October 11, 2015

The Conjuring

James Wan, 2013
Sometimes with horror films, scary movies in general, it's not about the monsters and the creatures jumping out at you from the screen. Sometimes the real consistency of the scares is in the subtle notes. The build-up, the tension, the things you don't see. Sometimes it's something ambiguous, a shadow in the corner of the frame. A resonant sound. Or maybe it's something from your own life experience that you are bringing to the film. Maybe the house looks like yours. Maybe the layout of your bedroom is the same as the one in the scene. The Conjuring plays with a bunch of these concepts. Effective pacing, visual elements, creepy scenery, shadows, sounds. Splat-packer Wan has gotten a lot of movie-blood on his hands in the past, working on films like the original Saw and the first two Insidious films. Both of those films in their early incarnations were original and creative. Saw was certainly a more innovative horror film, Insidious played on a similar theme as the Conjuring with demonic forces at work in a home.

The Conjuring is a period piece set in the 1970's. When you enter the Rhode Island historical home in the early moments of the film, you realize right away that the house itself, even in the absence of anything floating through the hallways, is a damn creepy place to be. The walls are cracking, there are exposed lathe boards in some of the rooms. Aged kitchen, a certain layer of grime to most of the surfaces. Everything creaks and squeaks. But this is because it's an old house bought at an auction on the cheap by their truck-driving father Roger (Ron Livingston). He admits to having spread himself really thin financially, and purchasing the home with an effort to please wife Carolyn (Lili Taylor) who wants her children to grow up in the ambiance of the rural country. Dogs can see ghosts, as anyone who saw the original Poltergeist knows, and when their family pet refuses to enter the house we know right away why. The film is actually not really that ground-breaking or revolutionary in terms of story. It's a blend of a haunted house-possession sub-genres (with nods to the found-footage sub-genre as well), which doesn't feel all that fresh. But it's the execution of it all that works. And in this age of torture films and cheap slashers and CGI-monsters, it's refreshing to watch something that has lingering qualities.

Films like the Conjuring prove that a horror movie doesn't have to be revolutionary to still be effective. If you are a fan of the genre, sometimes you just a want a scare, and you get that here. And as far as memorable elements, whenever someone claps twice you are sure to think of this film.

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