honest with ourselves: You always know where it's going.

I guess for a good scary movie, one need not summon the Devil or call a priest. If you need the strength, "The Conjuring!"

Okay that was pretty tortured on a Gene Shallot level. But hey, I got that last reference in. \m/


Man, this trailer is awesome.

THE BOTTOM LINE - "The Conjuring" is a great film. Like all of James Wan's horror flicks, it defines some conventions of the genre to give a fresh yet familiar spin to what it well-trodden ground, and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

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