There is a visceral feeling that happens when you’re scared. The heart starts racing, goosebumps produce over the body, and sometimes the involuntary decision to hold your breath follows. For me, that feeling of terror is a bit addicting. Horror movies have long been a personal favorite of mine due to the physical reaction they draw from my body and mind. As a child, I was too afraid of watching the likes of “Tales from the Crypt” alone, so instead I’d sit waiting on the bottom of the stairs for my older brother to finish his nightly shower so that we could watch it together. The mere anticipation of waiting was thrilling enough for me. Sadly, finding a film or show legitimately horrific these days is harder than believing the abilities of a publicized medium. Most horror films in recent years are lazy. More often than not, they are tragically formulaic with most losing its focus and tension halfway in.
Let’s all take a moment to lift hands and say hallelujah for The Conjuring not being one of those films! The Conjuring is the light at the end of the tunnel for the horror genre. It’s a bright, beaming example of what it takes to make an effective, spine-tingling film that can acknowledge its forerunners, yet still be a different, fresh entity all on its own. The physical reactions I had while watching The Conjuring left me drained by its ending. I had gasped, jumped, tensed up, teared up, and damn near dropped a load in my pants. It was as if I had partaken in the horrific events that I had watched first hand, leaving me mentally exhausted when I left.
She took Lionel Richie’s “Dancing on the Ceiling” too literal.
Based on a true story, The Perron family have just moved into a new farmhouse in the country. Slowly, but surely, the family begins to notice that strange occurrences are happening in the house from constant knocking sounds and whispering voices, to doors opening on their own and clocks stopping at 3:07 a.m. As the days go by the family comes to realize that they are not alone, and that something violent and sinister lives with them in the house. Terrified for the lives of their five young daughters, Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger (Ron Livingston) seek the help of Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farminga)Warren, a father-wife paranormal team who themselves are recovering from a demonic disturbance from a previous exorcism. Together both families embark on a ghastly discovery about the land in which the house was built and they are all tested by the strong demonic presence that refuses to leave the home with a living family inside.
Justin Wan is quickly working his way up the ranks as one of Hollywood’s preeminent horror directors. Having directed notable films like Saw and Insidious, Wan’s talent in filmmaking has only progressed throughout the years. Masterful at creating tension, Wan frequently uses the method of long takes as a means to fill an environment with anxiety and mistrust. The introduction of the Perron family is established in a long shot through the window of their new home. The family drives up the driveway excitedly discussing the new home, and all the while the camera patiently zooms in but never leaves its spot within the home. The scene tells us everything we need to know about the The Perron family and their eldest daughter’s bitterness at having to move from Jersey. As the family unpacks their car and races to the front door the camera sits, never cutting to a different angle; instead it slowly pans from right to left watching the family through windows until at last they open the front door allowing the camera to slowly zoom in to a frightened Sadie, the family dog. The scene beautifully sets the tone for the film, keeping viewers on a constant anxious high that never truly goes away.
“So we’ve all seen Bob & Alice & Ted & Carol before right? Good then let’s get things started.”
Aside from Wan’s wonderful talent for creating tension through camera placement and movement, The Conjuring’s use of sound is one of its most spectacular elements. Its sound mixing results in genuine shocking moments as strange noises and loud bangs filter through the house into the speakers of the theater. At times, sound exudes from the left side of the speakers while the camera pans over to the right. Such an effect results in the desired need to crane one’s neck to the left in an attempt to urge the camera to change its direction so we can find the source of the sound. Sound also lends itself to some of the film’s most frightening moments, causing me to drop multiple F-bombs out of shock while watching.
Screenplay writers Chad and Carey Hayes gives the script the appropriate amount of depth and development needed to make viewers connect with plight of the characters. I have never truly personalized a horror film the way I did in The Conjuring. The predicament of both families is heartbreaking as the distressing nature of exorcism has never truly had a place in my reality until The Conjuring. Anyone with a tinge of empathy can’t help but feel sorrow for the blindsided Perron family and the well-intentioned Warren family. Seeing both families struggle at the behest of a demon is not just distressing, but painful.
“What? Do I have something on my face?”
The Conjuring is the product of a horror junkie, perhaps that’s why it is so effective at playing within the confines of the genre, yet still emerges with new ideas and shocking twists. Elements of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds are alluded to, along with Tobe Hooper’s The Poltergeist. The Exorcist is a huge influence, while The Conjuring’s background owes itself to The Amityville Horror. Still other segments of the film are reminiscent of “The Twilight Zone’s” Talking Tina episode. Nevertheless, despite all these influences, The Conjuring is a singular dip into uncharted and unforeseen scary waters. It stands on the backs of giants learning from the shortcomings of its predecessors to become the best and brightest of them all.
I first saw Neil Marshall’s The Descent in theaters during its opening weekend. When it ended, I got in my 97 Dodge Town and Country and I drove home constantly looking in my rear view mirror praying not to, but expecting to, see a sheet white, blind mutant in my backseat. That fear I had as I drove home is what draws me to horror films. I hadn’t felt that type of fear in a film since, until seeing The Conjuring.
As a movie-going experience, I highly recommend seeing it in theaters. The advantage of having full surround sound, a darkened room, and large screen to constantly scan for surprises is worth it. The Conjuring is a classic in the making; it doesn’t scare because of violence or gore or even cheap tricks. It sends chills up your spine by just being an all around sound film with thrilling atmosphere to boot. The only thing I can say that I disliked about seeing The Conjuring is that I will sadly never be able to see it again for the first time. As a result, I’ll be chasing the dragon until the next great horror film arises, whenever that will be.
Take a Drink: every time a lit match goes out.
Take a Drink: for every new spirit we meet.
Take a Drink: whenever you jump or gasp.
Take a Drink: every time a light bulb is blown.
Do a Shot: for every face you’re sure you’ll see in your nightmares.