Now being a horror movie fan, I have watched many horror movies, and I must say most are really lousy. So what makes The Conjuring any different?
Based on the synopsis above, you would think it sounds like your average horror movie which is full of cliches. How many times do they want to make a movie about a haunted house? Didn't we see all that in Paranormal Activity? Or Poltergeist? Or even Amityville Horror?
Watch the trailer below.
Incidentally, Amityville Horror, a 1979 movie, is based on another true story also investigated by the same couple - demonologist Ed Warren and clairvoyant Lorraine Warren. But it was later found out to be a hoax. The couple were accused of making up stories which were baseless. If they were in fact faking the story, then why would anyone believe The Conjuring is real?
Lorraine Warren, now 86, and who was a consultant for The Conjuring, insisted that the story is true. Together with her husband, Ed Warren (who passed away in 2006), they were a well known couple, having studied, documented and combated supernatural occurrences for decades.
They even own a museum near their house which contains objects and artifacts from their most celebrated cases, including the scary Annabelle doll. And what's even more creepy is that a priest continues to bless the items and pray over the household every night till this very day!
By the way, this museum was also shown in the movie. But it was in the form of a room inside the house and their young daughter was forbidden to enter the room. And as for that Annabelle doll, you will have to watch the movie to know what it's all about!
Interestingly, prior to filming, actors Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga met up with Lorraine Warren to get first hand insights into her story. Vera opted not to visit the museum but Patrick was brave enough to even pose with the Annabelle doll! LOL!
Ed Warren and Annabelle in the artifacts room
As for the authenticity of the story, they even interviewed Andrea Perron, the oldest of the 5 daughters of Roger and Carolyn Perron (played respectively by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor). Andrea now 54, said that the film is a 'beautiful tapestry' with many elements of truth and some fiction.
Watch this trailer which also features members of the real Perron family.
So how much was fiction and how much was the truth is entirely up to the audience to judge. Now back to the movie.
Note : SPOILER ALERT beyond this point!!
Next we get to see the Perron family moving into their new home. Their dog refused to enter the house and ended up dead the next day. I have to admit I saw this one coming so it was somewhat cliched to me.
What followed next had all the elements of a horror movie. Things like creaking doors, whispering voices, banging walls, sudden drop in temperature, tinkling wind chimes, dark basement and lurking shadows. They were however not really scary to me - perhaps I watched too many horror movies and I had seen them all. Even the unexplained bruises suffered by Carolyn Perron did not seem that disturbing to me.
However, that does not mean I did not enjoy the movie. It was pretty entertaining and even anxiety-inducing. Director James Wan really knew how to build up the tension and honestly, there was not a boring moment. I was glued to the screen the whole time, and occasionally at the edge of my seat!
The musical score by Joseph Bishara was also pretty effective in setting the mood of the entire film. By the way, did you know that Joseph also acted as Bathsheba, the evil witch who was the source of the hauntings?
So if this movie looks similar to all those other haunted house movies - you know the drill - family moves into house, strange stuffs happen, experts called in to investigate, exorcise the ghosts - what sets it apart from the rest?
I think it was the actors who made all the difference. The whole cast did an amazing job with really believable performances. Lily Taylor was superb as the mother who loves her family so when she pleaded with the Warrens to help her, it was really heartfelt. It made me want the whole family to be safe!
As for the Warrens, they were not depicted simply as ghost hunters, but as a loving couple with a daughter. Vera Farmiga was excellent in her portrayal of the vulnerable but firm Lorraine, whose work as a clairvoyant had taken a toll on her. It was learnt that her last case prior to this was pretty traumatic as she had seen something so frightening that she had locked herself in her room for 8 days! This really made me root for her and her husband when they had to fend off the demonic forces which even threatened their daughter's life.
Although the movie did not really scare me, I did however feel quite uneasy when the Perron girls mentioned they could smell rotten or decaying flesh in the house whenever the evil presence was there. This is because I knew a few friends in real life who actually have this 'gift' of smelling dead people and spirits. They told me the smell was horrible and bad, like rotten flesh. You know who you are if you are reading this.
