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I finally watched The Conjuring over the weekend...and was kind of glad (at the same time, deeply regret) that I did not watch this in a cinema hall. It is such a refreshing change from the Paranormal Activity series – as I mentioned elsewhere, there is only so much jerky camera movements and swaying chandeliers one can take.
The movie as such is replete with horror clichés and yet, straight off, it assumes a cult status. That’s what thrilled me to bits – director James Wan (Insidious and Saw) is so brilliant that the movie is a classic precisely BECAUSE of the clichés. It takes off where the Amityville Horror failed – taut screenplay that puts you on the edge throughout the movie. Both The Conjuring as well as Amityville Horror are allegedly based on true stories; both investigated by the same paranormal researcher couple Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The Perron family – parents Carolyn and Roger, five daughters and a dog, move to an old and creaky house in the countryside of whatsitsnameville. Sure, the house is all painted and neat on the outside. It has the mandatory creepy-tree-at-the-edge-of-a-murky-pond and a tree-lined approach road. Inside, the house is all old wood and banging doors and creaking stairs. But the Perrons bought this house in a bank auction – so there is that hint of financial constraint – they probably got this at a bargain. Seriously, can a large family find a spacious home such as this one in the city? Nope - they'll have to stay put come what may.
As in The Exorcist, the horror in The Conjuring unfolds slowly. Knocking sounds in the night. All the clocks stop at 3:07am. Putrid stink that seems to move around the house only in the night. Bruises that look like blood clots on Carolyn’s body...the doctor puts it down to iron deficiency. Half way through, the ‘manifestation’ makes itself known and the movie proceeds to a crescendo of a climax that’s guaranteed to leave you palpitating.
The Exorcist has set such a high benchmark for any theme dealing with demonic possessions, that anything on this genre is predictable. So, in The Conjuring, you kind of know in every scene what is going to happen. Yet, the screenplay is so perfect that despite the predictability, it jolts you. I guess the anticipation of the horror is more fearful than the horror itself.
If, in The Exorcist ‘there is something in the attic’; in The Conjuring, it is the cellar. But yes, the scene in The Exorcist where Christine (Ellen Burstyn) goes to investigate the attic was infinitely more terrifying given the pin-drop silence. You can watch the scene here.
In The Conjuring, in what has probably become an iconic still of present day horror, the fear kind of dissipated with the ‘environmental’ sounds – framed photos crashing, creaking doors and off-key piano notes emerging from the dark recesses of the cellar. What further works against the horror (and yet, makes it so supremely entertaining in a cheesy way) is the disbelief I suppose – I mean okay, you kind of know there is an intruder in the house, so would you step inside the dark cellar (whose door kind of creaked open)? Nonetheless your knuckles turn white as the scene proceeds. Here's a clipping of the cellar scene :)
Perhaps what makes The Exorcist a cut above the rest is the emotional investment it draws out of you. A vulnerable single mother, a young teen, a troubled priest, a very likable cop – you care about each and every character. There is an instant connection established between you and whoever is dominating the scene. This is something I missed in The Conjuring. Sleep-walking kids to a cranky teenager – all cute, but I could not really care about them as much as I rooted for Regan in The Exorcist.
The final exorcism in The Conjuring was blood curdling, paisa vasool horror. But...yes...there is a but...nothing can beat the horror of a rotating head...not even upturned, levitating chairs to which the possessed has been tied. The long drawn ritualistic exorcism scene (see video clip ) in The Exorcist never left me for months – ‘The power of Christ compels you’ chant haunts...and haunts some more, making your skin crawl.
To its credit, The Conjuring works amazingly well and accomplishes all that is expected of a horror movie – it makes you jump long after ‘The End’. I did the mistake of watching this movie on a day when the wind outside was 60mph. It did not help AT ALL that some of my doors began their gentle knocking.
As a parting shot...I always wonder when I watch these movies with dimly lit hallways and corridors – have they not heard of tube-lights?
©Sumana Khan – 2014