on 2 July 2013
Directed by James Wan (Insidious, Saw, Dead Silence), The Conjuring is set in America during the 1960's. We follow the 'real' case-files of paranormal investigators The Warrens, who work against supernatural elements trying to possess the living, in this case the Perron family. The Warrens face a terrifying battle against a demon unwilling to leave...
One thing you can expect from a James Wan film is quality, with an impressive collection of horror titles behind him, disappointment was never an option. Unlike many supernatural films of late (Paranormal Activity, Grave Encounters) this film presents a nostalgic era before technology ruled the home roost (and the horror film), when a lonesome haunted house out in the sticks, and a creative eye for fear could hold the audience. The film creates a haunting atmosphere set around childhood themes; using games, toys and innocence to project the violence of this sinister entity. The POV of both families fighting 'evil' offers a variety of encounters and experiences, in a film that may have been less engaging otherwise. Although there is the usual line- up of jumps, Wan includes his own touch of originality making you leave your seat a few times.
The reveal is always a tense moment in a ghost film, The Conjuring manages to keep it together unlike many others (Mama). However, the reveal always seems a needless element, as the presence of the ghost is enough to create the fear, and putting a face to a ghost is unnecessary. The solid acting of the cast should be noted, along with a well written script with moments of comic relief, but don't get too comfy, as Wan will pack a punch to those unsuspecting. An example of how ghost films should be; packed full of jumps, and minus the showcase of evolving technology that captures 'found' footage. Wan conjures (yes) a decent horror full of childhood nostalgia and things that go bump in the night.
After all we all have that one childhood story that still keeps us 'adults' awake some nights... mine was the attic hatch in my room...
The purpose of this sort of film is to set goose bumps along your arms and make you jump and to that end the director has done a damned good job. My wife and I jumped several times during the movie even though we knew something was about to happen and numerous times I had chills running down my arms. This is of course all down to the effective use of music and sound effects together with the images, without them you probably wouldn't react because there is nothing here that you haven't seen before. It is just very well combined and presented.
The story is the classic haunted house tale of a new family being tormented by an evil entity and the good guys that come to the rescue and is allegedly based on a true story. I noticed that some reviewers have referred to an interview with one of the daughters of the family but to counterbalance that the current owners of the house say it is all baloney and nothing has or does happen there. But there again they would say that wouldn't they?
This is a great movie to give yourself and some friends a thrill at Halloween and there is no blood and gore which is a plus but don't watch it on your own if you are of a nervous disposition.
on 13 February 2014
I have always enjoyed 'real' horror films. By that i mean films that aren't full of gore that is used to shock rather than scare. The Conjuring is the best horror film i have seen. First saw it at the cinema and it scared me to the point where i was so scared my back ached where i had been so tensed up watching. I actually left saying i didn't want the dvd. BUT that soon changed. I wanted to see if it was as scary the 2nd time and in a place where there werent 200 other people screaming around me.
The answer is yes, i still jumped, i still screamed and i still love this film!
There will be people who don't believe that anything like this could have happened, that don't believe in hauntings or possessions and i will say you don't need to believe to enjoy this movie or to jump at the scary bits.
Although if you even slightly believe in things that go bump in the night, then you'll be sleeping with the light on after watching this!!! ;)
Based (loosely, I suspect) on a haunting investigated by real-life paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren whose body of work also inspired the Amityville Horror; this stock supernatural horror starts in the usual manner with a 1970’s (not a mobile phone in sight – hoorah!) family moving into a dilapidated and isolated farmhouse. Not surprisingly the building is home to an unquiet spirit and many a dark secret.
Much spookiness ensues. [Very mild spoiler alert] The dog refuses to enter the house and there is, of course, a creepy doll, a boarded-up cellar and even a secret passage but this film is rescued from the corny cliché it could have become by some excellent performances, a decent script, bags of atmosphere and masterful management of pace & tension with plenty of jumps. Every box on the standard supernatural horror checklist is ticked and it really works rather well; it may not be startlingly original but it does exactly what it set out to do. It doesn’t quite rank up there with’ The Grudge’ on the scare-ometer (which scares me silly for some reason) but it is definitely worth 9/10.
Before I saw The Conjuring I heard a lot negative complaints that it was merely "cattle prod cinema" which I inferred meant a lot of awful stingers were the only thing that would make the audience jump. This horrible cliché has been overabundant in many so-called "horror" movies for a good while now and I my expectations were low.
Thankfully, there are no stingers. Yes, there are scares and jumps, but the score is completely unobtrusive and there are no cats jumping out of closets or phones suddenly ringing. James Wan knows that atmosphere, cinematography, suggestion, and the unknown can build suspense and horror, and the Conjuring has plenty.