A scene which I found to be quite chilling was that corpse hanging from the tree in front of the house. That actually prompted gasps and nervous laughter from the audience. The scene where the ghost jumped from above the wardrobe was also quite scary and somewhat reminded me of the Hong Kong horror movie The Eye.
Another scary and rather disturbing scene was the part where one of the sisters sleepwalked and banged her head against the wardrobe door. I don't know why but I have to say the image of the girl standing in front of the wardrobe in the middle of the night and banging her head is more scary than any ghosts!
The part where all the clocks in the house seem to stop at exactly 3.07am every morning gave me a deja vu feeling. It probably reminded me of a similar clock stopping scenario in a far more scarier movie - The Exorcism Of Emily Rose.
The Conjuring also revisited the old scare tactic of peeping under the bed. It was not really scary, but the tension of waiting for whatever that would suddenly jump out from underneath the bed would surely increase your anxiety level up a few notches. And of course, that pulling-of-the-leg-while-one-is-lying-in-bed scene would definitely give nightmares to anyone who are not used to watching horror movies!
The Perron girls seem to enjoy playing hide and clap, a game whereby one person is blindfolded and she has to count until 10 while the others quickly go and hide. After that she moves around the house, still blindfolded, in search for those who hide. She is allowed to ask those in hiding to clap their hands for 2 times to locate them. Once she is sure of their location, she will then ask them to clap a third time. Doing this in a normal house is perfectly fine, but when you do this in a haunted house, it can become nerve wrecking!
And so when Carolyn was trapped in the basement and all of a sudden she heard clapping sounds and two hands appeared from behind - that sure as hell made me jump! Watch that scary scene in this trailer below.
One scene I found most memorable was the part when Lorraine was taking down the laundry outside the house. All of a sudden, the skies turned dark as if a storm is coming, and then without warning, a gust of strong wind blew and lifted up a laundry cloth, made it flew dramatically to the window on the top floor of the house to reveal a ghostly image of a female ghost!
It was interesting to watch how The Conjurer effectively explored the theme on demonic possession and exorcism. Since both Ed and Lorraine Warrens also gave lectures on the paranormal, we were given a short explanation of the the 3 stages of possession. Read more about the 3 stages HERE.
Ed and Lorraine explaining the 3 stages of demonic possession
To rid the house of the evil presence, the Warrens said that the house need to be exorcised. To do that would require a qualified exorcist approved by the Catholic Church. But in order to convince the Church to do so, enough evidence of the hauntings must be produced, and that's where the Warrens come in.
However, as Ed warned Roger Perron, exorcism often goes horribly wrong. And to add to the complication, the Perrons were not deeply religious and their 5 daughters were not baptized yet. This is quite surprising information to me as I did not know you need to be deeply religious for the exorcism to work!
The latter part of the movie which sees Carolyn being possessed and an exorcism unwittingly being carried out by Ed Warren was quite exciting but still, it wasn't the scariest exorcism scene I've seen in a movie. I still think no movies have yet surpassed The Exorcist in this regard.
The good thing I like about this movie was the minimal use of CGI and other fancy digital effects. It was more of an old-school classic horror movie employing techniques used in horror movies of the 70's and 80's like The Exorcist and The Omen. Unfortunately, it fell short of achieving the same high standards as The Exorcist in terms of depth and story telling.
I still remember how the scary effects linger on long after I finished watching The Exorcist and The Eye (original Hong Kong version). But for The Conjuring, the scariness seems to stay behind in the cinema hall. Still, I would highly recommend this movie.
And by the way, since the Warrens have investigated so many supernatural cases, a sequel is already confirmed!
Storyline : 6/10
Scariness : 6/10
Sound Effects : 8/10
Suspense : 9/10
Acting : 10/10
*Warning Note : Scariness is subjective. I have watched too many horror movies so it's difficult to scare me. If you seldom watch horror movies, and you get scared easily, my 6/10 may turn out to be 9/10 for you. FYI, The Conjuring was given an R rating by MPAA not for blood, gore, swearing or sex, but simply because it was deemed too scary!
Read more about the true story behind The Conjuring HERE