A legitimate question arises when asked what the future of the horror genre will look like cinematically. A case could be made for two extremes, the first being a completely deconstructionist and visceral cinematic form influenced by the anthology style films of the past few years or the particular rebirth of the found footage genre (which I have gone on record as adoring). The second possibility is a complete return to the classic style, at least in namesakes, evidence by gorier and less-campy remakes of cult classics like Evil Dead or the impending Carrie remake, whose trailer gives the entire plot away in its quickly paced trailer. While I am a fan of the former, I would bet that the most likely result will be a hybrid of the two, at times resting more heavily on the visceral post-modern style and in other scenarios going for the classicist approach. The truly great films of the next couple of decades will be the ones that perfectly mesh the two together to provide a movie going experience that can prove favorable to both the traditionalist horror fan and the young moviegoer who favors a barrage of intense and challenging imagery. While I am still hesitant to give it my full support, what James Wan's recent The Conjuring does manage to do is create the perfect hybrid of the two possibilities. By first situating his film within the era of the seventies, a high point for horror films, it becomes clear that Wan demands his offering be taken seriously cinematically, yet his continual breaking of the cinematic barrier to turn the camera upside down or move to digital handheld to keep a sense of the point of view action so necessary to newer horror films, show a sense of the new and unseen within the genre prior. In fact, if I were to focus on this film from a purely cinematic structuralist frame of reference I would unapologetically call it the most important work of horror in the 2010's so far, however, it is not entirely a work of structuralism, wherein both V/H/S and Cabin in the Wood are, therefore, things like narrative and character performance come into play and, tragically, it is precisely these elements that prevent The Conjuring from being great, but it appears as though I am somewhat alone in this criticism, because as it currently stands it has an IMDB rating that would place it at 188 on the sites top 250 movie list. Admittedly it is a fresh vision of horror that could evolve in the upcoming years into something brilliant, I just wonder if it will not lose some of its appeal once people step back and realize that narratively it is far from revolutionary.
The Conjuring sets itself decidedly in the past, focusing first on the emergence of two paranormal experts Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) whose work with exorcisms and demonology have afforded them clout within the Catholic church, as well as considerable press from skeptics and believers alike. The film focuses on the allegedly real life couples encounter with a particularly nasty demon of whose story they had refused to tell until recently. At this point the narrative shifts to focus on the Perron family of Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor) who along with their five daughters have moved to a rural home in hopes of getting a fresh start on life. However, within a day of moving into their new place it becomes clear that their new house is anything but ideal, and is indeed a place susceptible to what is later referred to as a paranormal infestation. Initially hesitant to acknowledge it as anything threatening Roger and Carolyn attempt to go about their daily lives and hope for a promising future. Yet, when their children and eventually Roger and Carolyn are directly confronted by ghosts, Carolyn reaches out to the Warren's in a last minute act of desperation. It is during this moment that Lorraine senses the depth of Carolyn's troubles and agrees to immediately meet the family where she instantly discovers the grim presence overseeing their home. Upon further research, the Warrens find out that the Perron's new home is a breeding ground for a particularly nasty demon that is the result of a vengeful witch that takes it upon herself to make mother's kill their children. Hoping to prove the presence of demonic spirits and obtain permission for an exorcism to be performed, the Warrens set up surveillance in the Perrons' home and begin camping out to confront the demons, or at the very least prove their presence. What unfolds over the next few nights defies all explanation, even for the season veterans in Ed and Lorraine, as the notions of spatial presence are completely deconstructed when the demon moves not only through the house but seemingly transferring itself long distances without any explanation. Realizing the impending harm that could come from continued demonic infiltration, Ed eventually takes matters into his own hands and performs the exorcism himself, despite not being a man of the cloth proper. The results while favorable for all involved, seem to suggests a temporary fix as the demons linger, awaiting to infiltrate another susceptible being at a moments notice.
This film does so many things right and I really understand the praise it is receive for such choices, I myself am completely on board with its praise visually. The choice to use digital to add the layer of fabricated blackness to the films really made me lean forward, or more often backwards, wondering what was just beyond the veneer of absolute darkness, only to be shown not a creature jumping out but one that is present through a jump cut or something of a non-tradtional reveal. In fact, one could almost say by lingering on the darkness and at times not ending in a jump scare, the film forces viewers to will the demonic presence into the work. Indeed, it is in this stylistic choice that The Conjuring is most similar to its clear inspiration The Exorcist. A film that has ghastly images infiltrate the screen, or superimpose themselves into unlikely situations, The Conjuring, at times does the same, cutting to white noise or revealing a sheet thats composition is quite similar to that of a dangling corpse not as a means to blatantly scare viewers, but to subtly reinforce the constant presence of the non-human entity something almost ordained by the film itself, more so than the diagetic world. This decided fabrication is doubled through the degree of metacinema that runs throughout. I would argue that there are at least three layers going on within the film, the first being the documentary-like establishment of the Warren's, the second being the narrative proper focusing on the Perron family haunting and the third being the filming of the paranormal activity occurring in the house. Indeed then, a fourth possible layer exists wherein the film viewed is its own presence, again like The Exorcist willing its presence into the narrative at times, in moments of POV shots and bizarre angles. All of this is absolutely astounding and visually challenging and would be flawless if it had a narrative to match, but what I can only assume to be a result of studio executives concerns, leads to a cookie cutter narrative whose strings are seen throughout, whether it be a vague (on at least one occasion glaringly direct) suggestion of Lorraine's previous loss of a child or the forced relationship between a white cop and an Asian paranormal investigator it seems sickeningly forced, much like moments of acting. I guess this is to be expected in boundary pushing genre films though. I am sure if I were to revisit the major game changers in horror, I would find similar occurrences. Nonetheless, this is a solid work and understandably worth checking out.
Key Scene: There is a scene where a demonic attack occurs in a house that is not that of the Perron's. It is the most intense moment in the film and clearly owes its existence to The Exorcist, however, it adds a freshness to it that has been long needed in the genre.
Go to a movie theater and see this, while I was initially hesitant about adoring it, just writing this blog made me affirm my adoration of it fully.