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The Conjuring Review: Caution: May Evoke Feelings That Could Be Mistaken For Fear

By Agent Bedhead | Film Reviews | July 20, 2013 | Comments ()


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“Before Amityville, there was Harrisville…” That’s the promise offered up by the clever marketing team at Warner Bros, and it mostly works. I love (translation: love) a good haunted house movie, and The Conjuring is largely effective in delivering old-fashioned scares with the tiniest smidgen of gore. Director James Wan has really learned how to hold his wad, so to speak, and he demonstrates a masterful amount of restraint while delivering suspense-filled moments. In fact, Wan now shows himself to be an expert of extending breath-holding instances just long enough to make his audience squirm, and then he holds a few seconds longer. The effect is, to say the very least, unsettling, but the method wears thin by the end of the movie and nearly undoes the film’s cleverness.

A cheesy yet mood-setting opener involving a super-creepy, fucking nightmare-inducing doll sets the stage for the film’s setting 1971 in Harrisville, Rhode Island. The Pennon Perron family of seven, headed by Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor), joyously move into their steal of a farmhouse (“got it at auction,” of course). At first, things seem normal enough, but of course, the family dog knows right away that this house shouldn’t exist in the human realm. The next morning, things are a bit askew to those who’ll care to notice, but Carolyn is the type to realize little things like the clocks all stopping at 3:07 in the morning while freezing drafts and odd smells pervade. As the nights wear on and Carolyn starts to acquire mysterious and unexplainable bruises, the couple’s five daughters (including a remarkably haunting Mackenzie Foy as Cindy) begin to feel far too terrorized, so Carolyn seeks out the big guns.

Enter Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Harris. She’s a clairvoyant; he’s a demonologist of the Catholic church. The script does a marvelous job with this (relatively) fearless couple, and instead of building the main characters as stock pieces to simply fill the spots while the demonic presence does all the hard work in the movie, the four central adult characters are all drawn and shaded quite nicely. In particular, one gets a real glimpse inside the characters of Lorraine and Ed. Both are rather selfless people, and we get a very accurate sense of just how much Lorraine’s gift takes out of her each time they help someone while Ed’s guilt at this paradox is palpable. Yet they persist in their work and will carry on even after the dust settles on this current case.

One quickly grows to adore these ghostbusters. Wilson brings a solid and assured presence to his character, who has endured and witnessed starkly horrifying events as part of his profession, and Farmiga’s presence is just impeccable. She’s an amazing actress, and one can’t keep their eyes off her every move. Every turn of the wrist is not without purpose, and without saying a word, she’ll seemingly communicate entire books of history into your mind. It’s a truly haunting performance, and with such excellent emoting going on in such a gorgeously rendered movie, one wants to believe. In addition, the “dark presence” of the movie is legitimately and shittastically scary, so the movie really should work.

But then it starts to fall apart.

Here’s why I hesitate to give this film a standing ovation — and while I ordinarily find it lazy when critics mention audience members’ reactions to movies, this move seems proper now for a reason that I will attempt to adequately explain. You see, the marketing of this movie was extremely promising, and I went into The Conjuring feeling quite a bit more wound up than usual when anticipating a horror flick. I really wanted this movie to be perfect, but I could sense that something was not quite right and a bit off, yet I certainly didn’t want to admit it to myself — at least not until the experience was complete. Then, at that precise moment when I was arguing within my head (about 60 minutes into the film), the guy next to me let out a very loud but completely not sarcastic yawn. I, in shock, slowly turned my head in his direction, and he sheepishly looked over at me and muttered, “Sorry.” As much as he annoyed me at the time, that dude was correct.

With that said, the movie admittedly drags a bit too much in the first hour before the ball really gets rolling on disturbing events in the house. The entirety of the film spans 110 minutes, which is fairly long these days for a horror film, and shaving a good 10-15 minutes of build up at the beginning of the film could have made this a more effective thriller. As it stands, the pace is far too slow to maintain the momentum needed to sustain the film’s ending payoff. I get that Wan is honing his abilities of restraint with this movie (and I applaud his effort as well as his sparing use of CGI), but he takes things a little bit too far with some needless exposition in the first and second acts. Then — bam! — the third act hits and all hell (literally) breaks loose. With a tighter script, this would have been a stellar scare flick, but there’s an excess of lingering moments that leads to exhaustion. When one’s audience can sense that they’re being played, the suspense has gone too far and blows itself out much like long-abandoned candles.

