The Conjuring – James Wan – 2013



You know that disclaimer at the end of films that says, “Any similarities between the characters here and real persons is purely coincidental”? James Wan’s The Conjuring has no such label because it’s based on actual events. The case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren have inspired several films including The Amityville Horror. These demonologist lovers were all but exorcists themselves and according to the many families they have helped throughout the years they were righteous agents of God and truly humanistic, empathetic individuals.

The film begins with what has become Wan’s signature, a doll. A potent metaphor that has served wan well, a hollow creature, an imitation of life, a shell. A pair of young women who live together are haunted by a demon that has taken up refuge in a doll. We are introduced to the Warrens as they help the girls out and explain to them with reason and faith the facts as they see them. This becomes part of a larger scene where the Warrens are seen giving a lecture on the paranormal in a college classroom. This context paints the Warrens, not as religious icons first, but rather as academics and scientists.

Next, we cut to the Perron family, Mother, Father, five Daughters, moving into a creepy as all hell Rhode Island Farmhouse. I don’t know what it is, but Rhode Island is a haunted, freaky place. Poe knew it, Lovecraft knew it, and the residents know it. Still, the family of seven get all their money tied up in this farmhouse and wouldn’t you know it a witch hung herself there after she made a pact with satan to destroy all who might inherit her land.

Before long the film is begging comparison to Poltergeist, The Entity and The Exorcist. But only in content, for the form is all James Wan. Wan keeps the cameras moving around and exploring space, always giving us room to see something just out of view of the characters. Often he will invert this rule, giving us character reactions to some fearful entity for seemingly endless moments before revealing to us some foul visage of malevolence.

The sound design and score are as crafted and precise as any horror film that came before it and I’ll be impressed if any score keeps me as on the edge of my seat this year. (Insidious 2 is coming so, eeeek.) There are huge pools of silence punctuated by the smallest of noises, yet when the creep really comes the score swirls maliciously and atonally freaking you out with madness.

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are stellar as Ed and Lorraine Warren and they exude the right amount of tender familial underpinnings and ghostbusting bravado necessary. During the first act Wan cuts between both the Warren and Perron family and this device allows us time to empathize with both groups. After all, the Warrens have a little girl who is curious about the demon doll in the Warren trove of Supernatural and possessed objects. That this room exists in real life is pretty amazing, and this room looks like if every box in warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark was open and its’ contents put up on display.

All of the production design is top notch, from the farmhouse to the ghosts to the possessed people to that damn tree that I can’t tell whether is real or not. But it’s a freaky tree. Craft is what sets this film apart from others and craft is what will make it a classic.

What is really surprising and nice and old school about the film is the presence of faith and the assumption in both God and the devil and demons. The Warrens are very matter of fact about these things and despite the Perron family being an un-baptized bunch they treat them with not one ounce of hostility. This is the kind of evenhanded faith-themed approach films should have. It’s not pushy or preachy, but it kind of assumes that otherworldly powers exist and there’s not a scientist or atheist around to call bullshit and undermine our heroes.

And if this stuff is real, the Warrens appear to be heroes of the first order. They put their lives, their minds and their marriage in jeopardy to help others. They do battle with demons and devils. And, at least in the content of the film, never ask for anything and do good all out of a capacity to do so.

One of my favorite aspects of this film is its willingness to take these families and turn them against one another. As in The Exorcist and The Shining we have these incredible moments of tension where a family member is tested by threat of a possessed relation. This fear, this trouble, the fact that a protector is turning against the innocent is the greatest of all atrocities and it keeps the stakes as high as can be. That this film is almost entirely a bloodless affair and the MPAA sought to rate it R is not only a testament to how scary the film is, (which it is), but also I think to this type of context where a parent is horrifically portrayed as monstrous. I love that what makes this film scary is the context and not just the phenomena.

This brings us to Lily Taylor, without whom the film falls. Her portrayal of this mother in crisis elevates the film to soaring levels. The academy rarely acknowledges this type of work but it totally has precedent, so here’s hoping. Warner Brothers should really push for that come Oscar time, she really nails it. 

The Conjuring is a Horror Film of the highest order and the greatest work thus far of James Wan. One of our true masters of Horror, Wan summons dread and fear through a mastery of the cinematic language that few of his peers possess. I eagerly await both Insidious 2 and Fast 7, and any other films this artist in stride has on his plate. Furthermore, I hope that The Conjuring can be convincing that a classic horror style can be just as dread inducing as some instant gratification torture show.


The Conjuring is a masterpiece.



2 Responses to “The Conjuring – James Wan – 2013”

  1. Can’t wait to see it- thanks for the review!

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