Published on September 18th, 2014 | by Clint Davis

The Conjuring [2013]

The Conjuring [2013] Clint Davis

Summary: 'The Conjuring' shows what horror is capable of when talented actors are given a solid script to work with. Combining familiar genre elements, this movie delivers some lasting images and legitimate creeps.


Damn Fine

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Rating: R

Length: 112 min.

Director: James Wan

Screenplay: Chad & Carey Hayes

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston

Distribution: Warner Bros.

There was a brief time in Hollywood when horror pictures were treated as legitimate films. They were well written, full of suspense and often featured notable actors giving vulnerable performances. Unfortunately since the genre became oversaturated in the 1980s, horror has become a dirty word for any writers/directors/actors who want to be taken seriously.

In 2013, The Conjuring proved major studio horror pictures can still be an exercise in great filmmaking.

Director James Wan has produced his fair share of garbage since his smash debut Saw hit theaters in 2004. Dead Silence and Insidious were both atrocious but I give the guy credit for continuing to make original horror films, rather than helming remakes and retreads. When I heard he was doing another haunted house movie with Patrick Wilson (the star of Insidious), I couldn’t have been less interested — but after seeing the mounds of cash and audience acclaim The Conjuring brought in, I decided to hit the theater.

Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga play the Warrens — the film’s most interesting characters.

This is what happens when you get a group of talented actors together with a solid script and some creepy ass set pieces. The Conjuring was a breath of fresh air for a worn-out genre. Wan, with help from an understated screenplay by twin brothers Chad & Carey Hayes, recruited a principal cast that includes Wilson, Vera Farmiga (who’s most recently brought the legendary Mrs. Bates to life in A&E’s Bates Motel), Lili Taylor (HBO’s Six Feet Under) and Ron Livingston (Office Space) — who I honestly thought may have been dead before this return to the screen.

Those veteran actors give this film a solid foundation to build its chills upon, something that few modern horror films possess. Typically you’ll get one legitimate actor in a horror picture — Malcolm McDowell in 2007’s Halloween remake, Sean Bean in 2006’s Silent Hill, David Strathairn in 2009’s The Uninvited, just to name a few — but four is almost unfair. The rest of the cast is rounded out by young unknowns, who play the primary victims to the story’s scares.

The plot of The Conjuring essentially falls into the haunted house/ghost story subgenre. We watch as Roger & Carolyn Perron (Livingston & Taylor), along with their five young daughters, are put through hell after moving into a creepy victorian house in rural Rhode Island. It doesn’t take the family long to realize their new fixer-upper is likely possessed by evil spirits, especially when the girls begin seeing visions and waking up each night with mysterious bruises. This type of setup is typical ghost movie fare but the wild cards that separate this film are its true central characters: Ed & Lorraine Warren. This couple, played by Wilson & Farmiga, are two of the world’s premier sprit mediums and possession experts.

The Perrons may want to invest in condoms after they move again.

Oftentimes, movies that center on hauntings grow tiresome because all the characters are too skeptical to acknowledge the presence of ghosts, no matter how glaring the evidence. For the audience it’s extremely annoying because we can see the truth, but the characters continue to deny, which makes them simply look ignorant and stupid. As an audience member, it’s hard to sympathize or care about a character who continues to ignore the evidence that’s right in front of them.

In The Conjuring, the Warrens act as a link between the unbelievable things we are seeing and the more grounded family who can’t quite wrap their heads around it all at first. We feel like everyone is on an even playing field in this movie rather than the evil spirits having all the power over their human targets.

According to the end credits, this picture is based on actual events (they all are, aren’t they?) — we even get the ultimate tired cliché of displaying photos of the actual people portrayed during the credit roll … call me an asshole but that one always makes me roll my eyes. That’s also not the only cliché at work in The Conjuring, unfortunately. Creepy dolls, using mirrors to display shocking images and doors slamming shut on their own volition are all prominent in this movie which makes it difficult to label as completely original. Still, it’s this film’s appreciation for storytelling that gives it a huge leg up.

The creepy doll, a trademark of director James Wan, but also a worn-out horror cliché.

The Conjuring is really about the relationship between parents and children. Carolyn jets out of bed like a bolt of lightning as soon as she gets the sense one of her daughters is in peril. She continues to clutch them tightly until the house’s evil manifests make it impossible for her to protect them. Lorraine and Ed treat their daughter in a similar way, keeping her distant from their dangerous work as best they can. Even the spirits haunting the house are an example of love between a mother and daughter, but to the point where its smothering — a theme we’ve seen in other recent horror flicks.

For anyone who is tired of cookie-cutter horror films with brainless characters being hacked to bits by invincible killers, The Conjuring is something to behold. This is a well-made picture that respects its actors, plot and most importantly its audience. Also, hats off to the typically dainty Lili Taylor for making herself look as hellish as possible!

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About the Author

Clint Davis is a Cincinnati, Ohio-based journalist who dropped out of film school to write news! Email him at TheClintDavis@gmail.com.

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