Paranormal investigators help a family that is being terrorized by a malicious presence that lives in their home.
The poster for this movie boasts that this film is based on the true case files of the Warrens, a married couple that used to investigate paranormal disturbances. Ed and Lorraine Warren were indeed real people; you can watch interviews with them or read all about their case files. Whether or not you believe what they claim is up to you, but I can guarantee nothing that nothing so dramatic as what happens in “The Conjuring” ever happened to the Warrens. Hollywood has blown up and exaggerated their story to a horrifying event-filled thrill ride that, while it may not be accurate to real life, is certainly a fun horror flick. This film is a wonderful homage to 1970s horror films- it’s a film that is a little smarter than most horror films today, and it’s surprisingly creepier as well. While some rather cheesy dialogue and a slightly corny climax bog down this movie, overall this film is quite impressive, and it stands head and shoulders above most of its horror peers.
“We’ve been called ghost hunters. Paranormal researchers. Wackos.”
Our story begins by introducing us to Ed (Patrick Wilson, “Watchmen”) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farminga, “Up in the Air”), two paranormal researchers that worked from the 1950s till Ed’s death in 2006; Lorraine seems to still make appearances here and there at the age of 91. The film establishes their world of lecturing about ghosts, finding new cases to tackle, and worrying about the darkness with which their toying. At the same time, we’re shown the Perron family moving into a new home. Carolyn (Lili Taylor, “Public Enemies”) and Roger (Ron Livingston, “Office Space”) have five daughters; Andrea (Shanley Caswell, “Detention”), Nancy (Haley McFarland, An American Crime) Christine (Joey King, “Wish Upon”), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy, “Interstellar”), and April (Kyla Deaver, “Before I Wake”). At night, the Perron family starts to hear strange noises, smell rotting meat, and see peculiar and unsettling things. Eventually, Carolyn grows worried enough to consult the Warrens, and the Warrens agree to help.
I think the thing that I like most about this film is that it takes it’s time to build the world and establish the world before really throwing you into the thick of it. When we establish the rules of the world, then we know how things work, and we know what to be afraid of. By starting the film with Ed and Lorraine lecturing in a few different places we’re able to get some expositional dialogue out of the way in a manner that doesn’t feel forced, plus it foreshadows some things that will happen later. By starting this way, we also get to see the Warrens interacting with a case prior to working with the Perron’s, so we know how a case should go if it goes well. We also establish the relationship between Lorraine and Ed, and get to know what they are worried about in terms of fighting the darkness. As it’s established that Lorraine was almost completely possessed during one of their last exorcisms, we establish that though the Warren’s are experts in their field, they are far from safe when they’re dealing with demons. We also see a scene where the Warrens investigate a home that the occupants believe is haunted, but the Warrens prove to them that it isn’t. By establishing that the Warrens themselves are frequently skeptical about their cases when they first start investigating them, we also make the stuff that is real that much more terrifying. I want to bring up the fact too that I was really impressed that this film didn’t at all shy away from the fact that the Warrens were Christians. In fact, multiple times throughout the film, Lorraine brings up the fact that they both believe that God brought them together for a purpose. This theme is actually so important to the film that it’s brought up in the climax of this film- I struggled with whether or not to give this film a 3.5/5 stars or a 4/5 star, and the use of clear Christian themes in this movie was the deciding factor for a 4 star rating. I also like the fact that we get to know the Perron family before anything horrible really starts to happen. I do have to admit that a lot of the spooky stuff that happens in the first half of this film follows a lot of horror tropes. The dog is killed (of course), there’s spooky noises for a few nights and nobody can figure out what’s going on, there are some loud door slams, a few jump moments, and then we’re into the really good stuff. While the first half of the film that focuses on the Perrons feels like familiar haunted house movie territory, I have to admit that it’s executed better than most movies. The characters are very likable overall, and that’s a good thing. We root for the Warrens to help the Perrons because we want good things for both the families. However, there are some moments that are a touch overwritten and rather corny, particularly when they’re trying to get you to sympathize with the families. There is one scene in particular that makes me roll my eyes every time I watch this movie, and that’s the ‘remembering the beach’ scene. There’s also some incredibly corny, on the nose dialogue; lines like ‘They have such a beautiful family, don’t they?’ don’t come off as sincere; they come off as forced and stilted. If they’d have cut a few of those awkward lines they really could’ve cleared up some of the cheesier elements.
Overall the most impressive part of this movie is how genuinely thrilling it is. The scares in this movie start pretty early on in the film, and even some of the earlier scenes are more terrifying than the climaxes of some horror films I’ve seen recently. What makes this even better is that the sequences of horror maintain their tension for a good amount of time. When things ramp up, they often don’t let up for a good ten to fifteen minutes. A lot of that has to do with the previously established rules and world building. Because the Warrens have told us what to watch for, the audience is fully aware of the implications of what’s happening in front of them, and it makes it even scarier. One good example of this is near the climax when the dark forces menace the Warren’s daughter at their own home. The film consistently raises the stakes over and over again, making each scene more intense than the last. However, at the climax I must admit things reach a little too far, and some of the things that should’ve been scary, come off as slightly if not completely ridiculous. The way that the climax is resolved is incredibly corny and sort of disappointing considering how much I genuinely enjoyed the rest of this movie. The climax was so corny that it was the reason I considered giving this film a 3.5, but alas, the rest of the film overall is good enough that I’d feel wrong giving it something lower than a 4.
Besides a few really corny lines and a few ridiculous moments this is one of the better mainstream horror films of the last decade (I said MAINSTREAM- this isn't arthouse like “The Witch” or “Hereditary”). This film was so popular that it spawned it’s own cinematic universe, starting with “The Conjuring 2”, but continued with “Annabelle”, “Annabelle: Creation”, and forthcoming “The Nun”. I walked out of the first Annabelle because it was so bad (though I intend to revisit it for this series… *deep sigh*), and I haven’t seen “Creation”, but if I remember correctly I was pretty impressed with “The Conjuring 2” (though that may change on my rewatch). This cinematic universe isn’t perfect, but a couple of its entries have been worth watching, and that’s enough to get me excited for the next one. This movie is a fine addition to the horror genre, and for a Halloween movie this is a perfect pick.
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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