THE CONJURING (2013) review – Halloween Special

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Hey there, folks. Due to some personal matters, I’ll likely be taking a break from doing theatrical reviews for awhile. But because I am by my very nature, a writer, I can’t just not write. So in spirit of the encroaching holiday of Halloween, I have opted to use this month to write reviews of my favorite movies to watch this time of year, basically horror films, or Halloween-themed movies. For those of you that don’t know, I generally hate horror as a genre. Far too often the movies follow a very specific formula: stupid character making stupid decisions getting other stupid characters killed. By the day’s end, there’s nothing to invest in. It’s just gratuitous violence, which I’m not a fan of. It’s too cheap and easy. But for this month, I’ll be writing about the ones that I think break that formula and actually look like they gave a hoot about making a good movie, with good characters, good scares, and above all else, a good story. At least, for the horror films. Like I said, I’ll be touching on Halloween-themed films that could be for kids. So sit back, relax, and enjoy my opinions.

Starring: Vera Farmiga (THE CONJURING 2 [2016], SOURCE CODE [2011], THE DEPARTED [2006], and upcoming films THE COMMUTER [2018] and GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]), Patrick Wilson (THE FOUNDER [2017], WATCHMEN [2009], THE ALAMO [2004], and upcoming films THE COMMUTER and AQUAMAN [2018]), Lili Taylor (TO THE BONE [2017], THE HAUNTING [1999], and MYSTIC PIZZA [1988]), and Ron Livingston (LUCKY [2017], LITTLE BLACK BOOK [2006], SWINGERS [1996], and the upcoming THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN THE BIGFOOT, no release date announced)

Support: Joey King (WISH UPON [2017], THE DARK KNIGHT RISES [2012], HORTON HEARS A WHO! [2008], and the upcoming SLENDER MAN [2018]), Mackenzie Foy (THE LITTLE PRINCE [2016], INTERSTELLAR [2014], TWILIGHT: BREAKING DAWN – PART 1 [2011], and the upcoming THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS [2018]), Sterling Jerins (PATERSON [2016], THE CONJURING 2, and WORLD WAR Z [2013]), Shannon Kook (THE CONJURING 2 and TV show DEGRASSI: THE NEXT GENERATION [2001 – 2015]), and John Brotherton (FURIOUS 7 [2015], GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014], and TV show FULLER HOUSE [2016 – ongoing])

Director: James Wan (THE CONJURING 2, INSIDIOUS [2010], SAW [2004], and the upcoming AQUAMAN). Writers: brothers Chad and Carey Hayes (THE CONJURING 2, WHITEOUT [2009], HOUSE OF WAX [2005], and upcoming films, both with unannounced release dates, JOURNEY 3: FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH 4). Composer: Joseph Bishara (THE OTHER SIDE OF THE DOOR [2016], ANNABELLE [2014], INSIDIOUS, and the upcoming INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY [2018]). Cinematographer: John R. Leonetti (INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 [2013], MORTAL KOMBAT [1995], and THE MASK [1994])

The first time I ever heard of THE CONJURING was actually through a promotional poster that a local cinema of mine was doing. A sort of “re-screening” of critically acclaimed movies from the last decade, or whatever it was. But I wasn’t interested in horror films at the time, so I didn’t watch it then.

But at the time, THE CONJURING 2 was on the horizon and have a huge aversion to watching a sequel without having seen its predecessor, even if you don’t need to. World building is important, as well as having a deeper appreciation for characters and possibly why things lead up to where they do in the sequels. So I hopped onto my laptop and watched what I would think would be a bad movie.

Boy howdy, was I wrong. So… so wrong.

Before I begin, let me just say that I don’t know anything about the real life Ed and Lorraine Warren. To my understanding, there’s a bit of controversy surrounding their careers as demonologists and investigators of the paranormal. Even in the sequel, the Warrens barely had anything to do with the Enfield incident. So I can’t attest to any “facts” or anything. So everything I’ll be talking about is purely from a story, character, and all around “movie” standpoint.

A year ago, I considered this film to be “my favorite” and “the best” horror film that I’d ever seen. Now that some of the initial love has subsided, I say today… it’s one of my favorites, and out of the horror films that I’ve seen in my life, it’s still one of the best made.

The movie’s opening does a great job on its own with its atmosphere and terror, though of the more subtle variety in contrast to the rest of the film’s more obvious scares. The Annabelle doll is creepy looking and in just a few minutes, the loud banging in the walls would normally be a lame jump scare, these bangings are pretty unsettling. What makes them so different? Mostly because the characters don’t consistently treat each bang as a jump scare, as any lesser horror movie would.

