Sunday, August 18, 2013

Love: The Conjuring

Somewhere along the way I learned to love the horror film.  And when you learn to love the horror film, you find that you become a sort of advocate for the genre.  Horror fans -casual to obsessive- seem to have to constantly defend the repetitive, often reprehensible actions of the movies they like.  It's a cheap, B-movie genre characterized (perhaps more than any other category), by crummy dialogue, cheesy effects, and plots as complicated as a Girl Scout campfire story; we expect little more than a thrill or two, a laugh, or a reason to double check our locks.  I'll admit it: most of the time I watch a horror film just because and I expect absolutely nothing in return.  So many of them are dreadful, and, because of that, laughably fun.  A truly bad horror film is not a ridiculous one, but a boring one. A passable horror movie is like a roller coaster (but the fourth time around). And a great scary movie? A genuine one? Those are rare.  Considering the number released each year, there are really only a few horror films that have mastered their elements potently enough to extend beyond the realm of the midnight movie and towards a truly general audience. 

When they do, they stick out as exemplars passed down gleefully over generations.  The Exorcist, Halloween, Psycho, The Shining; these are some of the places where critics, horror fans, and our pop cultural vocabulary intersect.  As this review of The Conjuring runs a little late, I'm pretty sure you already know where I'm going with this lead-in.  The Conjuring is one of the great ones.  It's an instant genre classic, a phenomenal theater-going experience, a piece of shiny shiny retro-gold that seems to prove that there are still ways to make that worn-down recycled haunted house new, that there are still ghost stories to be told, and that upgrading the quality of the raw materials makes all the damn difference in the world.  
The Conjuring is about as well-built a fright fest as they come, and boasts a story as compelling as the raw terror it aims for.  Like The Exorcist before it, The Conjuring divides its attentions between the family impacted by the restless spirits of the house, and the paranormal investigators trying to help them out.  The story, supposedly true, is filtered through Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the real-life husband and wife demonologist and medium whose case files previously inspired The Amityville Horror.  Here, we meet the two as touring curiosities presenting their work to lecture halls of anxious students, and get to know them as a surprisingly normal family.  We like them, they aren't sinister, and we see how they could easily get along with the troubled Perron clan, how they could be welcome into their restless home with open, well-meaning arms after weeks of frightening incidents.  The stories run parallel before intersecting, and the more we learn about the incidents occurring to Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters, the more we're prepared for the situation to build, escalate, and continue beyond its already jarring prelude.  It's a layering that works to the film's advantage, and the quality of the actors allows us to buy into the reality of the events in ways that shaky camerawork simply can't.

Much has been made of The Conjuring's R-rating for 'terror', and the shocking amount of success it has had in manifesting that warning into its audience's reality.  Though I've never been one to get flustered by the jumpy scares the haunted house horror film has to offer, and there was never a point I found myself truly surprised, I can say there are more than a few anxious scenes in The Conjuring...and they're delightful.  The scares are organic, immediate, and somehow without the bloodbath pyrotechnics (not that that's a bad thing, always) of so many of its kin.  It's the first horror film in ages I want to run around recommending to everyone I know, and so I'll end with this: see it. See it right now.  Do yourself a favor, get over your anxiety, go...

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