Movie Review: ‘The Conjuring’ (A Second Opinion)
Most of us know the sad state that horror movies have been in for the past decade and the struggles it went through to try and bring back half of what it accomplished so well in the 80’s. More than any other genre it seems that horror is either hit or miss and completely thrives off of one specific aspect as the basis for a new pattern (slasher, torture porn, demonic possession). Recently it’s been director James Wan trying to steer the ship in a new direction by using heavy influences from ghost movies of the past- and isn’t that always the best way when something is looking bleak? Reach back and find what worked in the glory days but put a fresh and modern spin on it to make it exciting and unique (like Abrams with Star Trek… and Star Wars?). James Wan is a guy who’s been all the rage since he burst onto the scene with Saw and inadvertently started the torture porn trend that dominated horror movies for a good 6-7 years. It’s kind of a hilarious irony that he’s setting out to change the genre that he accidentally pushed into the wrong direction but lets be honest, how the hell would he have known that so many copycats would follow his movie? I guess he’s the go-to name in horror after Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious and The Conjuring but personally the only ones I actually enjoyed were his first and most recent releases. So for me that’s a 50% success rate and it may be the unpopular opinion (I thought Insidious turned a decent set-up into a terribly over the top ghost story in the final act) but hey, I can’t help my feelings. Either way I’ll take a guy like Wan helming these flicks over some garbage music video director or a soulless studio name that was sent in to make a carbon copy of a familiar horror story. So with that being said, how was his latest attempt at a revival in The Conjuring? Well, it was.. pretty damn solid all the way through.
Wan is a maestro in creating tension with sterling build-up as well as navigating his camera in tracking shots and patterns that are always imaginative and exciting. Those are the two strongest aspects of The Conjuring and what it ultimately relies on (and succeeds with) the most. The atmosphere he put together was eerily modern for source material rooted in the 70’s and I think that’s what made it feel so distinct to me. You’re essentially seeing a throwback horror flick but with all of the gruesome effects, camerawork and dramatic acting of a modern thriller, which fit together quite well. The amount of tension this guy could milk out of little more than a child terrified in her bedroom during the middle of the night is almost criminal. It’s essentially the same stuff we’ve seen a hundred times before but the difference here is that there’s a passion and a flair for the genre behind the camera and it definitely shows up on screen and in the performances. The cast is mostly solid for a movie like this with standout performances from Vera Farmiga, one of the younger daughters (who kills it for a child actor) and Lili Taylor who’s demonic possession scenes were straight up chilling. She clearly bit off the most in that cast list and ultimately came through in spades. I think it’s the reliance on an older, established and talented cast that really gives the movie that edge because let’s face it, we’re sick of seeing attractive teens that can’t act dominate horror movies. One of the biggest problems with the recent Evil Dead remake is that the cast outside of Jane Levy was atrociously wooden across the board and it removes any sort of connection you might’ve had to their characters. Recently horror has seemed to morph into a genre that grabs the cheapest, youngest talent that are straight out of an Abercrombie photo-shoot and have no acting experience at all to star in their generic slasher flicks so this was a breath of fresh air for me.
As for the negatives? Well, much like most of Wan’s previous work it felt like there was something missing from the movie that could be anything from a driving pulse to the heart of it all. Was it Vera Farmiga’s character? Well, no, because we feel for how much she loves her daughter but she isn’t focused enough. Is it Patrick Wilson’s character? Well no because he’s Mr. Vanilla and doesn’t offer much other than a couple of smiles and one hell of a spontaneous exorcism. I guess you could say that the obvious heart of this movie was the family since it was clear that they were the focus of the story but with so many different characters and not enough time spent on all of them it just came off as an outside view of a frightening occurrence. Now maybe that was his intention by the way he crafted the story and how he presented it as a documentary case of true events but I’ve seen enough of his filmography to know that it’s just a weakness he possesses. Where he excels in key spots he’s also driven back by others such as scene transitions and how his dialogue is edited. The movie started really damn clunky and just jumped into the middle of a haunted doll story that had no exposition or background at all. That’s sort of what a bunch of the weaker scenes in this movie resemble and it gives it a kind of rushed feeling for a ghost story that should be taking its time as much as possible; even pandering in a few places before it took the plunge into insanity. I think when you couple these affects with the hype machine that’s been rolling full steam ahead on this movie and calling it “one of the scariest ever made” then you get a mixed bag of disappointment. However if you ignore those outside voices and walk into the theater expecting solid execution for the first time in a long time for a genre that’s been sorely missing it then you’ll have a good time.
With that being said this is a well put together flick that despite its flaws is a solid movie that could be the shot in the arm fans of horror movies are looking for. It’s appropriately chilling given the source material and even though it brings a lot of the same things we’ve seen before it never once felt dry or like it was going through the motions. It’s a movie that has a uniquely filtered look to something that’s been all too stale and lazy recently. I guess I can best describe my feelings to this movie as going to grab an Oreo and expecting the familiar flavor but after the first bite you realize it’s double stuffed and your experience just got 100 times better. 8/10, recommended