Clap clap. The mother walks down the hallway to look for her children playing hide and clap. Down the stairs. She looks around. Nothing. Behind her, a door slowly opens. Clap clap. She turns and walks to the door; the cellar door. She slowly, cautiously, walks into the cellar by the rickety wooden stairs. A bare bulb illuminates very little of the concrete space, but nothing is there to be seen. She turns- Do you want to play hide and clap?
Her eyes widen as she bounds up the staircase- the bulb shatters. She screams in the dark. The door to the cellar slams shut just as she gets to it, and it knocks her down the staircase. She crawls back up, sobbing, and reaches for a box of matches. She lights one. Panting heavily. Nothing around. It goes out. She lights another. From over her shoulder, a child’s hands burst and clap by her ear. Black.
Just another horror story, you may think, but notice some key differences between this scene from The Conjuring and most other movies you’ve seen. A well-planted game device that reoccurs throughout the film- evidence of good writing. Call outs to previous horror films, evidencing an awareness of “classic scares” and a need to reinvent them. And finally, what is most horrifying about The Conjuring, the door slamming shut and knocking the mother down into the cellar- a malevolent, violent ghost.
Very rarely do the ghosts actually hurt the tenants so early in the film, if at all. This raised the shock value of The Conjuring to such a level that it was rated “R” for being “too scary”.
The story is a classic, with several twists. A family moves into a home that looks remarkably like the home in The Amityville Horror and experiences a malicious presence haunting their home. Cross cut with this flash into the lives of a married demonologist and medium who hunt ghosts named the Warrens. They eventually try to exorcise the home, a la Insidious. And again, violent ghosts.
The director of this film, in tandem with the writers, knew what he was doing. James Wan is a veteran of horror, having given us Saw and Insidious, two very inventive horror films that bent the genre. The evidence of this body of work is all over The Conjuring, from the demonology to the violence.
The writing is top-notch, including an actual plot with the horror motifs. Chad and Carey Hayes, writers, creatively drew from such seminal works as The Exorcist and House on Haunted Hill to fashion this new piece that so cleverly uses classic scares. With these artists working in tandem, we get an actually compelling and terrifying work of film, not just another flick.
The final, and most important aspect of The Conjuring to know before you see it- and yes, you should see it- is that the “true story” behind the hauntings has more weight than most, and ties into the entire history of the ghost hunting movie genre. The Warrens were actual people who in 1952 founded the New England Society for Psychic Research and had the hobby of investigating haunted houses and persons.
They have a number of famous cases to their name, including the Amityville haunting, of which the Warrens were one of the first investigators on the scene. Their work has inspired not only that film and this, but several others, including The Haunting in Connecticut. With so many famous cases behind them, you have to wonder how “real” the content of The Conjuring is…and that alone makes it a film that sticks with you, at night, in the dark, for several days.
The Conjuring, now playing, recommended.