ALAN MOORE once said “ Art is, like magic, the science of manipulating symbols, words or images to achieve changes in consciousness.” I couldn’t agree more and have I got a spell for you. THE CONJURING is a scary, endearingly romanticized, elaboration of a some-say ‘true” haunting. I’ m not going to get wrapped up in the authenticity of the story because any tale, true or not, that inspires a movie as swell as this is all right by me. If things are grandly exaggerated, that’s fine. That’s what urban legends are fueled by, that’s what tall tales stand up on and that’s what fills every history book in every elementary school in America. Hyperbole is what storytelling is all about and we’re all guilty of tweaking the truth to make it shine a little brighter. If we can force ourselves to believe that Thanksgiving isn’t a shameful travesty then surely we can humor a harmless ghost story every once in a while too. Wow. Even in the heart of summer I hate on Thanksgiving!
JAMES WAN is a wonderful director. There I said it! I said the director of SAW is wonderful! He beat me down folks! I tried to resist but it’s over. INSIDIOUS was a left hook and THE CONJURING is a right hook and then some. I give up already! It’s not a fair fight when he has PATRICK WILSON on his side and I just have bitter, misplaced feelings of exclusion on mine. Anyway, our tale is about a nice family (The Perrons) who moves into a haunted-looking house and discover that it is indeed infested with invisible forces that yank them out of bed and according to at least one source, smell like farts. Who ya gonna call? Why notorious married supernatural specialists ED & LORRAINE WARREN (WILSON & VERA FARMIGA) of course! Now, I know there are some people who are not fans of the real life Warrens (Ed has passed away) and think of them as cons. I never met them so I can’t say. I just know they were really nice to the Smurl family in that excellent TV movie that scared the crap out me called THE HAUNTED (1991) so I’m going by that. Plus if WAN was of the mind to aggrandize the couple ,he sure casted well. On a side note, JAMES WAN, can you cover the Smurl haunting in the sequel pretty please? And can you release the movie on the same day as SMURFS 3 so that Box office Mojo is forced to write the headline SMURLS SMASH SMURFS!? Do it!
THE CONJURING is getting enthusiastic reviews, which is nice as most horror movies are pummeled for simply existing. I notice though that many critics feel the need to temper their kudos by saying it’s well done but a “typical” haunted house tale. Personally, I think it has a lot of merit outside of just being a well-oiled scare dispenser. The frights aren’t random jolts, they’re tethered to something solid and concrete. They’re not simply about being in dangerous situations with the unknowable they uniformly concern the worst fear of all, that harm might come to someone you care about and worse still, it may be your fault. Ed fears that Lorraine looses part of herself each time they involve themselves in such things, Lorraine frets that their daughter Judy is swinging between being neglected and endangered. The Father of the haunted family (RON LIVINGSTON) is anguished over putting his family in peril and the mother (LILI TAYLOR at her best) ends up personifying everybody’s worst fears by melding with a spirit who has killed her own offspring and has supernaturally strong-armed others to unthinkingly do the same.
I can totally relate. Let me tell you, for full horror pleasure it’s all about the empathy. People who don’t have it are missing a world of flavor! Sorry, I’m going to talk about myself again. But isn’t that the nice thing about blogs? You get that personal touch. Do you know what you get from magazines? Paper cuts! So as I was saying, we too recently moved into a haunted-looking house. When we got here I realized that the previous owners took all the screens from the windows. This freaked me out because we have five cats and I didn’t want them running away. They were all scared out of their minds and oh, God, what have I done to them? I started imaging the worst. The cats slipping between doors, getting hit by cars, freezing in the streets, lost. It got worse, I’d be hammering a nail and think, what if I dropped the hammer and it landed on a cat’s head? It got ridiculous. What if one crawled into the dryer? It got nuts. What if the cat choked on a discarded pistachio shell? My dreams were filled with drowning cats; cats on fire, cats crushed under poorly installed air conditioners. It was exhausting and I could not make it stop. The resolution of THE CONJURING that involves something as simple as recalling a moment of pure connection with those you care about resonated with me. Maybe focusing on that thought alone IS enough to expel the witch in my head.
Oh, I get it! I’m mentally ill! You know how folks with screws loose think the T.V. is talking to them? They see signs and coincidences everywhere and they get messages, lots and lots of messages? Well, that’s how I interact with movies. It’s been that way ever since I was a kid, the movies, especially the good ones, they tell me things! This one really went out of its way to whisper in my ear. The new house, the five kids, my favorite episode of THE BRADY BUNCH playing on the T.V., a ghost with the same name as my cat, a clown music box (mine plays “Send in the Clowns”), a porcelain lamb, a rooster painting, an embroidered owl, landscape T.V. trays folded against the wall- how is this not my home?
I found this movie frightening enough (WAN is gifted at sneaky distraction and leaving enough blank canvas for the viewer to paint themselves) but that really wasn’t the most important thing for me. For as much as THE CONJURING embellishes the dark it is depicting, it puts forth equal effort accentuating the light. Maybe that won’t please those who follow horror as an endurance sport but who cares about tourists? As corny as it may be, I love that this movie has a strong conscience. Remarkably it doesn’t stop at giving you distinct characters; it makes a point of concerning itself with the relationships between those characters. (Seriously, the sparkage between WILSON and FARMIGA is so dynamic somebody oughta shove them in a THE THIN MAN remake.) In real life, things did not end on such happy, tied in a bow terms. The Warrens were asked to leave the case and the house remained (and is said to still be) haunted. That’s the “true” story and who the hell needs it? I like this much better! Reality, take a lesson from fiction, ya lazy bore! I’ve never been one for happy endings in horror flicks but this one suited me just fine. I say sequel time! Send in the Smurls! Don’t bother…they’re here!