James Wan’s 2013 novella was beloved by audiences, conjuring over $300 million and becoming one of the highest-grossing horror films in cinematic history.
As I’ve made my way through the depths of horror these last few years, I’ve found a lot of duds, the type of garbage that turned me off to the genre at an early age. I’ve also found some crystals such as Cabin in the Woods, Sinister, The Babadook and The Shining, films that demonstrate tension, creativity and imagination. These are the type of productions that keep the category alive. We need more of them.
The Conjuring, through and through, is an ode to original horrors such as The Exorcist, playing on high wires, shredding one’s nerves against a grater and stretching them with a rolling pin like an experienced culinary maestro. Wan has a talent for this type of film making, pairing a fascination with cinematography with a genuine care for character. The widely known pitfalls of the niche are tactfully avoided by his pen strokes. (You’ll be hard pressed to find a misplaced horror trope.)
This isn’t to say The Conjuring is revolutionary in its innovativeness. Familiar imagery is often used to give us rather blatant gestures. Wan is not trying to finesse you. He’s going to come at you. Here, we’ll play a game of hide and seek in Rhode Island before unleashing the stops in the final third. A certain bar of patience is required, though I feel the apprehension to what we all know is coming is more than enough of a reason to stick around. We’re all toys in Wan’s fantasy. We’re just being played with.
The acting is capable though nothing dramatic. Most of its success is from its authenticity. Invested characters are key to an audience’s sympathy and involvement. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring intrigue to demon hunters and paranormal specialists, a concept that is rather difficult to take seriously without our acceptance of these leads.
I feel that directors of scare stories underappreciate the value a character brings to said moving picture, whether it’s a slasher flick or dramatic mind bending. Cynics, especially like myself, are looking for any opportunity to remove themselves from the equation, which spells, “Uh-oh” for horror creationists. An audience that is not slaved by the puppeteer is hard to frighten. They still feel they have control of the situation. That’s why drawing a line from your audience to a character is so important, whether that person is a protagonist or villain. Friday the 13th is great because that line is drawn from us to Jason. He embodies emotional trauma. It’s hard to watch a film like that and not get even a little uneasy. The same goes for Michael Myers and Halloween.
So when you start the film and find yourself asking why we’re spending what seems like forever on this family, that is why. It gives us time to get to know ourselves in this pattern.
This film contains little to no jump scares. Wan is not someone to dab in the trivial. Wan would prefer to throw elements into his pressure cooker and watch them slowly rise up until its overbearing, silently laughing like a mad scientist.
This is not the type of movie to scare the daylights out of you, nor tell you a whole lot about yourself. There are shades of destiny talk here and there between the Warrens but not much in form of storytelling is going on. It is, however, a nice stamp to add to your passport of horror trips if you’ve just begun your adventures. It dedicates itself to what the origins of this storytelling based themselves on: a slice of visual grandeur, a pinch of narrative bravado and a heavy sampling of anticipation.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Sinister, Olympus Has Fallen, The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun)
50-59 This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (Tommy Boy, Death Note, True Memoirs of an International Assassin, The Great Wall, Robin Hood)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Power Rangers, Underworld: Evolution, Batman & Robin, Bloodsport)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to Die, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Crow: City of Angels, Centurion, Planet of the Apes)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, The Forbidden Dimensions, Cyborg, Outcast, Sabotage)
My score for The Conjuring: 84.
People might have hyped this up a tad too much for me to see it as a magnum opus, but it’s still clear that The Conjuring pulls its punches and waits for its characters’ most vulnerable moment before unleashing on them. James Wan is certainly a prodigy in the industry.