The Conjuring (2013)

Happy Halloween, everybody!

I hope you’ve had an awesome October and you’re getting ready for a party or a parade tonight. Or perhaps you’re getting the little ones dressed up to go trick-or-treating, assuming your town actually does that on Halloween rather than the week before. Can you imagine if local governments tried to pull that shit with the Fourth of July, relegating all firework displays to the Thursday before the holiday? There would be chaos in the streets. It’s fine to fuck around with Halloween but ‘Merica would not stand idly by while its patriotism was rescheduled. This is clearly part of the religious right’s crusade against Halloween. I will not stand for your anti-Samhainism, Michele Bachmann.

I couldn’t do my Halloween movie marathon this year because I am very busy and important. Instead I’ve been using my weekly column at Modern Borefare to recommend some unheralded scary movies you can (legally) stream. There’s plenty of good stuff there if you’re in the mood for something to watch tonight but I can’t let the holiday pass without handing out a little 31FoT candy.

I try to avoid talking about movies that enjoyed recent theatrical releases unless they’re brand new. I figure most people have probably already heard about those. But since I bailed this year, I at least owe my clamoring throngs of devoted readers something guaranteed to impress. In lieu of 31 scary movies of dubious quality, I give you 2013’s best horror movie: The Conjuring.

Kinda feel like we're preaching to the choir here. Who wants to invest in a haunted timeshare?

Now, who wants to invest in a haunted timeshare?

The story: We’ve all heard of The Amityville Horror, yes? Aside from spawning a remake featuring a shirtless, rain-soaked Ryan Reynolds, The Amityville Horror was noteworthy because it was based on the (allegedly) true story of the Lutz family haunting. Tangentially related to that story were Ed and Lorraine Warren, the real life paranormal investigators called in shortly after the Lutz family vacated their possessed house. Before they ever got to Long Island though, the Warrens helped out a New England family plagued by a malevolent spirit. The Conjuring tells that story.

It’s worth noting, I had to look all that shit up before I felt comfortable writing it. Even though the title cards tell us about the Warrens and promise the movie is based on a true story, we all know how how studios will say anything to get us into bed. There is no penalty for lying out one’s ass about that “true story” shit, though there really should be. But it turns out, unlike, say, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which is VERY loosely based on a few cherry picked details of Ed Gein’s horrific killing spree, The Conjuring is the genuine article. While there was obviously no real supernatural activity in that house in 1973, the Warrens were really there and they really helped a real family through a really hard time. Embellish away, Hollywood, you’ve earned it.

Hey! I think I found some ectoplasm! Ewwwww.

Good thing this family has no sons. You’d be getting a lot of false positives on that ectoplasm detector.

Biggest letdown: Remember how I said this was 2013’s best horror movie? Well it is. And that in itself is a bit of letdown, because The Conjuring will not be remembered as one of the great horror movies of its time. It’s not even as good as last year’s best horror movie, Sinister. Though it has some great moments and is consistently high quality, The Conjuring comes down to unravelling a fairly transparent origin story before it’s TOO LATE, while dealing with fairly standard don’t-turn-around ghost scares along the way.

You sure it's not the baby? Look at those beady little eyes...

You’re sure it’s not the baby? Look at those beady little eyes…

It may just be me but I found the reliance on Catholic tropes a little jarring. Sure, it’s an admirable, period-appropriate throwback a la Amityville  or The Exorcist. But nowadays it’s almost quaint to think of demonic forces being strictly  within the province of The Church. The Conjuring feels like a movie that should be broader in scope, an equal opportunity haunter, if you will.

I will now read aloud from 50 Shades of Grey until the ghost kills itself.

I will now read aloud from 50 Shades of Grey until the ghost kills itself.

Why you should watch: Dear every studio who will ever attempt to make a horror movie for the rest of time: The Conjuring contains the formula you should follow. Play it straight. Hire a solid cast and an experienced director, and give them enough time to work through the material. Even with top notch actors and elaborate production values, if you try to churn out a movie in a month you will end up with something like Dream House. You’ll get a movie featuring enormous stars and lavish aesthetics that is nevertheless an unwatchable train wreck. Even though a terrible horror movie will still recoup its investment, genre audiences are more likely to embrace something that pays attention to little details like story and relationships.

That’s really all that separates The Conjuring from any shitty, half-assed haunted house movie. In either case you’ll get plenty of jump scares and more than enough people flying around the room. (Seriously, let’s all cool it with the wire work stunts, okay? It’s getting a little silly.) The Conjuring benefits from capable actors, including Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor and (though he makes my skin crawl) Patrick Wilson. What’s more significant, though, is they’re all clearly on the same page, suggesting a shocking willingness to accept direction. No one in this production is simply enduring something they find distasteful for a quick paycheck.

Wait, leave it there! I love this song.

Admit it, you’re listening to show tunes.

Memorable Moment: Goddamn you James Wan, STOP with the scary dolls! Wan became famous when he co-wrote and directed Saw. Shortly after his star ascended he started making movies about possessions and, more specifically, possessed dolls. It started with Dead Silence, a movie that scared me so much I still don’t like to think about. There were creepy toys in Insidious (which bears more than a passing resemblance to The Conjuring) but he really finds his stride with Annabelle, the grungy, life-size doll that will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. I know what you’re wondering and the answer is yes, she does one of those super slow, 180-degree head turns, which is just YICH. Oh, and, fun fact: ANNABELLE IS FUCKING REAL.



Choice quote:
“Remember what you said to me on our wedding night?” “Can we do it again?”

conjuring ratingsAbout the Rating System

3 Responses to “The Conjuring (2013)”

  1. […] it yet, head on over to 31 Flavors of Terror and check out 2013′s best scary movie by far, The Conjuring. It’s available for as little as $3.99 on Amazon and it is well worth the […]

  2. Blarb Mclarb Says:

    YES! Love me some haunted dolls. And love some of that James Wan.

  3. The Haunted Dolls would be a great name for an all-female punk band.

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