2016.83: The Conjuring (Amazon VOD)
Its a funny thing watching horror films. The line between the genuinely creepy, authentically unnerving and just plain silly nonsense is a surprisingly fine one, and getting only more so as years pass and more films get made. In the effort to shock jaded audiences film directors are tempted (forced?) to push things further and further, in just the same ways as action films push the credibility of stunts and fight sequences. How many times have we seen film characters emerge unscathed from crashes/explosions/fights that would leave real people in hospital recuperating for weeks? How many times do we see film characters survive horror films after witnessing and experiencing things that would leave normal people mentally unhinged if not genuinely insane?
Its very refreshing then to see a horror film that doesn’t cross the line into the ridiculous but instead manages to be realistic and plausible. And how refreshing to see two genuinely great horror films in quick succession. So soon after watching The Witch, I’ve now seen The Conjuring, another genuinely creepy, very effective horror raising itself out of the formulaic ghost story nonsense it might have been in less capable hands.
James Wan is not a ‘name’ like John Carpenter or George Romero (or maybe I’m just ‘out of the loop’ these days) but he has something of a pedigree behind him- he’s the director of Saw and Insidious – and with The Conjuring he brings us a rather more mature and confident horror tale than I was expecting. The Conjuring is a period horror film set (mostly) in 1971, with paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, both excellent) helping a Rhode Island family, the Perrons, who have recently moved into a remote old farmhouse that is haunted by various entities.
What makes The Conjuring so interesting isn’t so much the jumps and scares -Wan has clearly demonstrated with his earlier films his ability with such- but rather with its sense of restraint. There isn’t a terrible amount of gore and the horror isn’t particularly graphic- its more the atmosphere and threat of horror that benefits this film, and the sense of mystery. There feels something like a grounding of reality in what might have been a silly ghost story- after all, we have seen so many haunted houses/tales of possession that its hard for this stuff not to descend into self-parody awfully quickly.
We are told from the start that this is based on a true story, but that hardly means much in a genre when so much is carelessly declared to be ‘true’. For one, I’m thinking of The Quiet Ones that I recently watched, itself a period film set in the 1970s that purports to be a true story, complete with period photos of the ‘real’ people during the end credits that are actually fake (I call it ‘The Fargo Effect’). How much of The Conjuring is true is unclear but from what I have read it does have some basis of truth with some documentary evidence. The thing I find curious is why any ‘truth’ should have any effect on the ability of the film to frighten, or give it any more credibility than horror films like The Exorcist or Poltergeist. If its a scary or unnerving experience, then surely that is enough. Maybe its all the Blair Witch Project‘s fault.