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'The Conjuring' Is Still One of the Best Horror Movies

By Sara Clements | Film | July 19, 2023 |

By Sara Clements | Film | July 19, 2023 |


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There are many horror franchises, dabbling in everything from science fiction to slasher. One subgenre that has also been frequent is supernatural horror. Franchises like Paranormal Activity, The Ring and The Exorcist have become supernatural staples, but one tops them all: The Conjuring Universe. The eight-film, two-billion-dollar franchise is the highest-grossing in horror history, and with two upcoming films, The Nun II and The Conjuring: Last Rites, it will add even more figures to its gross. While the franchise hasn’t been the most well-received when it comes to reviews, it has always remained a box office draw.

What makes The Conjuring Universe different from the Paranormal Activities or the Screams and the Saws is its dramatization of true events — whether or not you believe them. The main films in the franchise that carry The Conjuring title follow Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators who assisted people terrorized by demons and spirits in thousands of cases. Spin-off films, like Annabelle, see The Conjuring creator, James Wan, and other writers and directors, coming up with the origins of some of the Warren’s most infamous encounters. Demonologists, ghost hunters, and even kooks, the couple had their share of titles and skeptics, dating from the beginning of their careers to even 2012, when the Viking News of Westchester Community College called them “audacious and unabashed frauds.” Whatever you believe, the couple’s life and work have resulted in not only the inspiration for creating The Conjuring Universe but the Amityville Horror franchise and the film The Haunting in Connecticut is also based on their investigations. But The Conjuring Universe is what they’ll forever be associated with most prominently.

The franchise’s first film and namesake, The Conjuring, was released 10 years ago today on July 19, 2013. (I’m no paranormal skeptic, but I’m pretty skeptical of the fact that it’s been a decade since its release.) The trailer has amassed 36 million views, and a horror aficionado friend of mine described it as a horror trailer unlike any she had seen up until that point. From the dramatized investigation footage to the on-screen text describing the case the film explores as their most “disturbing,” it carries the feeling of a cinematic event more than just any ol’ horror release. It lived up to that descriptor — with longevity.

Before Amityville, there was Harrisville. In 1971, the Perron family, consisting of Carolyn, Roger, and their five daughters, moved into a secluded country house on Rhode Island. They were happy and unsuspecting that this American Dream would soon turn into an American Nightmare. It begins with a bruise on Carolyn’s leg, a chill in the air, and the lingering smell of death. These are slow manifestations that only build as the film goes on. Feeding on the family’s vulnerabilities and isolation, an unseen force challenges the Perrons to a battle of wills that only the Warrens can help them win. The experiences of this family, and the effects on them physically and mentally, not only follow the Warrens, raising the stakes, but create a genuinely engaging and affecting investigation that builds masterfully slowly. The film takes its time unraveling the secrets of what lies in the darkened corners, all the while an invisible force is sinking its demonic teeth deeper and deeper into the matriarch, the protector, and influencing her to do the unthinkable.

What’s truly terrifying about The Conjuring, more than its ghostly scares, is how Carolyn’s character evolves. She changes inside and out, like being infected with a parasite. Films that deal with the demonic hinge on a bit of melodrama, but in this case, a scene of possession turns into a showcase of the power of a mother’s love. Lorraine is clairvoyant, but it’s her instincts as a mother that help her know when something is wrong with her own child, or know what to do in order to save this family, especially the mother. The Conjuring is not really about God or demons at its core, but rather, motherhood - the strength of it.

The Conjuring not only delivers on its theme in an affecting way — and how you should definitely not sleep with your feet out from under the covers — but also it establishes Ed and Lorraine Warren as one of cinema’s best (and hottest) on-screen couples. It’s not only Ed’s sideburns and Lorraine’s outfits that contribute to their appeal but the chemistry between Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. The love expressed between their characters, verbally or not, is felt deeply, and spiritually. They know darkness and can’t face it without the other. If you don’t believe in all the paranormal stuff, you’ll come away believing in them and their relationship. Even if you are a skeptic, listening to them get into the nitty-gritty of the supernatural is as fascinating as Indiana Jones talking about archaeology (“Love you” would be written on many eyelids at a Warren lecture, no doubt).

The appeal of the Warrens, and how Farmiga and Wilson have brought them to the screen here, has led to the franchise’s longevity. In many ways, it feels like James Wan knew what he was building right from the get-go. The Conjuring is not only the beginning of a whole universe of films but teases what it would become in its first few minutes with the introduction of Annabelle. The script by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes also weaves in mentions of past Warren cases and presents intriguing questions that would only be answered in future films, making the audience want to stick around by tying each future entry together in some way.

The Conjuring, after a decade, still remains memorable on its own. It establishes its place in the horror genre right away, with a signature score unlike any other. The droning of a brass cluster is so haunting that describing it as such doesn’t seem to give it enough emphasis. It doesn’t do the expected with scares, either. When a child looks under a bed, you expect something to be there. But there isn’t. John R. Leonetti’s camera likes to point us to where we should look, preparing us for what is to come. When it does, it still feels unexpected, scary. It also doesn’t seem to care about jump scares. When there are some, they’re subtle, Leonetti impressing more with his camera tricks (think, the iconic sheet flying in the wind scene). The film plays with our expectations and our sense of anticipation until even the very last frame.

The Conjuring is a very human story, as most real horrors come from the unseen or unknown. The darkness that consumes the Perrons begins by latching itself onto them and feeding off of them, like the relevant weight of human existence in a world full of soul suckers. In moments of absolute dread, we can forget what is most significant and important in our lives, but we all have the strength it takes to see the light at the end of the tunnel.