On the 19th day of Halloween, my actual worst nightmare gave to me: The Conjuring, (James Wan, 2013)
The next theme for my reviews is probably obvious from my choice of film: ghosty shit.
Full disclosure: paranormal shit terrifies me. It’s some of my favorite stuff, but be warned that I literally think every ghost movie is scary because I am a big-ass baby when it comes to this shit. So if you’re not uber-scared by paranormal stuff, take most of my recs in this genre with a grain of salt. That said, I think The Conjuring is my own personal hell a really well-made movie, and will give even the most seasoned of ghost aficionados a thrill or two.
In 1971, famous paranormal-fighting duo Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are called into help the Perron family, who are experiencing horrific, unexplained activity. As the Warrens investigate the house, they realize that this family is being pursued by the vengeful spirit of a witch who hung herself after being found sacrificing her child. This spirit has attacked every family that has attempted to live on “her” land, and the Perrons are next in line. It’s going to take an act of God to take down this evil, and it might just take the Warrens down with it.
James Wan, you crafty, beautiful bastard
I first saw The Conjuring in the summer after my freshman year in college: I was working with a local operetta company (it worked out of my college’s campus) as wardrobe crew. I was well into my horror kick when I decided to see this film- after all, James Wan makes some Good Shit. I had a rare night to myself, so I grabbed a friend and headed to the theater.
Now, I’m either a glutton for punishment or not very wise, because this is basically a haunted house movie on crack. Big deal, right? That’s not the most unique of premises. Well, this was also the summer that I was living in a massive frat house (this building can easily house 30+ people) that was rumored to have been a funeral home. I literally cannot make this up: I was living on the top floor of a house that was not only eternally sticky with old beer, but probably haunted.
…Thinking about the house now, the room they used as the dance floor for parties was very clearly a viewing room. I got nasty to some shitty trap music in this place for years.
Anyway, you see where this is going: Caroline goes to see scary movie about haunted house, returns to her own probably-haunted house, a thunderstorm happens, Caroline almost loses her marbles.
I am not a wise woman. I damn near scared myself shitless because I thought I was brave and could see The Conjuring and just merrily return to my haunted frat house. I wasn’t brave then, and I certainly am not now.
Re-watching this movie to review it, I decided to watch it alone. While my home isn’t haunted or creepy by any means, this movie still gets me. This movie isn’t revolutionary or crazily unique, but god damn it is well made.
A very scary apple pie
The Conjuring is like an apple pie that’s been cooked by a world-class pastry chef: it’s simple by nature, but really, really fucking tasty nonetheless. Like, there isn’t anything crazy twisty about this film. The house is haunted. Traditional haunty shit happens: weird animal behavior, kids having “imaginary friends,” invisible children giggling, yada yada yada. Good stuff, but standard stuff. It’s just that Wan uses these tropes so well, that the entire film has you pulled taut like a tightrope from start to finish.
The one thing that I think sets Wan and his ghosties apart from the pack is that instead of having his ghouls appear onscreen as diaphanous mists or whatever, he uses physical people instead. The FX artists make them look positively hellish of course, but they have a physical presence onscreen that is undeniably powerful.
Specific warnings for this film: ONE SINGULARLY FUCKING AWFUL doll, death of animals, suicide, harm perpetrated against children.
I’m absurdly proud of that subtitle
But beyond knowing how to scare the shit out of people, James Wan is also a brilliant filmmaker. This man’s use of camera and color is gorgeous. Wan uses long, languid takes to establish space in the Perrons’ house, and some of the first shots we see of the estate are from inside, looking out. The camera positively flows at some points, like it’s suspended in water. The camera lurks, it stalks. It’s horrifying, but also gorgeous.
With regards to color, the palette in this film is all washed out earth-tones, and even colors that should be bright come off as dull. The one moment of bright color is when Lorraine experiences one of Carolyn Perron’s (Lili Taylor) happy memories: it’s over-saturated and full of vibrant, happy colors. The sense of depression that the otherwise faded palette brings to the film is unmistakable in contrast to the happiness of the memory.
The cast of the film is incredibly talented, particularly Wilson and Farmiga as the Warrens. I also personally found Lili Taylor’s performance as Carolyn Perron to especially compelling, alongside Farmiga’s. Both are incredibly devoted mothers who have been put upon by forces they cannot control, but still would do anything for their family.
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
So I’m big into paranormal shit, and so when I first learned about the premise of this movie I went to town. While I’m sure most of you aren’t watching The Conjuring for the historical facts, it’s always good to get the rundown.
Ed and Lorraine Warren: They’re real AF. While Lorraine is the only member of the duo still surviving, this couple has a stack of paranormal cases and investigations behind them, some of them very famous. As with any real-life paranormal happenings, the veracity of the Warrens’ findings are up for debate. I’m not here to try defend or tear down the Warrens, just to give you a little context on them. While this is neither here nor there, Lorraine Warren was totally onboard with The Conjuring and is sweet as can be in the featurettes.
Here’s their website if you’re interested: http://www.warrens.net/
Annabelle: Jesus Christ, this doll. The story behind Annabelle is one based in reality, insofar as there is a real doll named Annabelle in the Warrens’ possession that has been blamed for various nefarious nasty things. Now the real doll looks more like a Raggedy-Ann doll than the nightmare-inducing prop the wiley bastards behind The Conjuring made, and I’m honestly not sure if that’s better or not. The Warrens’ website has their account of the Annabelle proceedings, but I’ll link the wiki for Annabelle if you want to get a broader sense of the Annabelle phenomenon.
The Perron Family: They’re real, and have spoken publicly about what happened to them on their farmhouse. While Hollywood certainly went to town on exaggerating certain aspects of the story, the family and the Warrens still maintain that they witnessed powerful supernatural activity on the grounds of the house. I’ve linked a fantastic article from History vs Hollywood on the “facts” of the Perron case versus the movie’s version. The Warrens and the Perrons emphasize that there was never an exorcism or anything like that performed in the house, and the identity of the “witch” is still puzzling. At any rate, both camps still hold that the land was and is still indubitably haunted.
So make of that what ye will, fellow travelers.
My one caveat
My one critique of this movie is that is sometimes feels like two movies in one: The Warrens and the Perrons have two distinct stories, and while they cross for a significant portion of the movie, the film can feel distracted or disjointed at times.
And while my soul appreciates the brief moments of levity that Wan intentionally includes, I’m on the fence as to whether or not they disrupt the tension in a way that is helpful. But I’m not one to judge, because I am literally rigid as a board throughout this whole movie, so the tension never really lets up for me.
I’m trying to keep up on reviews
I’m going away this weekend and won’t necessarily be up-to-date on reviews, so I’m trying to write as many as I can today so I’ll keep vaguely on schedule. What that means is that I’m watching a shitton of paranormal movies in one sitting.
It’s been going well.
But seriously, I’m going to do my best to keep up on them, but I’m unsure how many ghost movies I can watch in one sitting without actually peeing myself, so I beg your indulgence. I might have to throw in a non-ghost review in the middle to spare my sanity, so just bear with me here, folks.
I’d apologize for being such a weenie, but hey, isn’t this what horror is all about?
Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go hide under a blanket and watch Bob’s Burgers on my phone and try not to jump every time my dog moves because I am a Big Girl
Featured image source:
Gif source: http://gifrific.com/cleveland-brown-falls-out-of-house-in-bathtub/
If your soul wasn’t crushed enough by this film, here’s some more info as to the story behind The Conjuring.
The Perron case: http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/conjuring.php