What I'll Tell You at the Bar:
The Conjuring is effective and will thrill most general audiences. Fans will enjoy the references, but seasoned viewers may feel it suffers in comparison to what inspires it.
What I Really Think (Slight Spoilers):
I was sitting in a bar with a friend of mine before the screening of this film, and he remarked that he couldn't watch any horror movies because they always gave him nightmares. Honest to goodness-keep-you-awake-all-night nightmares. I told him I was jealous, that the price of being a fan of these sorts of movies is that you get savyy to the cheap tricks pretty fast, which leaves the majority of horror films delivering the memory of a good fright flick at best. If a film can get through my jaded skull and unsettle me, then it is something to be celebrated.
I could go on and on about what makes something really scary, but basically it cuts down to the difference between merely showing something scary and knowing why something is terrifying. John Carpenter knew why Michael Myers was a walking nightmare, Ridley Scott and H.R. Giger knew why audiences would be reached on a primal level by the xenomorph. There's much more involved than pointing your camera at something freaky looking.
The Conjuring is in many ways a prequel. The demon-busting couple who are the soul of the film, Ed and Lorrain Warren, are the same people who verified the presence of Satan's dark minions in an old house in Amityville. They are both real people (Ed died in 2006), and both of these films are based on events in their careers. The Conjuring occurs five years before the events in The Amityville Horror, but there is plenty of Amityville to be found in the Perron household.
|It's in a really quiet neighborhood. Great price!|
|Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) presents a makes a powerful plea for help.|
The Conjuring is a welcome break from what we've grown accustomed to in supernatural horror cinema. In many films, even the good ones, the entity is playing some sort of coy hide-and-seek with the living. The spirit is seemingly childlike, and only eventually becomes malevolent. These films don't often go into the how and why of ghostly existence, probably for the better, but there is always the lingering question of why these angry spirits are holding back in the first place. Bathsheba does not have this problem. From the outset, there is no hiding that she is in the house and that she doesn't like the Perron family. Her specialty is the undeniable, in broad daylight, display of her paranormal power. The house is her domain and she makes no effort to be shy about it. Because of this, there are plenty of shock moments when she asserts herself into their lives. These spectral intrusions got screams out of the audience around me pretty much every time. The unmistakable nature of these attacks also subverts what fans of more recent horror films will expect to happen and keeps the story moving further into tension and danger.
|Yep, there really is a monster in that closet.|
The performances are sincere and subdued. Lorrain Warren (Vera Fermiga) is portrayed as a woman who is fighting on despite past trauma. Her lineage is closer to some of Stephen King's more practical clairvoyants and distant from television psychics or the more awkward theatrical seers of horror history. More importantly, she is played as a person and not as a type. Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) is a bit stiff and earnest, but I imagine that is a matter of character and not performance. He seems like a man trying to present himself as part Ward Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont) and part Jimmy Stewart. Despite this, the audience can see the cracks in his tough shell when they start to grow.
|Ed and Lorraine (Wilson and Fermiga) are unaware the young and impressionable Peter Venkman is in the audience.|
|Roger (Ron Livingston) is skeptical.|
|You wouldn't believe the things Bathsheba can do with her hands.|
|By this point, a boring EVP would be a relief.|
|I suppose the jury is still out on inserting homages to your own film.|
For me, there is a layer absent in The Conjuring. This is the layer where Micheal Myers, the xenomorph and Pazuzu are embroidered. This layer cannot be woven in using the fibers of a previous fabrication; they must be pulled fresh from dark spiders by hand, soaked patiently in crimson witches' brew and threaded through by needles which should, if done correctly, be fashioned by the shards of your own brittle bones.
Then you can share this thing that nightmares are made of.