My love for the horror genre will always be credited to watching John Carpenter’s Halloween every Oct. 31, and seeing It back in 2017 because it was the first horror film I saw in a movie theater.
In between those times, I was able to watch The Conjuring and understand what the hype was about. While you can attribute it as one of the most clichéd, mainstream horror films ever made, The Conjuring is truly terrifying because of great buildups and well-written characters.
I think audiences were mixed prior to this film’s release. James Wan was taking directorial duties for the movie and his track record was hit-or-miss at the time. He directed the first Saw movie, which was fine but nothing that left a lasting impact on me, and he had absolute duds in Dead Silence and Death Sentence. However, the optimism came from his 2010 film, Insidious. Another supernatural horror film with great performances and effective scares.
Rewatching The Conjuring, I can appreciate how great the performances are across the board. I think they outweigh the horror of this film.
The dynamic and chemistry between Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are riveting. They portray Ed and Lorraine Warren, who were real-life paranormal investigators. This is a couple suffering emotional trauma from all these investigations, especially for Lorraine, who hints at a vision she saw during an exorcism that chilled her to the bone. She hasn’t been able to cope with it but she still pushes through because she believes that her and Ed’s life have a purpose in helping those dealing with these hauntings.
The case surrounding this film is the haunting of the Perron family. The slow-burning buildup to the scares is outstanding. It sets a sadistic atmosphere, which just envelopes you in wanting to know what’s going on. Carolyn, played by Lili Taylor, has these unexplained bruises that keep appearing on her body, the clocks always stop at 3:07 a.m., and the kids sleepwalk and are woken by sounds.
The spirit of Bathsheba finally shows herself to the family and we get one of the most intense third acts ever for a horror film. Carolyn is possessed by Bathsheba and we find out that Bathsheba sacrificed her week-old child to the devil, cursed the land and possessed any mother who lived on the land to sacrifice their youngest child. It’s a chilling development and I love whenever there’s research on hauntings. I can’t really explain why but it frightens you more than the actual jump scares. For instance, one of my favorite films ever, Sinister has similar suspense. While this film doesn’t do it as well, you are still more terrified about the discoveries than the actual hauntings.
For me, the scariest scenes in this film are when Carolyn is walking around the house and then all the pictures frames along the staircase fall, and the women who pops out at the cop screaming, “Look what she made me do!” The sound design is awesome because the dialogue and the natural sound can be quiet, but then the scares are incredibly loud and don’t need music cues. The cues are there but less used than in other mainstream horror films.
While I don’t think The Conjuring has aged all that well due to pretentious horror-film buffs only praising films like The Babadook and The Witch for their lack of jump-scares and using horror as metaphors, it should be appreciated for the screenplay and Wan’s exceptional direction of good frights. It’s never going to earn classic status but will always be one of those movies that you see in your DVD collection stand or on a streaming app and go, “Yep, that’s a good flick.”
29 down, 2 to go.