31 Days of Halloween: Day 26 – The Conjuring

A movie review article by: Paul Brian McCoy

This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is director James Wan's The Conjuring.

If your formative period for horror was during the 70s or 80s, you've probably heard of Ed and Lorraine Warren. I've got a book about them on my shelf that I can see from where I'm sitting now. Whether they were the real deal or not, their stories of occult investigations and demonic possessions were fascinating; and they had a ton of them. The Conjuring is based on one of those cases and has been in production hell for over 20 years for some unknown reason.

This thing is like a license to print money.

Written by the sibling team of Chad and Carey Hayes, who expanded on the original treatment by Tony DeRosa-Grund from 20 years earlier and utilizing the original tape of Ed Warren interviewing Carolyn Perron, and directed by the man behind Saw and Insidious, James Wan, The Conjuring hits pretty much every haunting/demonic possession cliché on record, while somehow managing to not feel stale or tired. And that is no small feat.

The casting helps with that. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the Warrens are believably comfortable enough with each other and the material to give a sense of realism -- even when discussing things like getting permission to have exorcisms performed or matter-of-factly stating how demonic possession "actually" works. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston as the Perrons also do yeoman's work grounding their reactions in realism.

And while the ending gets a bit over-the-top for me, the average viewer apparently eats that demonic possession shit up. Lili Taylor's make-up is pretty horrific and the way she flails those scissors around while trying to murder her own children was intense. She's never been one to half-ass any performance.

Probably the best thing the Hayes brothers did with their screenplay was emphasize the emotional connection between Mrs. Perron and Lorraine, focusing on their motherhood and the idea of putting one's children in danger. The mere fact that the Warrens were embarking on this investigation ends up threatening their own daughter as the evil forces on display here are all about that.

It forces the men to the background as support structures while the women get the really meaty bits. And it’s the women who are the stronger actors here.

The ending is a bit too easy, and the way the music swelled, I thought I was watching a Disney production for a moment or two, but you know what? Everything about this film was so sincere that I bought into it. I bought into the family in jeopardy. I bought into the God vs the Devil dynamic. I bought into the melodrama and the satisfying feel-good quality of right triumphing over evil. 

It's not what I was expecting from Wan, given his previous work, and I don't know if it's just good marketing strategies or if the makers of this film really believe in what they're doing that much. Regardless, The Conjuring is sort of a perfect storm of talents and widespread mainstream appeal. It's kind of like horror for the whole family.

Read our previous review of The Conjuring here.

Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.

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