The Conjuring (2013) Review

Conjuring_posterIronically, even though The Conjuring is set in the 70s, it could not be more relevant today, as a postmodern film.

The Conjuring does not suffer from stubborn characters in denial. No one is trying to convince the rest of the cast–or the audience–that they’re not in a horror movie. Everyone trusts each other. When the wife says, “I think the house is haunted,” everyone agrees.

This works for the story as “family” is the central theme — for the Warrens, the Perrons, and even the dead witch haunting the house.

This trusting nature means that characters know — at any time — a scare is bound to happen. They are not lulled into a scare due to ignorance, but they must proceed into fear to gain the knowledge to fight back.

That’s what makes these characters so easy to latch on to, they are not stupid, they have all the knowledge and are still falling victim to the ghost.

The main characters, Ed & Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) are the most experienced in the business. This reflects us as the audience. We are well-versed in the horror genre, we have seen all the jump scares and slow set ups — so have the Warrens. If anything, when the film shows the Warrens working on a home where there’s no ghost, but just old pipes, they’re used to further represent our skepticism and jaded nature. This isn’t a haunting it’s smoke and mirrors.

In fact, all the “jump scares” are muted as they’re considered commonplace for the experienced duo.

Ex: Thunderous knocking against door — is overlooked because everyone accepts that it’s the ghost.
Ex2: When the camera flashes go off to temperature shifts, we see the ghost move from room to room, but no one is scared by this — what scares them is where the ghost leads them.

It’s these kind of common scares that make the film so self-referential. Most of the time a scare is due to the camera angle, the music, the composition of a shot complemented by its post-production components. The common scares could be scary with a different pan or camera technique, but instead, they are purposely shown as lackluster attempts on the ghost’s behalf. Surprisingly, these “throwaway scares” help establish that the world never leaves the “Horror” genre. Ironically, because the common scares are always being dished out, you almost forget you’re in a horror movie. You wonder, ‘what will rattle these characters; what will finally break them?’ And it’s because you forget that you’re in a horror movie — due to the normalcy of the common scares — that makes you so genuinely frightened. It’s because you thought you’d seen it all.

There are no shortage of scares. Whereas some films will take their time, this film does not. It accomplishes this by  providing an abridged horror tale, in the beginning, about a doll, but then continues with it’s Commonplace Horror format. The rapidity increases between scares and throwaway scares which puts you on edge because there’s never a “safe haven.”

For instance, the trailer features a scene between Ed and Lorraine at the creek at the back of the house and there’s a person’s feet dangling behind Ed. This comes after some rather calming dialogue between the two. In what is otherwise a very touching scene, a rotting corpse is suddenly hanging behind them. Of course, this has connotation within the story and Lorraine is so used to these things that she does not flip out — but the audience does. These elements contribute to the overall insecurity and momentum of the film.

In addition to this, Lorraine’s levelheadedness is exactly what makes this film postmodern. This film is genuinely scary; scary enough to watch and rewatch with peers. There’s an uneasiness in Lorraine, but it’s never all-consuming fear as she has seen it before. This mirrors the movie goer, rewatching the same film, knowing that there are scenes that will make him/her jerk or seize up, but nothing will be so horrifying that they can no longer sit through it.

This of course, isn’t the only nod to the viewer as you can never fault the characters in the film for doing everything right. No one is stupid, some may be simple, but ultimately, they’re all aware of the threat and therefore take all the basic steps to avoid aggression. For instance, everyone stays together. When characters do split up, it happens organically.

Again, much of this is due to the strength of the characters. For instance, the Warrens are well-known for being the only two people, not of the Catholic faith, to be authorized by the Catholic Church to perform an exorcism. Part of the success of this movie is certainly because they keep religion out of it.

Religion has a tendency to foster a niche demographic and while that may be a very broad demographic, it’s not often the market base to go see a horror movie. The religious background, while it adds a certain level of credibility to exorcisms, ultimately comes across as ignorant hokum in a movie because it’s the church’s response to everything demonic. However, when two paranormal specialists resort to exorcism, it boosts the credibility of the practice because it is a last resort; all other options have been exhausted. The exorcism is not used because it’s all they know how to use, it’s used because it is the only thing strong enough to stop the evil.

In the end, this is a very rewarding film, with sizable scares, and a tremendous cast and crew. The success may be tied to it being “based on a true story,” but the material certainly speaks for itself; it was clearly written by inspired people. I highly recommend it.

The Conjuring (2013)
Directed by James Wan

Warner Bros.
112 minutes

For more reviews, check out Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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