Premise: Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate the haunting of a family in Rhode Island. And... well, I guess that's a pretty succinct premise description.
-It's a pretty well-constructed ghost movie, and it doesn't feature any torture or excessive gore. If you're a fan of horror films and hate torture porn, I can't suggest this movie enough.
-I loved the beginning of the film. It gets right into it with a small "flashback" story of a haunted doll that is as silly and fun as it is atmospheric and frightening. It has almost nothing to do with the plot of the rest of the film, but it gives you a great idea of the type of film you're about to spend the next 90 minutes watching, as well as providing a backstory on the investigators. I thought it was a really entertaining way to start the film.
-Oh my god, there is an extended steady-cam shot in the beginning of the movie! This is the kind of movie that by all means should have been sloppily thrown together, but director James Wan remembered that he had the chance to shoot a scary movie like a real film, and used a few camera techniques missing not just from recent horror films, but from a lot of recent films in general.
-There are even long shots! I give this movie an A for cinematography. Especially for a horror film. Wan and his cinematographer play with depth and focus in a lot of great ways.
-Most (if not all) of the sets in this movie are awesomely designed. That shot at the Warren's house with their daughter in the hallway was so good that I was taken out of the movie's tension for a second to remind myself that this was just a really well designed movie.
-There are a lot of characters in the film, and they are all viable targets for the ghosts, so the "victim" count stays fun.
-I can't complain about the acting. They weren't mind-blowing performances, but they did nothing to hurt the film.
-The film relies heavily on jump scares, but it almost does so many consistent jump scares that the redundancy of jump scares goes from cliché back to fun again. Full circle jump scaring!
-Probably the best exorcism scene in a film in a long time. Unless you count Jonah Hill's exorcism in This is the End.
-One problem I have with most modern horror films is that the ghosts rely so heavily on theatrics. They pop out of washing machines, coffee mugs, desk drawers, WHEREVER; then they just gargle around and move super slow and essentially don't do anything but be scary, for some reason, while accomplishing nothing. While The Conjuring does a lot of the same things, it actually offers a reasonable explanation for this trend. The ghosts scare the victims for a while until their minds are weak enough to possess, then they do so. Makes sense to me. Now, what's your explanation, Grudge ghost? It seems like a ghost that's sole intention is just to kill people without possession would have no reason to do all the dramatic scares...
-This movie had everything in place to end the movie on a jump scare with the ghost jumping in front of the camera to lead into the credits, AND THEN IT DIDN'T HAPPEN. Bravo... (clap) (clap) (clap) I hate it when horror movies end on jump scares. It's tacky and predictable.
-On that note, the end credits sequence is worth sticking around to watch.
-This is a film that doesn't feature a single ghost that contorts, walks/crawls upside down, and/or has a mass of black hair covering their face. This is a step in the right direction.
-This film, no thanks to hype and word of mouth, has become declared as the scariest film ever made for some reason. It's got a few really terrifying moments, but for the most part, it doesn't live up to the scariness hype. Don't get me wrong, it's a very well made movie, and is *probably* scarier than most things released nowadays, but it's not like pee-your-pants frightening. A good gauge on whether or not a film is truly terrifying is when it leaves you feeling uneasy in the several hours after you've seen the movie, while you're in the comfort of your own home. I didn't feel scared when I got home from The Conjuring. But still, it's probably really scary to the easily spooked, or people who haven't seen a lot of horror movies.
-A lot of good scares were ruined in the previews. The entire clapping game scene, which I thought was well constructed, was shown in its entirely in the trailer. A trailer I saw probably four times before I went to actually see the movie. Same with the lady on top of the dresser. And the hanging laundry scene ghost reveal would have been an awesome scare had I not seen it in a commercial the day before. There's still a few moments unspoiled by advertising, but well, I hate when this happens. But I guess they have to get interest in their film somehow.
-Can we knock it off with the "Based on a True Story" schtick? That text never needs to be seen in a movie about ghosts.
-A lot of the non-violent ghosts in the house are kind of just there for cheap scares, and nothing more.
