THE CONJURING (2013) dir. James Wan

Director: James Wan
Producers: Rob Cowan, Tony DeRosa-Grund
Writers: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor

“We’ve been called ghost hunters. Paranormal researchers. Wackos.”

“But we prefer to be known simply as Ed and Lorraine Warren.”

With THE CONJURING 2 finishing up its second week in theaters—block-busting with the best of them, grossing $117.5 million internationally—it seems only right to revisit the original classic. When my friends and I saw THE CONJURING (2013) in theaters during college, most of us had only the vaguest idea of what it was. We had seen the trailer, which gave away little aside from the telltale eeriness of “hide and clap” and decided to give it a chance. Rarely do I remember us being so petrified in theaters—by that point, we were all three desensitized enough to the “jump-scares” and costume makeup that characterized the 2000s PG-13 horror we had all grown up on that most scary movies only faintly disturbed us. Not this one—I remember sweating, shrieking and, at points, even clutching poor Jess and Zoë in fear. Two nights ago I re-screened THE CONJURING with my friend John, a grown man with thick skin. Even he admitted as the credits rolled that he had chills for the majority of the film.

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The Perron Family (via IMDb).

THE CONJURING Poster

THE CONJURING (2013)

THE CONJURING begins in the early seventies in the country town of Harrisville, Rhode Island. The Perrons, a spirited family of seven, has just moved into a rambling farmhouse on a beautiful, misty property populated by giant trees with twisted branches, trickling streams, and wildflowers. Yet, idyllic as it is, something is not right. For one thing, the family dog refuses to cross the threshold. Furthermore, when the children play their favorite variant on the old classic, “hide and clap,” there seems to be more hiding than they expect … Luckily for them, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are never far, traveling from campus to campus lecturing on the paranormal phenomena they’ve faced and, against their better judgment, they’re willing to take a look.

 

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Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) (via IMDb).

If I’ve discussed it once on WILDERNESS, I’ve discussed it a thousand times: James Wan’s got style. Say what you like about his work: at times it can be predictable, cliché, melodramatic … and yet, there is a startling visual brilliance to his every work. As opposed to the vivid darkness of DEAD SILENCE (2007) and INSIDIOUS (2010) and INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013), THE CONJURING is muted, gritty in an understated way that, in my opinion, is worlds more effective. The dull sterling sky, the yellow glow of the cellar light, the dusty grain of the wardrobe that is left behind in the house with the family moves in—these all seem to portray the version of the 1970s we see in retrospect: tinged with the yellows and purples that are the emphasis of old photographs. Granted, I’m crazy about the seventies—the film, the television, and especially the music—so perhaps this aspect of the film satisfies me more deeply than the average millennial watching. Still, I love hints of the seventies that shine through—the vintage haircuts, the Zombies playing as the Perrons move in, the décor in Roger Perron’s (Ron Livingston) office.

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Little April (Kyla Deaver) plays “hide and clap” with her mommy (Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron) (via IMDb).

THE CONJURING stands out as a popular horror flick that has earned its reputation. The social and cultural context lend it depth, a rarity in late-summer blockbusters; a possession in the 1970s is particularly significant—remember, this is when THE EXORCIST (1973) was both published as a novel and released as a film—given that the subversive energies of the times occupied the hearts and minds of Americans ready for change, much in the way that Bathsheba invades Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor). What’s more, the “home invasion”—in this case implied by the hauntings, rather than overt in the way of slashers—parallels how the traditional nuclear family of 1950s America was endangered by second-wave feminism. The cinematography, too, is a triumph; the rolling cam seems to open the viewer’s eyes to everything at once without the nauseating jerk and sway of the popular hand-held cam in found-footage horror—instead, cinematographer John R. Leonetti opts for a rolling cam that smoothly places the viewer into the Perron home with everyone else.

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Carolyn Perron in the grips of Bathsheba the Witch (via IMDb).

This is an occult film through and through—the terror it incites in viewers is rooted in the dizzying mix of witches, hauntings, and possessions that plague the Perrons and, though including such an array strikes one as non-traditional, it is all rooted in the gothic concept of the uncanny. After all, what could be a more sickening perversion of the familiar than a home filled with evil forces aligned against you and yours? The grotesque and gory are minimal in THE CONJURING, but if you haven’t seen it yet, you’ll find that it is quite difficult to watch.

Gore: ★★★

Horror: ★★★★

Suspense: ★★★★★

Terror: ★★★★

Overall: ★★★★

I watched on VUDU. You can screen THE CONJURING on iTunes or YouTube for $2.99. You can purchase THE CONJURING on Barnes & Noble’s website; the DVD is $5.99 and the Blu-ray is $18.00. You can also purchase the DVD used on the B&N Marketplace starting at $5.79, the Blu-Ray starting at $7.99.

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