(Potential Spoilers ahead)
As a soon to be published horror novelist, I have a vested interest in the genre. I’ve often said that good horror writing should be like good sexy writing: in the head and the imagination. Too much detail or graphic description kills the mood. We’ve seen a few promising horror films in that vein in recent years. The first Paranormal Activity, The Last Exorcist, and the underrated Woman in Black are some great examples. They were a departure from torture porn and promised real horror of the mind.
Now the Hayes brothers and James Wan give us The Conjuring and I couldn’t be happier.
The Conjuring is based on a true story, taken from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, grandparents of the modern paranormal investigation teams. The film follows the Perron family as they move into their dream house in the country. As you can probably guess, the dream house turns into a nightmare as a nasty spirit begins to torture the family. Ed and Lorraine are called in to do an investigation and things go from bad to worse. Carolyn Perron ends up possessed by a witch who hung herself on the property in the 1700’s.
What struck me about this film is how many layered themes are going on in this movie. Sure, it has straight, “holy crap” scares, but the beauty of these “scares” is they rely on the viewer’s imagination and what “you don’t see.” Instead of beating us over the head with, “YOU MUST BE SCARED HERE . . . SEE HOW SCARY THIS IS?” type of imagery, Wan goes for the subtle, “just out of sight” terror. It is incredibly effective and wormed its way into my brain.
In talking with the cast, Wan and the Hayes brothers, all of them agreed with my observation that this film is also about, “a family in crisis.” Lily Taylor, Ron Livingston and all the girl actors in the film, make you really care about the family who are under siege by this horror. Taylor does a phenomenal job showing Carolyn Perron’s decent from loving mom to being possessed by a witch. The basement scenes will make you think twice about ever going into your own basement ever again.
Even more, you feel the family’s pain, their sadness and their terror. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga give us an intimate picture of Ed and Lorraine Warren as a loving couple who battle evil together. Wan shows us the emotional and physical toll it takes on them.
The Conjuring is also a haunted house film. Wan uses the closeness of the house and the gnarled oaks of the yard to give the movie another layer of terror. Accomplishing this feel is actually more difficult than it looks. Over done, it can be cheesy and annoying. With the right touch, it can amp up the terror in any film. Wan, thankfully, has the touch.
This is a straight up, good versus evil story. There is no ambiguous “evil is kind of cool” theme that modern horror films seem to love. The evil witch in this film is horrible, skin crawling and hell bent on destroying another family. I won’t give away the film, but you’re left with no doubt who is control of this scenario. It’s traditional horror in the best and most complete sense of that term.
The Conjuring opens in theaters on July 19th. Go see it if you love good, traditional and smart horror.