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Aug 25, 2013

Film Review: THE CONJURING (2013): Ghosts Handled as Scientific Reality

Vera Farmiga The Conjuring

The Conjuring (2013) Film Review, a movie directed by James Wan and starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Mackenzie Foy, Joey King, Ron Livingston, Hayley McFarland, Shanley Caswell, Steve Coulter, Shannon Kook, Sterling Jerins, John Brotherton, Meredith Jackson, and Ashley White.

This is a psychological horror film that depends on the familiar formula for modern scares: haunting cinematography, emotionally involving protagonists, and the old-book fright tricks like something appearing behind the characters or a scream resounding in the silence. The tricks are obvious but they work. Even though The Conjuring can never be as scary as The Sixth Sense (1999), which relies on surprise or The Mothman Prophecies (2002), which keeps us blind for the source of evil, this is the best horror film of 2013 precisely because it hides nothing. The Conjuring treats ghosts as science and it all feels truthful or at least as truthful as a ghost story can ever be.

The main actors Vera Farmiga (The Departed) and Patrick Wilson (Watchmen) are both extremely talented and likable and a great match for a couple. They, along with the troubled family and their numerous cute children, will be more than enough for the viewer to care for. The on-screen relationships are strong but the horror is greater so when the creatures pop up you are not just afraid of the dark: you are worried for the victim shivering in it. There is an unusual level of sympathy for the characters in this horror film and that is something quite refreshing. Furthermore, this emotional involvement is used as the punch-line in the climax and the horror story eventually comes very close to a drama.

The main characters, despite being ghost hunters, feel so real – like actual teachers from your nearby lecture room – that when they start talking about demonic presences that are capable of possessing objects and human spirits, you actually want to believe them. They handle special ghost-hunting equipment; their ghost-detecting methods are detailed and sophisticated; they present documented footage of exorcism like it is an economy class presentation. Ghost-hunting does feel like their profession. I for one never believed them, I can’t consider the notion of flying evil spirits believable but I did feel the potent atmosphere that would definitely affect the more superstitious.

What intrigued me with The Conjuring is the way the oldest possible tricks in the horror films’ book worked so well. Just count how many times you have seen a scene of a woman turning around in order to peek over her shoulder and then when she looks back forward a demon is standing in front of her. The Conjuring is filled across the board with those. The timing is so good however, the visuals so dreadful, that all the shocks get you, even when you are prepared. Usually in a horror film there are pauses building up the suspense until a scary moment occurs. In The Conjuring those pauses are made out of smaller scares which pave the way for the biggest one. You will be jumping all the time.

I think the mixture of The Conjuring’s realism with its obvious and numerous scares is somewhat genius: since it feels real it will always be scary, and the more obvious it is the scarier it gets. Imagine a world in which ghosts were actually scientifically proven to exist. If you knew something would pop up from the dark in the form of a dead face or a zombie-like corpse and you are aware that it is happening for real wouldn’t you want to scream? And wouldn’t you be twice as scared if those horrors occurred every other minute? I believe director James Wan went exactly for that notion. In The Conjuring the paranormal activity happens in front of ten people’s eyes sight and it is still scary.

All that being said, for me the film still pales in comparison to the best in the horror genre. Treating ghosts (fiction) like something totally real can never truly scare me or give me insomnia. For me the scariest films are the ones that keep you blind for the monsters as much as possible and never show you events that can’t happen in real life. The Ring (2002) for instance is a film that involves only one impossible scene but before it we have two hours of realistic horror and in the end we are so frightened that we don’t care that this one scene is impossible in real life. It is the endless impossible looking parts in The Conjuring that diminishes the film’s quality for me and believe me there are so many of them. However, you can be sure that those who allow the realistic atmosphere to take over will have a hell of a time particularly in the last half-hour when the shocks simply don’t stop.

Rating: 9/10