Since the original Haunting and House on Haunted Hill, film audiences have been inundated with wave after wave of supernatural horror. Ghost stories. In The Conjuring, the new Oren Peli/ James Wan film, audiences are treated to a movie that is both refreshingly original and an homage to paranormal films of the past.
****SPOILERS AHEAD-YOU’VE BEEN WARNED-DON”T CRY****
The Conjuring stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warrens, a couple of ghost/demon sleuths who study and gather evidence from different paranormal phenomena. Unlike other ghostbusters of the time, these two actually have the respect of the Catholic church, but without the “no banging” part– which is convenient, because they are married to each other.
Them fool is legit, yo. I give them mad props for the street cred.
After a university conference, they get approached by a mother (Lili Taylor) on the edge of desperation who says some scary and violent things have been happening to her, her husband (the always excellent Ron Livingston) and their five daughters. Even though they have had experiences with the supernatural, their gut instinct always suggests a reasonable explanation. Well, they can throw that shit right out the window because this house is possessed and mad as hell.
According to the prologue, this film is based on a true story. I love the word “based” because it is vague enough for the writers to include whatever they want. I am writing a movie about a coke-dealing, hitman, super ninja who sometimes ice skates. It’s called The Wayne Gretzky Story and it is based on actual events. See what I did there?
Anyway, back to The Conjuring. When the Warrens inspect the house, they find multiple entities not only attached to the house; but to the residents themselves.
Mary Sue will never learn. She is always hanging herself out to dr….Eh, she’s right behind me, isn’t she?
Let me start by saying the I am an avid horror fan. I like slashers, zombie films, My Little Pony. What? The latter is not a horror film? But it’s terrifying!
One style of horror that leans unequivocally on the “miss” side of the “hit-or-miss” spectrum is the ghost story. Poltergeist and The Shining are legendary, but The Ring, Dark Water and The Grudge are all bordering on retarded. Except for The Ring. The Ring is totally retarded…and so are Dark Water and The Grudge. Ok, they are all retarded.
My biggest problem with the haunting formula, even in the good ghost movies, is the random ability of the deceased. Where is the explanation to why the goth girl with the long hair can crawl out of TV screens? Why does that little kid in The Grudge get to crab walk down deserted hallways and drop his jaw like he just watched The Sixth Sense for the first time?
My point is, if every angry person got to become a murderous ghost, the whole planet would be dead and full of sad ghosts with no one to murder. So these assholes get to break the rules while the rest of us are roaming silently. Dammit, I want superpowers too!
The Conjuring did not take this route. Instead, the writers chose to write some actual story that involves demons and witch craft as well. Demons and witchcraft you say? Yes! It’s silly, but it’s explained.
Wan really tips his hat to horror in this film without become all meta, Wes Craveny. With nods to Amityville Horror, Child’s Play and even Paranormal Activity, he manages to convey his love for the genre without beating us over the balls with it. My balls thank you, James Wan!
Actually, I take that back. My balls are scared now.
Wan also paces this film excellently. Haunting films usually want to draw out the suspense for one big climax at the end. The Conjuring has the sense of urgency of a suspense thriller, keeping you on the edge of your seat until the final showdown. By the way, Lili Taylor is officially the scariest woman in Hollywood. Move over, Glen Close.
For the film nerds out there, pay attention to the cinematography. It is some of the most compelling photography that I have seen this summer with smooth tracking shots and zooms that recall 1970s westerns.
Are ghost stories a tired format? Yes, but that doesn’t mean they can’t drink a couple cups of coffee every once in a while.