My brethren, you know I’m not a big horror fan. I even wish I avoided moving furniture into cobwebby basements in my past New England life – the everywhere location for just about anything horror — but it seems to me that there are really two common types of horror flicks: instant gorefests and subtle suspension. Much like an “American Horror Story” (to which this prophet found its second season subtitled, “Asylum,” the finest TV series last fall), The Conjuring does an admirable job at exhibiting both — until the director’s late-game decision to reveal the horror’s existence in the physical flesh.
It’s a low down dirty shame because this flick has so much good going for it. Sure, I’m a guy who tears up when wookies win the most imaginative space battles, and when brave men in bright red capes overcome all [z]ods. I get it. I’m just not one for horror that chooses to deliver its suspense with a steam-cleaning stomp over a tip-toe.
What initially interested this not-so-much-a-horror-geek in The Conjuring was the plot’s use of a throwback “X-Files” formula. Take two married experts, in this case demonologists — cause somebody’s gotta do it! — who conveniently have horrific problems of their own (i.e. daughter neglect, strange collections, whimsical pasts), and give them some prime real estate.
Lorraine (the always delightful Vera Farmiga) and Ed Warren (Patrick “Don’t Call Me Chris Evans” Wilson) are boosted, not only by their respective actor’s solid performances, but by a neat history of paranormal investigations that run from the Amityville Horror case to the Conjuring‘s ties to the Salem Witch Trials. The film showcases their relentless teamwork and teaching work (what a class that must’ve been!) between the creaks and cries of the Harrisville, Rhode Island farmhouse — doing wonders for character development.
Wait. A horror flick with.. what, character development? You’re kidding, Jimmy.
No, the dude who directed the initial Saw of all things, James Wan, decides to ride on some solid supernatural-acting chops than a rather menacing murderfest. Until Wan couldn’t help himself towards the end, mind you.
The director allows the audience to care about these folks because they care for these folks. And these folks, the unlucky new owners of this historical bloody mess, are played admirably by Ron Livingston (the Office Space dude) and Lili Taylor (everything). One of them plays it terrifically straight and narrow, and the other.. oh-oh-oh.. the other thankfully shows signs of instability early, so you won’t have to lose your entire sense of disbelief when shit get cray. Also, to this critic’s delight, none of the performances from the Perron’s five daughters — or the Warren’s one — proved too annoying, or bratty. The youngest (played in all the innocence of Kyla Deaver), who approves of at least one of the family’s ghostly hosts, may have been the most enjoyable.
Good acting in a horror flick. This is nice.
The cinematography is simply outstanding, as well. My favorite shot consisted of a rolling overhead during the film’s most bizarre, climactic instance. Most of the frames in The Conjuring are near perfect, and many will fuck with you, too, so you never know where or when that ghost or goblin will appear. While some horror tropes are indeed put on display, Wan does a superb enough job using many of these familiarities to push the story along. Some of the film’s more original moments include a game of “blind” hide-and-clap (glad none of my ghetto New England friends thought of this one) and the use of their own “demon prevention” camera crew (for the 70s, mind you) to capture all the spookiness firsthand.
And, unlike “The X-Files”, at least there are other beings able to confirm the evidence. But, unlike that phenomenal series on the paranormal, The Conjuring loses its tone just when the going gets tough.
The Conjuring hits theaters nationwide July 19. Rated R. (Not sure why, though.)