Horror has always been popular to some extent, but the last couple of weeks, it proved once again how it can crush the box office with the surprise success of James Wan’s latest, “The Conjuring.” It also proved you don’t need gratuitous gore, violence, nudity or things jumping out and shouting “Boo!” at you to create a creepy atmosphere and an air of fear. In fact, the scariest moments are the most subtle, rather than the “Boo!” moments so common today in the genre.
The film revolves around a true paranormal case investigated by Ed and Lorraine Warren, the latter being most known as the psychic portrayed in “The Amityville Horror.” Yes, she’s real, and not only can you see her frequently on the TV series “Paranormal State,” but she has a cameo as one of the guests at a paranormal lecture in the movie. (The little old lady in the front.)
Anyway, she’s portrayed in this film by Vera Farmiga, and her husband Ed by Patrick Wilson. The Warrens took on a case in 1971 involving a Long Island family named Carolyn and Roger Parren (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters (Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, and Kyla Deaver.)
Already, you have to give kudos to Wan on casting (Is there anyone who doesn’t still love Taylor in “Say Anything? Rhetorical question.)
So the Warrens apparently investigated this house and supposedly never released info on this case till now because it was so scary… even scarier than the allegations in “The Amityville Horror.” Yeah, smells a little fishy to me, too, but it’s a horror film, let’s just roll with it.
The film opens with a documentary style interview with some young women where we learn the backstory of the infamous doll “Annabelle” from the Warren’s collection of paranormal artifacts. This doll actually exists in the Warren’s collection and they swear that thing is pure evil, although it isn’t directly involved in the Parren’s story. We also see them lecturing about the paranormal work they do as a sort of parallel story while the Parrens move in and slowly discover their dream house is not the kind of dream they were looking for.
Without giving away major spoilers, the film relies on creating a sense of dread at mostly unseen and barely glimpsed horror, particularly at first. This is a case where it works, because Wan also understands the use of elements like the blindfolded game to make his subjects more vulnerable, creating a greater sense of horror in the viewer when the subject can’t see what we can. Or a single lit match in the total darkness, tapping into one of our most primordial fears.
As the film progresses, he shows more, until the climax with a scene of possession, which actually, seemed far less scary to me than the rest of the movie. I also wondered at the use of the sheet over the head… was there supposed to be some point of that, or just trying to save some special effects makeup cash? It was puzzling enough to distract me during that segment of the film.
But then, going off on a tangent with a question like that may just be a hazard of the profession.
That Wan — who also directed “Saw” and “Insidious” — created another quality horror film should be no surprise. That it has ruled the box office in the midst of summer and upstaged the likes of Johnny Depp in “The Lone Ranger”… that’s mighty impressive.
Does it live up to the hype? Well, that would be hard to do given how it’s been hailed as the Second Coming of Horror, but whether you think it does or doesn’t will depend mostly on how easily you scare, and how good you are at blocking out douchebags in the theater who want to add their laugh track to this and any horror film. But it’s rock solid horror, and has a great chance of being seen as a classic horror story in the long run, and will be another worthy addition to any horror collection when it comes out on DVD.
Learn more about what it was like working on the movie later this week when I post my exclusive interview with Shanley Caswell , who dishes on the surprise success of the movie and real vs CGI horror. Meanwhile, check out the interview I did with her a little over a year ago, when she was starting to work on a little film called “The Warren Files” at the time.