I got a couple of good jolts out of The Conjuring, the latest from director James Wan.
Wan is a strange entity for me. I sort of hate him for starting the whole Saw thing, and I sort of really like him for twisted films like Insidious, Death Sentence and, to some extent, this one. No doubt, Wan is capable of constructing some good scare scenarios, and this haunted house tale has its share.
This is one of those films that claim to be "based on a true story." It should actually start with the words "based on fairly entertaining crap a couple of folks made up." Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play Lorraine and Ed Warren, well-known paranormal investigators who try to help out a family that has just moved into a Rhode Island house. They are like the Ghostbusters without the proton packs and one-liners.
Shortly after moving in, the family finds its dog dead in the yard, birds smashing their heads into the house, and a ghost playing "clap-clap" hide and seek with them. The dead dog would've been my cue to say "Screw this!" and head for the nearest Motel 6, but these dopes stick around for more fun with ghosts, demons and whatnot.
Carloyn Perron (Lili Taylor), the mom, is getting mysterious bruises all over her body and is having dreams where ghosts puke blood into her face. Roger (Ron Livingston), the dad, keeps finding dead animals and spooky parts of the house he didn't know about. And no matter how many of his kids say that something just pulled at their feet during the night or wrestled with them on the floor, HE KEEPS THE FAMILY IN THE FREAKING HOUSE.
I forgive stupid movie families in horror films if the film manages to scare me good at least twice. I would say The Conjuring got to me more than five times, which is a damned good score for a routine haunted house film. Actually, this is a haunted house film with demon possession and exorcism thrown in for good measure. As Wan showed with Dead Silence and Saw, he likes evil puppets and dolls as well. One particularly malevolent doll contributes to the movie's mayhem, making this a veritable stew of horror genres.
The Conjuring managed to sucker-punch me in that it starts with a lot of those cheap sound and sight gags that plague most haunted house movies. I thought for sure we were getting another one of those low budget so-called horror flicks where it's just a lot of moving sheets, closing doors and sudden sounds, like the stupid Paranormal Activity movies.
Wan, evil bastard that he is, probably knows that most movie viewers are jaded in this way, so we let our guards down. Then, some pretty freaky visual stuff starts happening, and The Conjuring is off and running. I'll just say this: The Conjuring isn't afraid to show you who is making all those noises and screwing with those doors.
Wilson and Farmiga are good as the Warrens, the folks who allegedly investigated this 1970s haunting, along with the Amityville Horror (the characters comment on needing to check out some problems on Long Island at one point).
Both Wilson and Farmiga are doing good things in the horror genre these days, with Wilson starring in Insidious and Farmiga making the rounds as Mrs. Bates in the Bates Motel TV series. Heck, Farmiga's sister is kicking ass in the genre as well, starring in the first and third seasons of American Horror Story.
Good to see Taylor getting a meaty role. It's been a long while since she's really factored in a movie, a shame given her talents. Looking back at her résumé, I am reminded that she appeared in The Haunting back in 1999. The Conjuring puts that pathetic remake to shame, and Taylor proves she can scream her ass off during a demonic possession and exorcism with the best of them.
I must give props to Wan and company for doing a lot of the effects the natural way. Wan has figured out that the more "real" something looks, the scarier it is. Actors and actresses in freaky makeup lit just so can often out-creep megabytes. There are a few instances in this movie where gray and green makeup is the scare tactic of choice. It probably cost the makeup guys 50 bucks, and it scared me just fine.
Wan is in the midst of a busy movie year. After this, we shall get his Insidious: Chapter 2 in time for Halloween, and he just got the gig directing one of cinema's scariest creatures of them all. He'll be helming Fast 7 Furious 7 starring the repugnant, naturally frightening Vin Diesel. I'm scared already.