Apparently based on a true story (which I am extremely doubtful of, but not completely disbelieving) a happy family of mom and dad and five young girls move into a large farmhouse bought at a low price from a bank auction. As soon as they cross the threshold things are not quite right and the property reeks of pure, menacing evil. Eventually they call in the help of a local ghost-hunting couple to document the case and research its history.
It was the early 70s, the real Ghostbusters (pun intended) were still in college.
About 80% of The Conjuring works. The dread, the suspense, and the inability to comprehend what is really lurking in the darkness of the house makes for great horror. The girls see...something, but we don't. It's a lot like Robert Wise's The Haunting, which is kind of ironic since Lily Taylor, who plays the mother, was in the 1999 remake of that movie, which was full of all the worst horror clichés and set-ups, as well as excessive CGI. It's like Taylor wanted to set the balance straight by doing a movie that took the opposite, and more intelligent, approach.
John R. Leonetti's photography is very slick, with lots of slow, creeping shots, but I couldn't help but think that a rawer edge, with exploitation lighting, would have helped it look a bit more authentic. There are a bit too many slamming doors scares too, and towards the end it goes off on a completely pointless tangent with the Annabelle doll and does absolutely nothing with it. For the bulk of the running time The Conjuring seems original and groundbreaking, though in the last act it's a jumble of Blair Witch, The Exorcist, and What Lies Beneath.
The positives still far outweigh the negatives, and I still recommend the film to horror fans. If only we had a version of The Amityville Horror that was made this way instead of that horrendous 2005 movie. No doubt there will be numerous sequels.
The Blu-ray looks great in 2.40:1 1080p with brilliant DTS HD-MA sound. The extras could have been more satisfying.
on 15 December 2015
Having watched more than my fair share of haunted house movies. I'd like to help those who move into such a place.
1. Never look in a mirror late at night when you are on your own (especially if you are a woman dressed only in skimpy underwear) as you are guaranteed to see a ghostly face looking back at you and will have to flee outside into a thunder storm.
2. Drink only bottled water as there's always blood in the taps. To avoid a close encounter with rhesus positive only shower at the local gym.
3. Don't call in a priest as he will be killed on the way home by fallen masonry or demonic crows.
4. Remain celibate. The sensuous teenagers in these films always die and only the virgin gets to see the light of day.
5. Avoid buying the enormous mansion that features in numerous historic murders and instead opt for a new build, having first checked that it hasn't been built on an old Indian burial ground...
on 29 April 2016
The recent spate of ghost/haunted house possession stories has not really yielded anything which is either frightening or original and The Conjuring, despite all the accolades bestowed upon it, is among them although it is better than most. While I welcome a return to a genre whose purpose is to offer a frightening experience to its audience after an extended previous deluge of teens-in-peril nonsense whose sole purpose is to generate repulsion and moments where the whole audience leaves its seats as one, I’m now ready to move on because the haunted house story offers nothing new. And I like ghost stories - well, good ones anyway.
James Wan is well aware that his film uses standard ghost story tropes (that’s clichés to you and me), and insists that they work. I disagree. We have seen them all too many times before but it’s probably true to say that anyone who hasn’t seen them might well find them effective. And they are all here: creaking doors which open on their own (you won’t find any oil in a haunted house), a doll (which looks like Joanna Lumley’s Patsy after a heavy night, a rocking chair and so on. The team has gone out of its way to make it look frightening but it doesn’t. Is there anything new out there? I'm beginning to doubt it. Film makers pander to what they consider to be what the audience wants and indeed this does seem to work for a number of viewers, judging by the number of positive views here. However the number of negative reviews demonstrates that some viewers are fed up with seeing the same old devices.
Exploitation of fear in the cinema is a fascinating area but surely now something new is needed - a different approach. There are a few directors who can pull off a sense of real fear without resorting to standard haunted house nonsense but while audiences require spoon feeding with material which they've probably seen countless times before, these directors are not going to really surface and come to their senses.
But back to the film in question. I have to admit that Wan has done a pretty good job of working with what he's got - this is an effective contribution to the genre but if you have seen countless numbers of haunted house films, you may be disappointed that you're not clinging to the edge of your seat. There are a couple of good moments, one in particular where a character insists that she can see someone behind a door. This is particularly effective because we cannot see what she sees – we can only see her fear. Sadly Wan then follows this with a jump moment.
Wan certainly understands the genre and he plays with audience expectations by setting up a situation where we expect something to happen but it doesn't. John Carpenter used this in Halloween (if you’ve not seen it, then do). While this technique serves to invert the cliché (trope, sorry), it is overdone here and becomes tedious and too-clever-for-its-own-good. The use of sound is well considered too. This is an element which is also frequently overdone in films of this nature and often it serves to reduce tension rather than to increase it. Wan has opted to remove audio effects completely in some scenes and this is very effective.
