Title: The Conjuring (2013)
Director: James Wan
Cast: Lily Taylor, Patrick Wilson, Vera Fermiga, Ron Livingston
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll probably know how I’m always bitching and moaning about the current state of American Horror films. It is my opinion that American Horror films are so watered down, so neutered that they just don’t have that same shock value that films from the 70’s or 80s had. Films like The Exorcist (1973) and Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) seem like rarities when compared to the kind of horror films that we’re getting nowadays. Horror films that truly shock and scare seem to come around every once in a blue moon. The truth of the matter is that like any other type of film, a good one is a rare thing. A truly good film on any genre, a classic, only comes around when a true genius is behind the camera; a good director who truly understands how a horror film works, how the mind of the audience can be manipulated, how music plays such an important part in the overall effect of a horror film. Not many directors understand these things and therefore many of the horror films released today are simply not effective. But there is hope at the end of the tunnel, there is a light shinning.
I remember a time when horror directors where a strong breed, growing in numbers, cranking out horror film after horror film. This was the time when we’d see Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, George Romero and John Carpenter all making films at the same time in Hollywood, scaring the nation with their films. You saw their name in a movie poster and you knew the film was being made by a director who understands the horror genre and was attempting to make a film that you wouldn’t feel cheated by, these were directors that truly loved the genre. Todays horror directors are scarce; rarely do we see a director completely devoted to the horror genre. Today, directors who specialize in horror are limited to releasing their films solely on dvd. This is why we have guys like Ty West, a director who’s showed promise with films like The House of the Devil (2009) and The Innkeepers (2011), but has yet to have a theatrical release. During the 80’s we’d see A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th films every couple of months. Today we got reboots to both of those franchises, yet neither has spawned sequels! What gives? If this was the eighties we’d have two or three of these films already! We’d be on Friday the 13th reboot part 8 by now! What’s going on with horror today? Is it being slowly strangled to death? It's certainly slowed down its pace in theater screens thats for sure.
James Wan continues his obsession with spooky dolls in his films
So along comes a film like The Conjuring, directed by James Wan, a director who’s slowly but surely made his name in the horror genre. It’s always interesting to see a director get better and better with each film. I’ve been following the career of James Wan since he first shocked me with the first SAW (2004) film. Yeah, remember that first SAW film? Not the endless, crappy sequels, but that first one that really shocked the pants off of you? That was Wan on his first freaking film, so the guy was showing promise from the very beginning of his career. He's continued making effective horror films like for example Insidious (2011), a horror film that I really liked because it managed to scare us by playing with our minds rather than try and shock us with gore. It played with our expectations of a horror film and it had an awesomely creepy musical score. So here comes James Wan again, with another horror offering. This time it’s a film based on “real life events” which of course in my book translates to “exaggerated to the point of unrecognizable”. The question in my mind was: do we need another film about demonic possession? How in the hell do you make these films scary again? Demonic possession films are a joke to me because they rarely reach the level of intensity needed to truly scare. With so many demonic possession films coming off as laughable and hokey, how was James Wan going to pull off an effective film of this nature, especially when they’ve been done to death?
The Conjuring is based on the real life exploits of ‘The Warrens’ a married couple that has dedicated their entire lives to researching the supernatural. They call themselves ‘Paranormal Investigators’ but if you ask me Ed and Lorraine Warren are simply scam artists that for years have managed to take advantage of superstitious people and their fears. Same goes with the people behind the whole Amityville story. These are stories that serve only one purpose and one purpose alone, to sell books and movies; a goal that they’ve managed to achieve quite well; Ed and Lorraine Warren have about six books to their name alone. The guys behind The Amityville Horror have got a couple of books and movies under their belt as well. But if we get down to it, if we search for the reality behind stories like The Amityville Horror for example, they can all be traced down to real life troubles or to people getting together to tell a big fat tall tale and then getting the world to believe it in order to sell a couple of books and make a few movies along the way. Case in point: The Conjuring has passed the 100 million mark at the box office. Why? Because it’s a good horror film that feeds on people fears; you smack the “based on real life” moniker on any movie and a huge chunk of the population will instantly believe it to be true. They’ll be freaked out even before the lights go down in the theater. But who cares if these stories are total bullcrap or not, what matters to me is if they entertain me or not. I am happy to state that The Conjuring was an effectively creepy horror film, director James Wan has fully matured into a great horror director, one of the best of his generation.
James Wan on the set of The Conjuring (2013)
What makes The Conjuring a great horror film? It can all be attributed to James Wan and the way he directs a scene. It’s all in the way he stretches out the scares and the suspense. As a horror fan, watching The Conjuring felt great because I felt like finally, here’s a director who truly understands how a horror film works! Wan has got the mechanics behind creeping out an audience down flat, he’s been using atmosphere and slow boiling scare techniques since Dead Silence (1997) and Insidious (2011) which by the way is a great horror film, highly recommend that one to you guys. It is my opinion that with The Conjuring James Wan has perfected his scaring techniques. He knows all the horror movie clichés and uses many of them, but he also knows them so well that he knows when to play around them, avoid them when you most expect them and then smack you in the face with them when you least expect it. Wan also uses music extremely well, and by the way, this is an area in which many would be horror directors completely fail in, the music in a horror film should fill you with dread, it should crawl under your skin and creep you out and Wan has complete dominion over this in his horror films.
Now I’m not saying that The Conjuring is the most original horror film, because same as many of Wan’s films, it wears its influences on its sleeves. Of course The Amityville Horror (1979) had a huge influence over this one, in fact, with a few changes here and there one could argue that The Conjuring is simply a remake of The Amityville Horror but told from James Wan’s perspective. Let’s see, we have the family moving into a New York home, the house has a spooky story filled with death behind it, the family is disturbed both physically and psychologically, doors slam, demons knock on doors in the middle of the night, demons knock over crucifixes and family pictures, the similarities between The Conjuring and The Amityville Horror are many, which is why I think Wan was just doing his version of The Amityville Horror; paying his respects to a film he obviously loves. The inclusion of The Warrens and the whole recognition that comes with their name is really the only thing that adds a level of originality to The Conjuring. But whatever, I sometimes call James Wan the Tarantino of horror because it’s quite obvious that the filmmakers behind these films saw a bunch of classic horror films, put them all in a blender and then did their own thing with the resulting mix, same as Tarantino does with most of his movies.
So yeah, hip hip hooray for Wan and The Conjuring. One more good thing I can say about the film is that it has a real 70’s feel to it. I know the film takes place during the 70’s but some of the shots, the music, even the title sequence just screams 70’s horror film! So Mr. Wan, I salute you for that, trying to bring the big 70’s horror picture back into our times. I’m glad someone has finally taken the lead and set the horror train on the right track, directors like James Wan show there is hope yet for American Horror films! I’m amazed that so many of James Wan’s movies have been so successful, I guess the audience just recognizes a good horror movie when they see one. Wan is currently directing the seventh film in the Fast and the Furious franchise, which by the way has grown into one of the biggest franchises in Hollywood right now. It’ll be interesting to see what he does with that one, it will be the biggest film he has ever worked on! The way these Fast and the Furious films have been going, I’m pretty sure that Wan’s success is assured with that one. Let’s hope that this success will translate into Wan making more horror movies.
Rating: 4 out of 5
James Wan directing Vera Fermiga