Modern Day Horror Classic: The Conjuring

 Note: As I repost my modern day horror classic reviews from 2018, this is one that perhaps horror snobs may look down on.  Did The Conjuring push any boundaries?  Nope, not really.  Did it have terrific and multilayered writing?  Nope, not really.  What James Wan's The Conjuring did was absolutely hook audiences with a great concept, spooky atmosphere, and interesting characters.  This is far from horror perfection, but it serves its purpose delightfully well as it rushes the viewer through its runtime.  As well, this movie started a cinematic shared universe that has seen a further seven films hit theatres, with the films raking up over $2 billion.  While I only gave it three stars, there is no way that I could not consider this heavyweight to be a modern horror classic.

Original Review:

 Director James Wan made a name for himself with the low-budget, high concept horror film, Saw, a movie that kicked off a massive franchise.  From there, Wan teamed up with Saw scriptwriter Leigh Whannell (who has grown into a very talented director as well) in a movie that I couldn't stand called Dead Silence.  From there it was Insidious, a second hugely popular franchise created by Wan and Whannell.  In 2013, Wan worked with different writers, Chad and Carey Hayes, on a 'based on real life' film, The Conjuring.  The resultant product nailed it with both critics (86% on Rotten Tomatoes) and fans, making $320 million world wide on a budget of just $20 million. 

Landmark movies are easy to spot, whether you like them or not.  I saw Paranormal Activity in theatres, and, as much as I didn't enjoy it, it was undeniable that the audience was enraptured and that movies would be changed going forward.  Seeing The Conjuring in theatres, the audience experience was so different.  While in Paranormal Activity the scenes only were constructed to lead to a moment that would make the audience jump, The Conjuring gripped people in a different way.  It was through old school story telling that viewers were being immersed.  This appreciation was echoed in the box office.  Paranormal Activity, the financial juggernaut of a franchise, tallied up $890 million world wide from six movies.  The 'shared universe' that was created from The Conjuring has racked up $1.5 billion from five movies.

What I would pick as Wan's greatest strength is the fact that you can easily tell that he learns from his movies and works to tighten elements up and further explore compelling ideas.  When he got to The Conjuring, as mentioned above, there was a sense of old school story telling, something that was quite fresh in a time of the poorly premised found footage films that were all over the place.  A downside to calling on the old school was the fact that there is a scene at the beginning of the movie when a family is moving into an old house where the dog refuses to enter.  Mild spoiler, but the moment a horror fan saw that scene they knew that the dog would later be found dead, probably by a young child that would scream.  Other tropes include a child talking to an invisible ghost that wants to be their friend and a haunted trinket.  At least there are no birds flying into things without explanation.  Oh, wait...

The story is about a family with five kids that find themselves living in a haunted house.  Lili Taylor plays the mother, Carolyn, and Ron Livingston plays the father, Roger.  In an attempt to find relief from the pestering of the dark spirit, real life paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren are called upon.  Take these people with a big ol' grain of pink Himalayan salt, as they 'investigated' the famous Amityville house and said it was truly haunted, even though it came out that it was nothing but a hoax devised over wine.

However, be them snake oil salespeople or not, Wan and the Hayes siblings are smart enough to know that these characters are going to be key in how the audience accepts the movie as a whole.  There are scares, but then there is also the art of making everything mean something as an entire package.  Paranormal Activity made the entire audience jump, but, from the people I have talked to, it failed to make them really connect with the story.  Wan knows that the Warrens are important, and he crafts them as people who are likeable, who care deeply about others, but who also have learned that there is a line in the sand (sorry for the cliche) that they can no longer cross.  This is the backbone of the film, as they desire to help, but the repercussions could be massive.  All of this is developed even more-so in the The Conjuring 2, which I feel is a much stronger movie.

Playing the Warrens are the incredible Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson.  It is clear that they really care about the characters they are portraying, and they slip into their skin with finesse and ease.  They are relatable, and it is easy to feel the impact of the decisions they must make.  The casting here is so brilliant, giving a grounded connection to the audience.

It is because there is an actual story to care about that makes The Conjuring really stand out from others of its time.  There were so many atrocious movies that really didn't care about their overall stories, much less their leads.  Things aren't necessarily deep and reflective in this film, but it just goes to show the difference that caring about the entire product can do.

The Conjuring really felt like James Wan's scariest film when it came out.  As I said, it is clear that he grows and learns from each project, and the spoils of that culminate in The Conjuring (and even much more in the sequel).  In the film, we do have some jump scares, but there are also many moments where it is all about the build and the atmosphere.  The house itself is a character, and not utilizing the location is a fault more common than you would imagine.

This was supposed to be Wan's final horror.  He had moved on to direct the box office Goliath Furious Seven, but he couldn't stay away for long.  It is clear that this is in his blood, and it is something that he is undeniably successful at.  How many other directors have created three mega hit franchises?  Those franchises alone, forgetting the $1.5 billion from Wan's Furious Seven, have made over $3 billion.  James Wan knows how to connect with audiences, and I couldn't be more excited about his upcoming Aquaman.  I know that movie's going to do well.

You may look at my rating of three stars for this movie and think that it shouldn't be considered a classic.  The Conjuring gave us something to care about in a time when story telling was beyond secondary to jump scares.  It used atmosphere, and it reminded audiences that there was so much more to the movie experience.   It could never be said that it didn't leave a massive impact on the entire horror landscape.  It isn't deep, it isn't insightful, but it is joyous fun, and the mark that it left on popular cinema was a positive one.

Rating - 3 out of 4 stars