The Conjuring shares many similarities with Poltergeist. There is the family unwittingly haunted by a malevolent presence. There is a team of investigators determined to help the family, and there is lots of equipment placed around the house in order to capture images of whatever is causing the disturbances.
Even more importantly, they share similar ratings issues. Poltergeist successfully campaigned for a PG rating even though it should not have been seen by children (I was one of those unfortunate, scarred little kids). In fact, it was so mis-rated that PG-13 was created partially because of it. The Conjuring, meanwhile, received an R rating despite being, in essence, a PG-13 film. The MPAA, however, felt that it was too scary.
Yes, that’s right. A group of adults watched The Conjuring and claimed that there was no way it should get anything below an R. Not because of swearing (of which there is barely any), violence (all super-natural), or nudity (there is none). Because it is too damn scary.
So the big question: is it really that frightening?
The Conjuring is a ‘based on real events’ film that follows two families. The afflicted family, the Perrons, are actually not the main focus of the film. It is the Warren family that receives most of our attention plot-wise. Considered expert demonologists, they travel the world in an attempt to disprove supposed hauntings where they can, and end real ones whenever possible.
We begin the film with Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) assisting two young ladies with a very creepy possession involving what is quite possibly the ugliest doll ever made by man. This is our establishing shot set up to show just how experienced the Warrens are with the demon world as well as give a few really good scares right from the get-go.
After this introduction, we finally get to meet the huge Perron family. Father Roger (Ron Livingston) and mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor) have just purchased a huge house in Rhode Island and are in the process of moving their belongings and all five daughters. Little do they realize just what they are in store for as whatever is in the house slowly begins make its presence known.
This is the part where things really start to develop into a tried-and-true haunting film like The Amityville Horror and Sinister. Things start off small, such as one of the girls having her leg tugged on in her sleep and strange rotten meat smells scattered throughout the house. Slowly, ever so slowly, things escalate until the entire family is being terrorized with scares, violence and inexplicable bruising.
Eventually it becomes too much for the family and they desperately contact the Warrens for help. Seeing that this may be the real deal, the Warrens move in to the Perron’s house and, with the help of their assistant Drew (Shannon Kook) andlocal police officer Brad (John Brotherton), fill the place with all kinds of recording equipment. They need this both to figure out what may be haunting the family as well as bring proof to the Catholic Church, as they will not agree to perform an exorcism without it.
Bottles and cans and just clap your hands just clap your hands.
Image @ Warner Bros. Entertainment
While Lorraine’s clairvoyant abilities are frequently used to show the moviegoers what’s really going on in the house, The Conjuring does a fantastic job of never showing too much too soon. The scares have a tendency to creep up on the audience. This is nice in a world where too many horrors still try to go out of their way to show us the ‘bad guy’ as soon as possible, thus leaving nothing to the imagination. The truly frightening scenes are the ones where we never actually see what is causing the casts’ terror; we can only see their reactions to the unknown and our minds are forced to fill in the blanks.
Unfortunately I do have one problem with this movie. Though usually frightening, the scares are far too choreographed. You will always know that something scary is about to happen several seconds before it does. Yes, it can be nice to amp yourself up, trying prepare for the scare you know is to come and then get spooked anyways, but that is all there is in this film. After the 15th or 16th time it starts to get a bit stale.
While The Conjuring is not quite as frightening as my favorite film of 2012, Sinister, it may very well be the best horror movie of 2013. Unless, of course, Patrick Wilson’s sequel to Insidious delivers a slightly better set of scares than the 2010 original. That man must be a glutton for punishment.
The Conjuring: A-