Director: James Wan
So, it's not a huge secret that I'm a little skeptical of a lot of horror. When you're like "you know that scene in Hereditary?" I'm like "Nope." I mean, I just don't make time for it. I'd rather be watching guys in large suits make time with dames with great hair and schemes.
But enough has been said about The Conjuring from 2013, that I finally watched it as I rev up for Halloween season. And, I genuinely liked it. Well, I liked about half of it. The rest was fine. Which I know will be taken as "bad", but that's not what I mean. I was fine with it up to a point, and then I really liked it.
My favorite haunted house movie is and will be a tie between The Shining and 1963's version of The Haunting. But... this one sure ain't bad. And, as was discussed elsewhere with MBell, this is a Stefon movie.
Ghosts. Witches. Murder mysteries. Sleep walking. A cursed doll. Flying chairs. 70's Pantsuits. Lily Taylor.
The first half of the movie is, unfortunately, a whole lot like Amityville Horror. And I was really afraid American social media had simply not seen Amityville Horror and was therefore really jazzed about a movie that was very famous and already existed, and based on case featuring the exact same real-life ghost hunters. The film's beginning is more than competent, but there sure are a lot of parallels between the movies, and so... you know. I like Lily Taylor in anything, and it's a treat to see Ron Livington in a wig. But.
Anyhoo... then shit goes... cray-cray. And y'all know I like that.
Wan and his editors found some excellent ways to build tension without making it irritating or going on too much about it. Pacing is excellent, and the clues dropped here and there manage to quickly crescendo into a real problem. I genuinely thought, though, "why Lily Taylor?" as the movie progressed. Like - she's a no-kidding-around talent, so making her the supportive wife and confused mother seemed like a paycheck but not much else for her.
The story interleaves the domestic scene of the Warrens, our ghost hunting married duo who carry the series forward. Ed is our scholarly investigator and he's married to Lorraine, a psychic/ sensitive/ what-have-you. Look, she can see spirits and whatnot. Frankly, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are fine, but seem a little cheesy. Somewhat like the Queen movie, the participation of the real people in the film means they get a layer of gloss and polish that reads a little hokey as the film works to put them in the best light and then asks you to buy into "we're just going to take it at face value that this person sees ghosts, ok?".
It's a bit unusual that one of these movies outside of The Exorcist focuses so much on the folks coming to investigate - but the two tales do intersect and someone really wanted to make a franchise out of the Warrens as the new Mulder and Scully fighting ghostly evil.
But when the movie shifts into a new gear in the second half, we go from well-done standard issue spooky stuff to full blown horror that feels like a modern generation of what Exorcist and other films were up to. The old farmhouse becomes a sort of labyrinth, and the stakes go from "what's that sound?" to some well-timed and wonderfully choreographed stunts/ FX. And, of course, Lily Taylor gets to show you why they obtained her for the role. I don't see her in as much stuff as I'd like, but, dang. Always a fan.
We talk on the PodCast a lot about if something makes a good Halloween movie, and, y'all this one hits all the buttons. It is genuine terror at facing unknown forces, threatening life, limb and sanity. It's the unknown, and never fully understood, but maybe containable? It may have two or three more cheap jump scares than I like in the first half, but when it kicks into gear and starts peeling back straight up scariness (the first scene I found really effective was pretty early on, but the one that sealed it was just a girl - I think who played Ramona in Ramona and Beezus, which is good in another way - just screaming and saying she saw someone in a corner - that sealed the deal.
Look, if I have a beef, it's nothing to do with the contents of the film. But the studio made a lot of noise about "based on a true story", and I'll be honest with y'all: I do not believe in believe in UFOs, astral projections, mental telepathy, ESP , clairvoyance, spirit photography, telekinetic movement, full trance mediums, the Loch Ness monster or the theory of Atlantis. Even for a steady paycheck. The folks this movie is supposedly based on are the Warrens, a pair of charlatans who perpetrated the Amityville Horror hoax, and were able to cash in on America's late 20th Century Satanic Panic like no one's business. I'll let you google them, but "pious Catholics just doing the Lord's work" is maybe not what they were.
So, you know, watch it. Enjoy it. Be thrilled and/ or scared. But, you know, as with any movie claiming to be based on history, watch with caution. I think the movie is a scary good time, and you'll dig it pretty well. But it's also not a documentary.