Conjuring Up the Next Great Horror Movie

I don't see horror movies in the theater, because too often, the audience can kill it for me. I know some people feel that being in the dark, surrounded by a hundred or so people who will jump at all the right moments, heightens the experience. But for me, it's always tedious when people are talking during the inevitably whispered scenes that are key to the plot, or when someone decides to yell out something during an especially tense moment. I usually prefer my horror flicks while sitting on my couch, in the dark, where I can truly get into it.

But because of the buzz surrounding The Conjuring--with an opening weekend take of $41.9, it's become the largest opening all-time for an original horror film--I figured I had to see it in the theater. Plus, my mom and dad wanted to go too, and I don't get to see movies with them often these days (plus, they treated!)

Although I had heard and read such great things--CinemaScore gives it an A-, and no horror film has ever received a higher grade from them--I went into it with tempered expectations. Horror movies over the past 10 years have been increasingly better than the decade or so before, but the endings always seem incredibly stupid to me. It's as if the makings of the next great horror movie are there, and there are moments that build toward that distinction, but then the writer or director just gets lazy and slaps any old ending on it. In real life, sometimes hauntings just stop; that isn't acceptable in a Hollywood story arc.

Dream House, The Devil Inside, The Possession, The Apparition, The Last Exorcism and a whole host of others drew me in, only to disappoint me in the end. And I won't even get into The Cabin in the Woods.

The ending of The Conjuring wasn't what I'd hoped for, either, but it wasn't as much of a let-down. I enjoyed the ride of getting there way too much, and I knew there had to be something intense in the final 20 minutes. It might not be what really happened, but it's what needed to happen for the movie to reach its acceptable conclusion.

Of course, the film did take a number of liberties with the actual events, but that's why films like this are "based on a true story." It's okay to take what really happened and add some artistic license...without it, we wouldn't have the great American tales that we all know and love. Take the facts, sprinkle in a little added drama, and viola! If you do it right, you've got something special.

And this movie is indeed something special. Perhaps it's because of the subject matter and the fact that people I know and trust are part of the history of this case, but I walked out of the theater feeling as though I'd seen a worthy successor to the horror films of my younger days which, in part, drove my passion for the paranormal. Is The Conjuring as good as The Exorcist? Is it up there with Poltergeist in my paranormal pantheon?  Will it become a lifelong obsession like The Amityville Horror? No, but that's okay.

In an age where Paranormal Activity is what passes for a haunted house movie and Saw is the gold standard for slasher flicks, it's hard to find a true horror classic. James Wan, who has been building his horror chops over the past decade with films like the aforementioned Saw and another flick I enjoyed a great deal, Insidious, was at the helm of The Conjuring, and he may have made his masterpiece. At 36 years old, he's from my generation and has created our defining haunted house movie.

There are subtle builds to the scary moments, rather than in-your-face jump-outs. The audience is given enough time to not only become afraid, but to get inside the on-screen characters' heads and experience their fear as well. The Perrons are just like any other loving family. This could happen to any of us (just a side note, however: despite what the film says, Andrea Perron has assured me that all of the children were baptized and the family was indeed a churchgoing unit). And Wan is gifted enough to make it feel like it is happening to us.

And I should point out that the acting of Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron and Ron Livingston as Roger Perron is superb. I'm normally not a big fan of Taylor, and it's hard for me to imagine Livingston doing anything but preparing TPS reports. But they're the first couple I've wanted to see escape the clutches of the demonic since Steve and Diane Freeling.

This movie also (finally) introduces Ed and Lorraine Warren to the big screen. Long considered two of the most influential paranormal investigators, they are brought to life by actors Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, and you can tell how much they wanted to accurately portray the First Couple of the Paranormal. They come across as genuine, loving and in something that actually flies in the face of the legend that has developed around them, apprehensive about dealing with the evil that faces them. I never root for the "ghost hunters" in these movies but you can't help but root for the Warrens.

With the film's runaway success and the strong performances of Wilson and Farmiga, a sequel is inevitable. In fact, I wont' give it away, but The Conjuring sets itself up nicely for the continuing adventures of the Warrens, even if the dates don't exactly match up. It's extremely rare that a horror sequel can match up to the original, but I'm convinced that if anyone can do it, it's Wan.

 
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