M.L. Miller here! As I go into the tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Three of my decade-long Retro-Best in Horror recap Countdowns begins officially on October 1, 2012 and goes through September 30, 2013. I have posted compilation lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t!
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st, 2012 and September 30, 2013 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number—31. Again, I never call myself any kind of expert in horror. I simply watch a lot of horror films and love writing about them. Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on July 19, 2013 and available on digital download, On Demand and BluRay/DVD here!
THE CONJURING (2013)
Directed by James Wan
Written by Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Starring Lily Taylor, Ron Livingston, Patrick Wilson, Vera Fermiga,Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton
Find out more about this film here and on Facebook here
If you’re a horror fan like me, who saw TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 or DAY OF THE DEAD in theaters, you know those days are long gone. You’re not going to see those types of films in theaters any more and if you’re looking for the hard scares, over the top gore, and ideas which shred the nerves while making you think, you’ve got to go to VOD or DVD or digital download. Still, quality horror can sometimes be achieved in big budget theatrical horror releases. It’s just that in order to make it to wide release, it seems, the film has to be a sequel or a remake or at the very least, play it sort of safe. The safe way meaning basically follow a certain formula; scares about every four to five minutes, loud music blast at every jump scare, you know the deal. While THE CONJURING follows this formula, I can’t knock it too much because director James Wan practically came up with that formula and his film ends up being pretty damn effective in the end.
Upon watching the trailer for THE CONJURING, I wondered why Wan was doing something which felt a whole lot like INSIDIOUS 2. Seeing Lily Taylor roam around the house following ghostly clapping hands was an effective trailer, causing the right amount of chills and thrills, but still, I found myself asking “Really? Another James Wan haunted house flick?” So for me, the real challenge for this movie was to convince me how different THE CONJURING was from INSIDIOUS. Thankfully, James Wan does just that.
The film begins mid-case as Patrick Wilson and Vera Fermiga (who play real life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren in the film) interview a trio of college kids who profess that the doll sitting in the chair at the end of the table is possessed by a spirit. Cue moody flashback as we see an example of the haunting and it is really scary. The scares here are mainly psychological with not a drop of blood shed. Instead, taking cues from every scary doll film from MAGIC, to THE DOLL episode from NIGHT GALLERY, to CHILD’S PLAY, to POLTERGEIST, Wan cleverly architects a sequence that chills every bone. Though we don’t see the doll move, Wan is able to scare us with sound, some well scripted dialog, and some clever edits. Oh, and also, the doll, named Annabelle, is pretty damn creepy too.
We are then introduced to the central family of the film, the Perrons with patriarch Roger (Ron Livingston), Lili Taylor playing Carolyn his loving wife, and a gaggle of little girls varying from around 6 to late teens. Everything about this family is typical as indicated by your typical clichéd family time music “Time of the Season” by the Zombies. They play innocent games. Watch THE BRADY BUNCH. And even have a friendly dog (who won’t set foot in the house). Having just bought a big old house, the Perrons begin unpacking and making the house a home, but right off the bat weird things start happening. A secret walled in cellar is found. The clocks stop at 3:07. Doors creak and pictures fall off walls. When you think of a haunted house flick, you think of certain things and it all happens in the first 30-40 minutes of this film. Did I mention the word typical? Well, everything in this first part is just that.
But instead of having the demonologists show up on the doorstep like Father Merrin, Wan throws us a curve ball by making this a two pronged story, which immediately makes things less typical and more interesting to me. By alternating the narrative between that of the Perrons and the Warrens who have a daughter themselves, Wan doubles down on the danger level and makes us wonder which family and which house is going to be the site of the haunting next. By establishing the Warrens’ home as basically a storage closet for haunted items they’ve collected from past cases, Wan immediately establishes the home as a powder keg just waiting for a spark. He’s also given this keg a long fuse and just when you’ve become so invested in the action at the Perron home, he reminds you of the danger back at the Warren place. By splitting the locales, the danger would be that it might dilute the horror, but the ingenuity of the script intensifies our investment in both places instead of splitting it. This is mainly due to the four great lead performances.
The heads of both families are so likable, it hurts. Unlike THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (which this movie owes a lot too), Ron Livingston’s Roger is not shown in a negative light, open for possession and ready to abuse at a whim like James Brolin or Ryan Reynolds. He’s a nice guy who genuinely cares for his family. Same goes for Lily Taylor’s Carolyn, who albeit in her own weird and wispy way, seems to be a loving mother stressed by taking care of five girls and moving into a new house. Patrick Wilson and Vera Fermiga’s Ed and Lorraine are good parents as well, though overly dedicated to helping others and selfless to a fault, which ultimately puts their family at risk as they try to save the Perrons, leaving their daughter at home. Usually, good means boring, but it’s a testament to these actors’ skill that they are able to make these characters likable despite their squeaky-cleanness.
As I mentioned earlier in the review, Wan and the writers Chad and Carey Hayes keep the action moving with scares happening almost to the second at every five minutes. This is a gimme in studio horror these days and I can’t fault the film for it. In fact, if done right, it can make for a pretty thrilling, roller coaster-like experience. And in THE CONJURING, for the most part, it’s done right. Sure, after an hour of this, the scares get a bit predictable, but because each of the scares are actually pretty creative in their jump accompanied by a headbutt to the keyboard, it all works. The images Wan shows are actually pretty scary, from the ghosts only certain people see to the face of that scary ass doll. All of them worked on me, making my spine tingle and giving me a start pretty much the whole way through.
THE CONJURING’s faults lay in the spoon feeding of info to folks in the form of classroom teachings of the Warrens as they lecture college kids on demonology. This info dump early on in the film slows down the narrative and basically maps out the rest of the film to the beat. I understand Hollywood’s believes the viewers to be dolts, but when rest of the movie is written on a chalkboard thirty minutes into the film, it starts feeling downright insulting. With the ingenuity put into the scares in this film, I wish the filmmakers would have had some faith that our interest would have been sustained without a catch-up and game plan etched out for us all to read in big white letters.
That said, the problems in the latter half of INSIDIOUS where the filmmakers obviously ran out of money and ideas is not present in THE CONJURING. This is a much stronger film and it feels as if, unsatisfied with the way INSIDIOUS turned out, Wan decided to go back and do it right this time around. Pretty much the whole way through, the film is able to maintain a level of energy and fear that few films of its kind are able to sustain. Wan even somehow makes the tried and true exorcism scene feel fresh with its execution and how it adheres to both plot and character advancement. Sure, they are easy thrills and chills, but dammit if Wan didn’t get the best of me again this time around with THE CONJURING. If you’re looking for a big budget horror, Wan continues to deliver the goods. With a strong cast, some truly chilling imagery and a rapid inundation of jolting sights and sounds, THE CONJURING is mainstream horror done right.
THE 2012-2013 COUNTDOWN!
#12 – THE CONJURING
#13 – SIGHTSEERS
#14 – WITHER
#15 – KISS OF THE DAMNED
#16 – JUG FACE
#17 – NO ONE LIVES
#18 – YOU’RE NEXT
#19 – HOME SWEET HOME
#20 – THE TAINT
#21 – THE PURGE
#22 – RITUAL/MODUS ANOMALI
#23 – V/H/S/2
#24 – MON AMI
#25 – EUROPA REPORT
#26 – BLIND ALLEY
#27 – MIDNIGHT SON
#28 – DEVIL’S PASS
#29 – COME OUT AND PLAY
#30 – THE LAST WILL & TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH
#31 – I DIDN’T COME HERE TO DIE
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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