Beyond that, what really sells this movie for me is the incredible chemistry between Wilson and Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren, respectively, which would only get better in its sequel. But here, it’s still great. They had a case which lead to an exorcism that caused Lorraine to see something that terrified her so much that she didn’t leave her bed or eat for several days. Though currently living life as normal, talking at universities and such with her husband, there is still this lingering fear of bringing Lorraine along for new cases. But she has an unshakable determination to continue their work, especially when it comes to the Perron family. Between her and Ed, she’s the only one that actually sees the paranormal stuff, like the witch’s body hanging in the tree, or has visions of seeing her daughter under water. Despite her gift, she is always afraid as you can argue that her visions can represent anything from a benign warning, a threat, or any number of things that only she can know.

Ed is her stalwart husband. Fiercely loyal and protective of Lorraine, and probably shows the least amount of fear between the two. Having said that, he’s never reckless about what they do. He knows the stakes and knows that in order to purge any soul of the inhuman presence, extreme care has to be taken. He won’t conduct exorcisms without the explicit consent of the church’s authority, and even then, he knows that there’s no guarantee that it would work and could even make the situation worse. More than anything, he would love to simply get the physical, indisputable proof that there’s paranormal activity going on and leave the rest to a trained professional, but if circumstances force his hand, he won’t hesitate to jump in.

***SPOILERS***

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And now for Taylor as the possessed mother. I can’t help but ask if this is a joke. Oh, not that I’m saying Taylor is a bad actress. Far from it, she’s incredible in this. But when I ask if this is a joke, I mean… does her involvement in this feel like an apology for THE HAUNTING? Really think about it. She’s the target of the ghostly figure, who once inhabited the home where the ghostly figured originally died and did horrible things to its children, and the ultimate resolution of the story is that the ghostly figure is defeated by the power of love. Of course, the reason why this is an apology is because all of this is done so much better here than in THE HAUNTING. The witch is a far more threatening than Hugh Crain ever was. Plus, these Conjuring films have a wonderful talent of showcasing connection between between characters. Even though the kids of the movie aren’t especially memorable or have the most distinct personalities, they’re written in such a way that the Perron family does indeed feel like a family. Little things like, “Who’s going to eat this pizza? It’s expensive feeding you girls!” I don’t know, I really like little things like that. But those little things really go a long way by the end because it comes back into play, a dueling war between two mothers. One who’s trying to protect and love her children, the other who gave birth as a means to proclaim her love for Satan and sacrifice it when it’s just a week old. I really enjoyed the poetry in this. So much so that this movie now holds a unique distinction for me: it was the only horror movie up until the sequel that has ever made me cry. That’s how well-written I felt the characters were, how real I felt their struggles were, how high the stakes were, the desperation in preventing the unthinkable, it all culminated in one of the greatest feel-good endings to a horror film that I’ve ever experienced. While I think CONJURING 2 would improve on this, it’s done extremely well here.

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***END SPOILERS***

The scares are pretty decent too. In retrospect, the ones that are less jumpy were the more unsettling ones. Like the infamous clapping hands, those always get me. Oh! And when Lorraine is doing laundry outside and the wind starts picking up, then one of the bedsheets gets loose and then covers an unseen figure, which then flies to the second story of the house, right into a window, the bedsheet flies away, revealing the witch, who then leaves to go torture Carolyn. I thought that scene was pretty chilling and well done.

About the closest thing to a complaint that I have toward the film, which stacking it up to everything that this movie does right isn’t a big deal, but I kind of disliked how the other ghosts that are seen in the film just sort of show up and do practically nothing. The weeping mother holding her dead child, the suicidal maid, I know they’re referenced, so it’s not like them showing up doesn’t make sense, but they have such brief appearances. Wouldn’t it be kind of better if they were subtly trying to warn the family of the witch, or try and help the Warrens discover her weakness through their cryptic ramblings? I don’t know, I feel like there was something more practical and useful to their inclusion than cheap jump scares. But like I said, their presence makes more sense than the average ghost, and they do give a better idea of how long the witch’s influence has been going on and what she’s made others do, so I give it a pass.

Overall, this still holds up as one of my favorite horror films of all time. While it may be technically better than it’s successor, it’s not better by much. This movie has fewer script related goofs and… I still can’t over the resolution of the sequel. This movie is unbelievably well done, in terms of practical effects, acting, directing, and so many other aspects that put it above the common horror crap that we usually get. There is real effort to make it a unique story, or at least one that you can emotionally invest in. But more than that, it’s definitely one that I’ll revisit every Halloween and highly encourage anyone to check out, whether you’re a horror fan or not. It’s a truly great horror film and worth conjuring up around the spookiest month of the year.

My honest rating for THE CONJURING (2013): 5/5

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