Blog Directory CineVerse: Horror has a new home

Horror has a new home

Thursday, October 30, 2014

As far as haunted house movies go, there are few as creepy and unnerving as "The Conjuring." Such was the consensus opinion among CineVerse members who braved a viewing of the film last evening. Here are the conclusions we reached:

WHY AND HOW IS “THE CONJURING” AN EFFECTIVE MODERN HORROR FILM, CONSIDERING HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO MAKE AN EFFECTIVE HORROR MOVIE OF LASTING QUALITY?
·       It isn’t innovative, pioneering or completely original, but instead it take a lot of the conventions, tropes and clich├ęs we’ve come to expect in scary movies and blends them together for a nice macabre medley. Consider the tropes/conventions it uses:
o   The summoning of a team of “ghostbusters”/paranormal investigators (as in “Poltergeist,” “The Haunting,” and “Paranormal Activity”)
o   The depiction of demonic possession and of an exorcism rite (as in “The Exorcist,” “The Rite,” and “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”)
o   Use of a creepy/possessed doll (a la “Poltergeist” and “Child’s Play”)
o   Creepy sleepwalking sequences (think “Paranormal Activity” and even old school horror flicks like “The Uninvited” and “I Walked With a Zombie”)
o   Infanticide (as in “Frailty,” “The Sixth Sense,” and “The Ring”)
o   Animals/nature attacking a house and family (“The Birds,” “The Omen,” “The Amityville Horror”)
o   The notion of “sticky” hauntings, wherein the characters can’t escape the paranormal threat by simply leaving the premises (think “Insidious” and “The Sixth Sense”).
o   Hidden compartments/cubbies in the house (“A Nightmare on Elm Street,” “Psycho)
o   Invisible grabbings by the spirit/demon (“Drag Me to Hell,” “Paranormal Activity”)
·       Its setting is the early 1970s in New England, making it a period piece; it’s sometimes harder to criticize modern movies set in the past; in this case, the film is tipping its cap to many classic horror films made in the 1970s and 1960s, and is trying to remind us of that time period by dating it to that era, evoking horror nostalgia.
·       It employs a nesting narrative (a story within a story) with the flashback sequence about Annabelle the haunted doll, which builds intrigue and creates a richer mythology around the story and its affected characters.
·       It follows two parallel storylines: the Perron family, and the Warren family, creating suspense/tension in our concern for the safety of both parties. This is achieved via good casting and performances, along with well-written roles and dialogue.
·       The story, as written, is a slow burner that builds tension by establishing the characters and their predicament in its first hour, then accelerating to full haunted house mode by the second hour. In other words, it’s not terrifying from the first few moments; it tries to create a plausible back story and introduce fairly well-rounded characters properly first.
·       As reviewer Scott Tobias wrote: “(The Conjuring) establishes the space extremely well. I know the layout of the Perron house as if it were my own, and the effect for viewers is that they know the danger areas, like the bedroom with the armoire of doom near the staircase, or the secret cellar of doom off the kitchen. This adds that extra layer of tension during those hid-and-go-clap games the Perrons like to play.”
·       The Conjuring also ratchets up the intrigue by claiming it is based on a true story (even though the credibility of that story and its sources are questionable; consider that Lorraine Warren has said the events dramatized in the movie are vastly different from what actually happened.) Even though this claim is deceptive (as is the claim that prefaces “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “The Blair Witch Project”), it is still effective at grabbing the audience. It’s also in keeping with the recent trend of many horror films claiming that they are based on actual events (for example: “An American Haunting”; “The Haunting in Connecticut”; and “The Possession.”)
·       Additionally, this is a rare example of a film that was given an R rating, despite not having any nudity, profanity or excessive graphic violence/gore, simply on the basis of being frightening. It doesn’t resort to cheap shocks, slasher tactics or gross-out effects. Executive producer Walter Hamada had publicly said that the MPAA told the filmmakers “It’s just so scary. (There are) no specific scenes or tone that you could take out to get it PG-13.”
·       While there are computer generated effects used in the film, most of the tricks and effects are achieved in the camera, without digital enhancement, lending old school cache to the picture.
·       The movie often relies on moments of unsettling quiet and stillness to scare viewers, as well as creative framing techniques (think about the scene where the demon appears on the edge of the frame as it comes into Lili Taylor’s vision), instead of resorting to overused music stings.
·       It also doesn’t try to end on a sudden jolt, twist or cliffhanger in the last shot, as if to suggest a coming sequel. Instead, there is resolution to the Perron family’s story, but not necessarily to the Warren family’s story, creating a feeling of uncertainty and unsettled emotion.

CAN YOU CITE ANY RELEVANT THEMES EXAMINED IN THIS FILM?
·       The American Dream turned into a nightmare: the Perrons imagined their Rhode Island farmhouse as their dream home, but it gradually turns into a house of horrors.
·       The power of love over evil, of functional families (the Perrons) over dysfunctional families (Bathsheba’s family), and the holy over the profane.

WHAT OTHER MOVIES DOES “THE CONJURING” REMIND YOU OF?
·       The Haunting (1963)
·       Poltergeist
·       The Changeling
·       The Exorcist
·       Psycho

OTHER FILMS DIRECTED BY JAMES WAN
·       Saw (2004)
·       Insidious (2011)

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