-Most of the scenes with the Warren's daughter in the first half of the film, in retrospect, seemed to only serve the purpose of having a great scene featuring her later in the film. I loved the later scene, so I wouldn't get rid of the character; but they could have just established the daughter existed, and moved on. Didn't need all the cutbacks.
-There's a few logic flaws regarding the ghost's mythos. For instance, I get how the conflict was resolved for the time being, but I don't see why that would stop the violent ghost from leaving the house or starting to do what it usually does all over again...?
-I don't see how, in any way, this film should have been rated R. Upon researching why it was rated this way, this is what I found to be the case:
In March 2013, the film was given an R-rating by the MPAA for being what Wan described as "too adult." "When we sent it [to the MPAA], they gave us the R-rating," said executive producer Walter Hamada. "When we asked them why, they basically said, 'It's just so scary. [There are] no specific scenes or tone you could take out to get it PG-13.'"
Whoa... If there was ever distinct, clear evidence that MPAA ratings are stupid, arbitrary nonsense determined by people who have no idea what they're doing... yeah... (facepalm)
Final Thoughts: The Conjuring is a well-shot middle ground between classic tense horror scares and non-stop cheap jump scares. They blend together nicely. It's not a very Saw-like movie, even though it's coming from the director of the original Saw. This almost has me excited for Insidious 2 (also directed by Wan). And this dude is also going to direct the next Fast and the Furious movie...? Hey, maybe Vin Diesel will actually get some cuts and scrapes for a change...?! Anyway, The Conjuring is a movie that I've liked more and more as the days have passed, and I'll probably end up checking it out again on Blu-ray. Worth your time if you're into these kinds of movies.
8 out of 10
[Scott Roberts] "Can we knock it off with the "Based on a True Story" schtick? "
The "true story" angle on this one is pretty interesting. The original pitch for the film came from Ed Warren (the guy in the ghost/demon hunting couple), who played the tapes of his recordings of Carolyn Perron (the haunted wife/mom) for a producer who flipped out. He tried for 19 years to get the movie made, adding lots of details from follow-up interviews with Lorraine Warren. They eventually polished up the script enough that it was the subject of a six-studio bidding war.
In fact, the original script had heavily focused on the Perrons, but started getting traction as it shifted toward the Warrens. The Warrens were among the first people to start a ghost-hunting consultancy, with a strong specialty in demons: the New England Society For Psychic Research in 1952. There's GOTTA be a story there. They made their big-time public bones with the Amityville Horror haunting, too!
I think there are more of their stories to tell. I can even imagine a Masters & Johnson, Henry & June kinda thing, except with demons instead of sex...although I can imagine that Hollywood could find a way to do both. And indeed, the movie was briefly called The Warren Files, which, not surprisingly, flopped in testing.
This was already on my radar for exactly some reasons you pointed to (horror rather than torture), but also, frankly Lili Taylor. Until Hemlock Grove (I don't do Netflix, and it sounds from you kids like I should pass anyway), her last big regular-ish gig was Six Feet Under, but man, from the late 80s into the 90s, she was freaking EVERYWHERE. Indelible supporting turns in Mystic Pizza and especially Say Anything, and luminous starring roles in Household Saints and I Shot Andy Warhol. I really, really like her.
I also note at IMDb that she's starring in a series by JH Wyman, an EP of Fringe, next season, called Almost Human, starring KARL URBAN (wtf) and another favorite of mine, Michael Ealy. The premise is human cops partnering with androids, which I'd normally violently reject on principle...but hey, Fringe, Lili Taylor, KARL URBAN, I'm THERE.
Anyway, there's actually a REASON for the true story meme popping up re: The Conjuring, even if the movie didn't exactly explain it or justify it.
Another great review, Scott. Thanks!
Back in my college days I went to a lecture by the Warrens. Being a good skeptical college boy I went to the microphone and asked them why they didn't just leave the house when they were being tormented by spirits. Mrs. Warren simply said you had to be there.
Well I don't really go for this type of movie but it sounds well done.