The Conjuring does have its moments of excellence though. The climactic scenes at the end include a fairly effective exorcism sequence, and the resolution does a fine job of tying up loose ends and providing for a very creepy final 30 seconds; but that’s not enough to redeem the dragging moments that pull one out of the movie — especially during the lull at the end of the second act. There’s also a somewhat distracting subplot involving the Harris couple’s own daughter that does serve the ultimate purpose of the story (and builds more character-driven moments) but still feels a bit tacked onto the main plot. Audiences should expect to be visually enchanted with a fairly smart and not-at-all insulting premise and story. Two solid action scenes and a few more knee-jerk moments can be wrung out of the experience as well as a whole lot of spine-tingling that results in a fun enough experience while watching the movie. But you certainly won’t be enduring any sleepless nights after watching the film.

Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Christian

    Saw it today, some mother of the year brought her roughly 5 and 8 year old kids

  • Four leaf

    It was a nice to finally have a horror movie with a real resolution, not some silly wink and nod that the bad thing is still around and will be in the inevitable sequel.

  • Drake

    Crude, but when James Wan decides to release that wad, I'd like to help. Have you seen how incredibly cute he is?

  • Matt

    I thought it was excellent. One of the best and most effective horror movies I've seen in years (and I watch a ton). I didn't find myself becoming bored during the 2nd act - I was engaged the whole time. Wan's pacing and "make you wait for it" technique really had me on edge during a number of scenes. Great acting and great cinematography too.

  • John W

    I enjoyed it. The audience I saw it with must have screamed about half a dozen times.

    All in all Vera Farmiga is having a decent year.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    I thought it was pretty good. I was not disappointed at all. That little girl did a fabulous job. Joey King, too cute and well cast, I thought she could totally be Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor's daughter.

  • Salieri2

    This sentence:

    Enter Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) Harris.

    was hard to parse. My brain kept wanting me to think Ed Harris was playing Patrick Wilson, which caused all kinds of short circuits and, I'll admit it, slightly dampened lions.

  • PDamian

    I enjoyed this movie tremendously -- but not because it was that good (I'd give it about a B+). Lili Taylor and Vera Farmiga were the best things about it, and there were some nice moments of bonding between the two as mothers of daughters. I did like the movie, but the best thing about it was the elderly African-American couple who sat in the back row of the Lagoon in Minneapolis and did a running commentary on just about everything in conversational tones that managed to carry throughout the theatre: "Ohhhhh, you gonna get it, girl." "That dog is the smartest one in the family." "Is she dead?" "No, she ain't dead yet ..." "Well, let me know before she dies, I gotta go pee." "How am I supposed to know when she's gonna die? I haven't seen this film!" "This is why I don't go to movies with you." "You don't go to any movies ever, so shut up." Ordinarily I find this sort of thing obnoxious, but it was hilarious this time, probably because the couple in question were old and too cute for words. It was a bit like watching a film with Statler and Waldorf. So Pajibans got to see a horror film. I got to see a dark comedy.

  • Shazza

    It's the PeRRon family. I really liked it, thought everyone did a great job.

  • Robert

    Honestly, my big problem was that the film didn't take itself seriously enough. There were moments in that film that made me want to run out of the theater to get away that were immediately ruined by a tension breaking awkward laugh moment. James Wan did that with Dead Silence a lot but Dead Silence was an absurd horror film. The Conjuring played way too hard on emotional family-in-peril drama to wink at the audience and make them laugh again and again and again.

    Another way to put it: this film tried to be The Haunting of Hill House and Hell House at the same time. Sure, the stories are more or less the same, but the sincere Gothic tone of the former would not mesh at all with the brazen over the top antics of the latter. The Conjuring switched back and forth like an oscillating fan with a whole lot of dull moments to transition between the radically different styles. Is it a serious look at a family facing otherworldly disaster or is it a laugh a minute shocker about how rare paranormal occurrences actually are?

  • apsutter

    I thought it was pretty decent but liked Insidious better. This one kind of just devolved into your typical exorcism flick and I'm so over those. But it was nice seeing more of Patrick Wilson and Ron Livingston.

  • Fredo

    Damn shame. I love the idea of Farmiga and Wilson as paranormal investigators and Livingstone and Taylor as the haunted couple seems just perfect -- specially Lili Taylor, who was the only redeeming thing of another borefest of a "horror" movie, The Haunting.

    I was hoping this would be good enough to go and enjoy in a movie theater. As it is, I'll wait for its eventual home movie release come Halloween time.

  • apsutter

    Although The Haunting is really a subpar movie I've watched it many, many times due to the amazing sets, Lili, and CZJ.

  • ironjohn

    then you should watch the original.

  • Bea Pants

    Agreed. The original will scare the pants off of you.

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