*It’s difficult to review a horror film in depth without going into spoiler territory so in consensus I will say that this movie is ‘an effectively made creepfest’ though how much you’ll have to decide for yourself after seeing it, to those who haven’t venture beyond the marked spoiler territory at your own risk.
It’s hard to critique a scary movie beyond a certain point, because the scares are dictated by personal preference. What might scare someone may cause someone else to laugh, and that same thing could traumatize someone else. I can tell you that as a technical showpiece in filmmaking ‘The Conjuring succeeds. The film is well written enough with plot points established early on that actually payoff, and it is beautifully shot and framed movie with the 70’s period giving the film a unique look. The pacing is slow burning film that crescendos to an effective and satisfying climax. Was it enough for me? As a scarefest it was more spooky and creepy than horrifying and sinister I found.
I can say for me that there were some definitely tense scenes and creepy moments spread out all over the film and well positioned, but I never felt outright horrified long enough to maintain a serious impression on the film. There is a startling soundtrack with a delightfully unsettling vibe that accompany’s the picture, but I found that subtlety was sorely lacking at parts littered with heavy handed musical pings that took you out of the movie. This isn’t a mistake on the director’s part, but a stylistic choice, and I just don’t like how James Wan’s style involves calling back and leaning heavily on old school horror style. Perhaps my expectations were too high. It’s as if the movie divides itself between being a fresh take on the genre and being masterfully formulaic, I prefer a more original style. The counterargument here is that even at times I found that the subtler approach did not turn out to be an effective tactic either. One particular scene the relies on Joey King’s (one of the daughter’s) performance to provide the power of suggestion choosing to hide the mysterious entity away from the audience that’s hiding behind the door, but without there being a visual hint or idea throughout the movie as to what the entity might actually be like, the inspired take on the scene failed to get my imagination running and fell flat. Maybe I just don’t believe in ghosts or am too brave, or maybe I’ve seen way too many movies.
The marketing for this film has pegged it as this generation’s ‘Exorcist’. I find that very agreeable. My father having seen The Exorcist in theatres found himself equally scared at times during this film, and for me having seen both agree to that statement but neither have scared the crap out of me, I think it might be a generational thing.
There isn’t a large problem with the third act of the movie being an Exorcism, it is an effective way to build the tension, but if I have a nitpick it’s that I don’t think it quite connects to the logic of a haunted house, even if it is true story them throwing it in there as a line of dialogue that houses can be exorcised and the ghosts can also be demons made me think ‘shenanigans’. But I guess witchcraft is completely like that anyways.
How the haunting affects each individual member of the family is a key device that frames the narrative. I’ll say it outright now because I can’t think of any other way to say it, I thought there were too many needless characters, particularly among the children (heartless, again true story and I don’t care). With Ed and Lorraine Warren’s kid being stuck at home was a subplot that didn’t really go anywhere and some of the other kid’s have next to nothing to do aside from one main scene or gimmick. The film would have been stronger or had a sharper focus if there were less characters to keep track of, it would have built up the tension more, and that’s saying something.
With a good film like this the important parts are what the film nails . You are shown the entirety of the house early on so that the movie can play with your spacial awareness, you know where the characters are, where things are suggested to be and coming from, which pays off my favourite thing about the movie; the mounting of scares.
What you don’t often see in horror movies is having more than one scare at a time, or one after the other. Some filmmakers like to think that in order scare the audience one thing has to be zeroed in on for an abundance lot of time, but for two instances in the film; where the father comes home to his screaming wife and children tormented in different parts of the house and in the finale where the exorcism is being performed in the basement, while one of the daughters goes missing in the house and one child is left outside is a good way to scare which feeds on a different type of fear; the fear of overwhelming. A very exciting climax, these scenes felt layered rather than stacked on top of each other, scaring and delighting the audience at the same time. One minor gripe about the ending was that it seemed to try too hard to shoot back to a happy normalcy with the Perron family (the one that was being haunted) when there wasn’t any to begin with. This underserved the films tone and totally didn’t jive with me, but thats the advantage of making horror, at times its okay to be a bit of a mess as long as its a relatively scary one.
Overall Grade: +2/ B+
Release Date: July 19th, 2013
Studio: Warner Brothers Pictures
Director: James Wan
- This is James Wan’s first film to not involve writing partner Leigh Whannell at all, go figure it was his most successful.
- Investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren were more or less the focus of the story with several of their files set up for sequels I’m sure. The Long Island investigation referred to at the end is the Warren’s famous Amityville case.
- * My 200th film in theatres. That I know of, I may have miscounted or forgotten one.
Side note: I don’t think I like the management style of the Cineplex. They always seem understaffed and there was a constant fluttering above me that wasn’t apart of the movie. Also the commercials didn’t turn on their video component until halfway through. I’d like to see the manager please.
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