So while the film is well crafted for sure, the result fails in its intent (for me anyway), because his enthusiasm outweighs his maturity and if he moves away from this genre, he will be a director to watch.
on 4 March 2016
The say there's nothing like a good horror film, and this was nothing like a good horror film. It was a great one. Immediately, from the intro, the film is screaming 'Amityville Remake!' at you. It's very in your face. They could almost have set it in the same universe and paid for use of the Amityville licence. You have your psychic investigator demon hunter types, strange stuff going on in the newly purchased house, a secret basement, the house turning out to have a dark history. Demonic infestations, priests, people getting possessed - it's Amityville!
However, though in essence it's very much Amityville, it's actually a far better watch. The use of the 'Hide and Clap' game was brilliantly executed and genuinely spooky. There was some really clever jump-scares and some intentionally predictable ones too. The effects were good, not over-the-top, but broadly quite plausible looking. You don't actually see the entity very clearly most of the time, but that works well for the filming style. The careful phasing of visions, dreams and spirits into reality are really effective and I think get you into the minds of the characters experiencing them.
It was definitely creepy, not many films give me that spine-tingling, goose-bump raising scare, but this did. It's not particularly gory, it's more of a psychological scare.
So, if it's so good why not 5 stars? Well, for one I found the ending somehow anti-climatic? Also it seemed like a fairly blatant rip off of Amityville in many ways - even though I think this was in fact better executed! I'd definitely watch it again some time though.
A final objection, I do seriously object to the cynical 'Ooh this is based on true events!' rubbish. They tried it with Amityville, Blair Witch kind of took the genre to a new level - but it honestly doesn't need it! Just make the damn film and sell it on it's merits! Quit it with the whole 'Oh this really happened so it must be even scarier!' rubbish, it's a waste of time. I've seen a lot of things in this world and I'm 100% sure this and all the other BS ghost stories and films are NOT true. I'm a rationalist and an atheist, I watch movies for escapism and to have the idea that the supernatural is true shoved down my throat is just annoying. That aside - great film!
on 12 June 2016
I was pleasantly surprised by this. I've booked to see 'The Conjuring 2' and realised I'd not seen the original so ordered it and watched it as soon as it arrive. As I say I was pleasantly surprised how well crafted this little movie is. There's oh so many of this type out there that they are all pretty much similar in style and tone. But when in the mood I do enjoy them; especially if it's a well made one. This one is no different, middle America, over cast skies, muted colour pallet, upper working class to middle class family, all the family money invested in new home but it's an old house on the outskirts of the small town, all the usual cliché's and the story line is the usual progression of event's these movies follow; nothing new or innovative there, it's just the way it's all been pieced together that, although it's just a progression of clichés, they fit together so seamlessly they are no longer clichés but the only route this story could have taken and still commanded your attention. So nothing exceptional to make it stand out but what is there is very well put together, so much so, I've now ordered the prequel 'Annabelle' and am looking forward to seeing '2' at the cinema.
on 25 March 2014
A superbly and expertly directed horror film from one of Horrors most exciting new directors, The Conjuring will have you watching on the edge of your seat.
With an atmospheric 70's setting The Conjuring successfully sucks you into its world and doesn't release its grip until the end. Based on true events some of this will need to be taken with a pinch of salt depending on your views about ghosts and possession. You do not have to be a believer to enjoy this film. It works on every level.
The Warrens are well known demonologists. Most famously they investigated the Amityville Horror. This is a story that apparently they have never told before so is completely fresh but with the amount of ghost stories out there a lot of what you see has been done before. However arguably it has never been better than what you see here.
Where The Conjuring succeeds over others is in the characters that inhabit the story. The family the Warren's get drawn into helping are all very relatable and for once none of the children are annoying. They are a family that you want to see helped. It also helps that Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga brilliantly portray the Warrens and again you are willing them to succeed.
The first hour builds up the tension and has a couple of jumpy moments. This isn't a flashy horror, this is a tension builder. Suggesting rather than showing. Even when it does reveal its ghost and the story unravels a lot of it is still held back so your imagination is left to run wild. Relying more on uneasiness than out and out shocks The Conjuring could easily be one of the scariest films of the last five years and in a time when found footage seems to be the only way an audience can feel genuine fear it is refreshing to see an old fashioned horror film do it properly.
The sense of atmosphere form the setting alone is palpable. It is clear a great deal of effort has gone into the building of this world to draw you in and it really works. The typical old house is as you would expect, full of creaky doors, hidden corners and a dark musty basement. The house doesn't take centre stage though. Here it is not about the house it is about the ghosts and although the standard haunted house staples are there is doesn't feel boring or forced.
Brilliantly acted and well thought out it is a shame James Wan has declared himself out of the horror genre and onto pastures new. At least this is what he left us with. A supremely effective, smartly filmed ghost story.