I have said it before and I will say it again: an effective horror movie is one of my favorite things, entertainment wise. Much like with a great comedy, the physical/visceral reaction you experience from a great scary movie is one of the last true pleasures in the high-concept, high-pressure movie making universe of the new century. And, if that movie, on top of being simply effective, is also actually GOOD in terms of classic movie quality measurements (acting, writing, cinematography and yes, directing) then you have on you hands, in my opinion, almost a mini cinematic miracle. Or, in this case, The Conjuring.
Brought to us by the team who brought us Insidious (which is a horror movie I thoroughly enjoyed and still recommend to everyone), it tells the true story of a case demonologist couple Ed and Lorraine Warren (of Amytiville fame, among other things) found “so dark, so horrible” they refused to share it with the world until now. Now they share it forty plus years after its occurence (Ed, btw, is no longer with us, but Lorraine served as a consultant on the movie). We know the story must be pretty bad because the movie opens with a quick prologue about another one of their cases, involving a super creepy doll and a super creepy home, and they had absolutely no issue sharing that one and readily cracking jokes about it. In fact, they are so laissez-faire about their situation that they keep a room in their house where all the possessed objects from their previous cases are stored. For safety. So, these are not two people who go around getting spooked easily, and this tale is going to be all kinds of extra creepy, make no mistake about it.
The afflicted family are Carolyn and Roger Perron, a sweet, almost heartbreakingly real couple with five daughters, who we find moving into a new home. Things are kind of off straight away: the family dog dies almost instantaneously (never a good sign) and next thing you know…. feet are being touched in the night (but then there’s no one there), rooms smell (but then they don’t), and Carolyn keeps waking up with new bruises almost daily (but naturally, no memory of the origins). And, of course, there is a hidden basement the girls uncover while playing hide-and-clap. OF COURSE. Soon, no one is sleeping, everyone is losing their sanity, and Carolyn sets out to find the Warrens, bring them in and attempt to help them.
I will now stop describing the storyline (which, granted, is a series of things you’ve seen and heard in movies before) and instead focus on trying to explain to you why, even if you feel like you’ve already seen every haunted house movie in the world, and have no desire to see another haunted house movie ever, you should still go see The Conjuring. Simply, it is really well done.
The cast, for starters, is top notch. The Perrons are played by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston, in an earnest master class of everyday simplicity. Taylor, in particular, has a certain vulnerability that makes her particular situation in the film EXTREMELY effective. The Warrens are played by Patrick Wilson (who is becoming Wan’s go-to leading man, with Insidious 2 coming us soon too) whose almost preternatural good looks are proving to be an unsettling gift in-and-of-themselves (does his skin get stretched out every morning across those cheekbones? Because that is how smooth it looks) and Vera Farmiga (also an actress who does vulnerable well, though with a steelier core than Taylor). They treat the relatively simple script with a character actor confidence, giving every line, every scare an authenticity that transfers to you as a viewer almost instantly.
The editing, as has become Wan’s signature, is great. He walks the line between scary and funny, the serious and the almost-mocking, flawlessly. The brief moments of legitimate comic relief, which he used very effectively in Insidious too, only make for more effective scares that follow. While the plethora of horror hanging over the Perron household is almost a stereotype (there is a little haunted entity for everyone’s taste, sort of like the Spice Girls of scares), the way he reveals them is with the kind of glee that is infectious.
The movies also LOOKS gorgeous. Set in the 70s, it is all muted browns and insane collars, and the New England gothic aesthetic is done right (unlike, say, in lesser films like Don’t be Afraid Of The Dark), with a nod to all the great horror classic moments Wan obviously loves: the creepy lake next door recalls a Don’t Look Now potential twist, the creepy toys seem to be borrowed from a Twilight Zone episode, the opening is a wink to both Child’s Play and Alice Sweet Alice and so on and so forth.
All of this results in the movie NEVER letting you go. EVER. I saw it with two friends, and we all dealt with it in our own scared, roller-coaster way. I retreated to seeing most of it through a protective curtain created by my (thankfully abundant) hair, one of them literally screamed more than once (and then apologized, more than once) and our third companion simply closed her eyes every single time the music changed. She knew what was coming, and she was NOT going to like it. Then we left, and went for a walk, and had a drink, and talked about anything BUT the movie, and still, I assure you, I barely slept that night and definitely spent the next day freaking out/instagramming/sharing-my-concerns over a bruise I found on my thigh the next morning (WTF). I bet you will, too.
Go see this now.