"The Conjuring" is worth hanging around for
Any time you see "Based on true events" starting off a horror film there is a queasy feeling that it could have been you who jumped at a good real estate deal and purchased an abandoned eighteenth century house complete with lake in back, an old dead tree with large branches to hang swings on (or anything else for that matter) and a rowboat tied to a dilapidated pier that no one seems interested in knowing how or why it is there when you arrive on your first day. That’s our star of "The Conjuring," a traditional house that seems like any other.
The movie opens with a prologue about the Warrens, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), who are paranormal investigators and what it is they do. We are then introduced to the Perron’s, Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters who move into the aforementioned house. The first sign that things are amiss is when the dog refuses to enter.
"The Conjuring" is a cross between the movies "Poltergeist" and "The Exorcist." It takes a lot of liberties from both movies including, as in "Poltergeist," surveillance of paranormal activity with equipment available a decade before that movie took place and demon possession from "The Exorcist." But who’s paying attention? Once the dog refuses to enter director James Wan ("Saw," "Insidious") has a tight grip on our dispositions. Mr. Wan uses the sense of the unknown to rattle his audience’s nerves rather then relying on blood and gore. Location helps. He proves that noises in an old house can still stimulate the goose bumps. He builds tension slowly by introducing strange occurrences that, at first, baffle the family. He knows the right time to play an orchestra of basses on low strings while his camera approaches a closet door. The ball starts rolling when the Perrons play a traditional family game where the girls hide while their blindfolded mother seeks them out with only the sound of their clapping to guide her. Of course the clap she picks to follow doesn’t come from a relation. Just when the tension tightens Mr. Wan turns up the heat by throwing in visual hints of the evil that has infested the house.
The screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes have written a horror movie that bucks the trend of the traditional slasher film. In those pictures the victims’ lack of sense inevitably led them to the butcher’s blade. Whenever there was a noise in the middle of the woods during the dead of night they would cry out for the perpetrator to identify themselves and then investigate when there was no reply. It is a cheap ploy that warns the audience something is about to happen after they take that first step into the woods. The Perron’s, on the other hand, are written with basic intelligence at their disposal. They try to figure out why certain incidences are happening. This handicaps the viewer because we’re not sure what’s waiting for the Perrons around every corner and our nerves aren’t given time to rest. The Hayes have locked the Perrons into the house since they have put all their financial resources into it. Fleeing to a safer haven is not an option. Mr. Livingston and Ms. Taylor’s supporting role status give them the feel of a regular couple that’s easy to relate to. There is that feeling that what’s happening to them could happen to anyone. When they come to their wits end they reach out to the Warrens.
The Warrens act as the "sheriffs" of the film. They are a couple the audience grabs on to for comfort. Ed is a straight-laced investigator. He approaches his job like a scientist checking off the list of probabilities from which this paranormal activity can be attributed. When they’ve concluded that the cause is from some paranormal being they identify what kind and then go about in a scientific matter to rid the affected object of that spirit. Lorraine is a clairvoyant who bridges the spirit world to this one. But the Hayes’ sly screenplay adds a twist to the Warrens relationship which begins to unravel the safety net the audience has latched onto since their arrival.
When leaving the theater and walking in the care of the summer sun- if past experiences have taught you that afternoon is the best time to watch horror movies- you will begin to think about certain scenes and wonder about logic. The conclusion is a chaotic mess. Some explanations don’t add up. But during the heat of those questionable scenes logic is not what’s on the mind. The only thoughts going through your head is whether or not to close your eyes, hide under your seat or run like hell. That’s the sign of a good horror movie. And rule number one: always listen to the dog.