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Thursday, 8 August 2013

"Based on a True Story": A Review of The Conjuring

Although I'm a pretty big horror fan, I've never been much for these summer "based-on-a-true-story" flicks that are very, very loosely based on real events. Films like, The Blair Witch Project and The Amityville Horror have never been attractive to me. At least not as much as the independent psychological horror films: Antiviral, Teeth, Deadgirl, etc.. I'm not interested in ghosts or exorcisms or slashers. But, The Conjuring garnered quite a bit of positive attention, even critics liked it. There were rumours, too, that it was scary and fresh. So, when my close friends invited me to go, I decided I'd give it a shot--despite my weak heart.

First of all, this movie is scary. It isn't psychologically scary, mind you. I didn't leave feeling overwhelmed with existential dread; I didn't have nightmares after watching it; And, I didn't jump at my ringing phone (it's been more than seven days anyway, so I think I'm safe). I did, however, cover my eyes, hug my friend's arm, and plug my ears throughout my viewing experience.

The film concerns the demonic haunting of the Perron family. They move into a dilapidated barn house in the middle of nowhere and immediately begin having paranormal experiences. Mrs. Perron wakes up with inexplicable black bruises while the Perron children have trouble sleeping because the house is cold and stinky at night. Doors slam, clocks stop, littlest daughter sees dead people, etc., etc. Instead of moving, the Perron family seeks the expertise of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The movie escalates from there.

What I like best about The Conjuring is that the directors seem to know that horror-goers aren't necessarily watching these films to see the scariest monsters, ghosts, and demons. They know that it's what you don't see that's scariest. In fact, there's one scene in particular that really got to me. In this scene, an invisible entity keeps pulling Christine Perron's foot as she sleeps. Christine wakes up and frantically warns her sleeping sister that there is something menacing staring at them behind the door. Like Christine's sister, I kept staring at the darkness behind the door searching for a figure. I couldn't see anything! Not a face, a leg, or a hand. But my heart was pounding and I was cowering behind my make-shift hair curtain. This is why this movie is good. This is why this movie is actually scary. The film managed to get me holding my breath and biting my nails without using some crappy CGI demon.

This is who the Perron sisters really saw that night in their room.

The Conjuring is full of unexpected scares. But, even the expected scares are unsettling. For example, I found the clapping game the Perron children play throughout the film effectively frightening. It wasn't overused or comedic. It was right on point.
Applause now gives me 'nam flashbacks. Thanks, The Conjuring!
Although The Conjuring is genuinely scary, I will say that I found the religious overtones annoying and unnecessary--and not because I'm nonreligious. I find it hard as a cynic to embrace or accept that (the Christian) God is the hero of these demon stories. If we believe in these biblical demons, we then have to believe (at least within the confines of the film) in the God that exorcises the demons. Ultimately, The Conjuring has a happy ending, because God saves the day. I don't like horror stories that have happy endings or happy messages. That's why I couldn't sleep for days after watching The Ring, while I sleep comfortably after watching The Conjuring. After all, Samara is still out there killing in seven day increments, but  Bathsheba, the evil witch demon from The Conjuring, can't be conjured anymore.

Ending preferences aside,  The Conjuring is a fairly frightening film and it's worth a watch. I'd give it a 3.5/5.



SPOILERS AHEAD If you've seen the film, here are my questions/critiques:

1.       Annabelle the doll is scary. Like, really scary. Why would anyone buy her for a child in the first place? And, dolls don't have muscles, so how could she possibly write those vague messages (No we didn't miss you, you're a fucking doll and we're 25 years old, that would be weird).

2.       What did Lorraine see when she touched the possessed man? I feel like his possession would have been way more compelling than Mrs. Perron's. Prequel?

3.        Mr. Perron knows that his wife is the target of the demonic possession, yet he leaves her with the children at the hotel while he goes to buy some groceries. He likes to play fast and loose with his children, I guess.

4.       Mrs. Perron nearly kills her children, but she is never detained or questioned by the police. I know there's a cop at the exorcism, but I doubt his cop friends would accept the oldest murdery excuse in the book, "The demon made me do it!"

 ...Next time you've murdered someone, you should get your lawyer to try this defense. I want to see if it actually works.

5.       Why didn't the Perrons investigate, even briefly, the history of their new house (before buying it)? I know the film takes place in the 70's, so google isn't a thing yet (that's a horror story for another day, kids), but that doesn't work as an excuse here. Mrs. Warren is able to find a whole pile of recorded suicides, disappearances, and murders that took place in or near that house. It looked like her research didn't take more than a day to find, either.