The Conjuring (2013) (R)

Horror has it hard. There is nothing inventive that this genre can do that hasn't already been done. Gore and scary moments and anything that deals with the supernatural—they're all up for grabs. I don't think that it's possible to count the number of exorcism movies that have come out in the last three years, and with that...nothing incredibly new has emerged. There are movies with generic names like "The Haunting of ______" or "The Exorcism of ______"; yet none have really caught the mainstream's eye. In the last fifteen years, there have only been a few successes in horror movies and most of them aren't in English. The only notable exceptions that aren't remakes are all works relating to James Wan. This is the man who brought to life the "Saw" franchise and also directed the more recent "Insidious".
Admittedly, I've not seen "Saw" and have no plans to; but "Insidious" (which I did see)  proved a point about modern horror movies—they don't know how to end. Even "The Cabin in the Woods" which was a parody of sorts, fell into this trap. Great build ups lead to horrible third acts and we are left unsatisfied.
But with Wan's "The Conjuring" he solves the problem of the wrap-up and breathes new life into the horror genre.
When "The Conjuring" opens, it focuses on the creepiest doll you've ever see. It resembles the clown doll that Michael Douglas finds in "The Game"; but even more so. It's showing a tried and true example of effective horror—using innocent items malevolently; and it wouldn't be the first to do this.
But the movie isn't about the doll that looks evil, nor is it about sounds that come from under the stairs—"The Conjuring" is a horror movie about family, knowledge, and obsession.
Any time I see that a horror movie is based on a true story, I immediately assume the opposite. How many ghost stories can you shake up from under a mat? I guess one more.
As "The Conjuring" played out, the intensity picking up, and I felt the hairs on my legs stand up on end; it amazed me to see how fresh and intriguing "The Conjuring" actually was.
It revolves around paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively). They are a husband and wife team who seem (almost) as normal as could be expected. They have a room in their house where potentially possessed objects from each of their cases are kept; and at the film's opening the cliche creepy doll symbolically gets locked inside the room. They assume that it's safer to keep them in their house than have them out on the street—Ed likens the dangerous tokens to guns.
Focus now on the Taylor family, a family of seven who have just moved into an old house. The house is pleasant enough on the outside and filled with unpleasantries on the inside. They will soon find that their paths and the paths of the Warrens will have to cross—the consequences of the two families not meeting would be fatal.
The first thing that struck me about "The Conjuring" was how beautiful it was to look at.  John R. Leonetti's cinematography is absolutely stunning and is very reminiscent to Kubrick's odd angles at times. The film's scares come in anti-cliche moments. You think that something is going to jump out at you and indeed it does—but not from where you're looking.
It's so smartly crafted and so well orchestrated that it transcends its own genre. Light and sound play a larger part than some of the actors in "The Conjuring". The way that huge beams of lights are focused and then taken away add to the theme of the slow gaining of knowledge throughout the film. Sound is also featured more than you would think—this isn't the creaking of doors and floorboards (though those moments aren't completely gone). Instead it's the deep booming bass sounds and the unearthly sound of ropes quivering and dragging along that sent shivers up my spine.
The color schemes are striking and many visual metaphors spring forth from them.
"The Conjuring" manages to feel realistic throughout its entirety. The looks that exchange between parents and children are enough to make the film believable.
All of the acting in the film is spot on, though Vera Farmiga does outshine all of her co-stars. She can make her eyes widen farther than was thought possible. I don't think that I've seen an actress with a more expressive face.
Patrick Wilson, who also collaborated with Wan in "Insidious", is a strong actor, though nothing spectacular here.
Recurring shots of the exterior of the house give the film a feeling of passing time. The clarity of the movie comes from the slow zooms and the magnificent tracking shots.
Sometimes the desperation of the characters becomes almost unbearable. I can remember one particular scene that had one scare lined up so neatly behind the next one that it was almost like watching a horror ballet.
It is not possible to emphasize how sensational the camera-work is in this movie. Sometimes the camera looks at the back of a head and follows a character around in an Aronofsky fashion and other times we get large, wide angles—there is one moment that is even upside down.
The obsession of the film isn't obvious until the last climactic scenes which show the possessive nature of ghosts (no pun intended).
A thought came across my mind—why is it always the attic or the basement? Surely if the characters hadn't pried open the boards that led to the basement in the beginning, none of this would have happened.
It's always the unknown that is more frightening... and what is more unknown that someone else's basement?
"The Conjuring" really surprised me for its style, its story, and its execution.
I am glad that I saw this in the middle of the day though; and I'm also glad that my house doesn't have a basement.

Score: 4 out of 4 stars

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