I really wanted to like The Conjuring. I really did. And it’s not even that I disliked it, which I didn’t, exactly; it’s just that it wasn’t good.
You see, I love horror films. Not, like, the Jason and Freddie movies where everything is dripping in blood and only maybe one babysitter survives or something. I don’t like gore. I can handle gore, but I’m not in it for the gore, you know what I mean?
My type of horror movie is the kind that fucks with your mind and leaves you feeling truly scared. When my friends asked me if The Conjuring was scary, I told them yes but that it wasn’t good scary–it was cheap scary. They then, understandably, wanted to know what I would gauge as a good scary movie and I told them that, honestly, the best (as in scariest–to me) horror film of all time is The Blair Witch Project.
Laugh all you want but it’s the perfect example of what I like in a horror flick. It’s filmed very much as if it could have been real, it doesn’t drag on and make the viewer bored of it and, most importantly, there’s never a reveal. What scares me the most about Blair Witch is that you never actually see the Blair Witch. You never see some CGI fiend or, more likely for 1998, some costumed old lady striking cheap terror with her dead eyes and sharpened fangs. I know that shit’s not real and, even though I jump in fright in the moment, I leave the theater and immediately no longer care.
With Blair Witch, I’m STILL nervous in the woods at night. There was no monster to spoil the realism of the movie and, for that, I’m grateful for a truly horrifying scare.
But back to The Conjuring. This film was well-acted (it stars Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, and Ron Livingston). It had a lot of really great, lasting horror movie staples: it’s set in the past with just enough of a “days gone by” chill to make it seem a little gothic; it’s based on a very frightening true story; and it involves the Devil.
Maybe I’m just super Catholic but, when there’s the possibility of possession, stigmata, exorcism, or anything else involving Satan, I get pretty nervous–in an weirdly interested sort of way. So I went into The Conjuring thinking that this could be a really creepy movie full of freaky levitation, doors slamming, pictures crashing to the floor, and all other manner of devilish antics that leave these types of films’ token non-believing characters skeptical because there isn’t some monster hiding in the closet to prove them wrong.
All of these tropes were realized onscreen but, to my disappointment, director James Wan couldn’t resist dozens of revealing scenes featuring rotting corpses, disembodied limbs, and now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t ghostly figures wandering the halls of the Perron family’s haunted home.
The Conjuring is a movie that will satisfying your primal need to feel fear but it won’t be one that you remember. It will make you squirm in your seat and cover your eyes (I sure did) but it won’t resonate as a piece of art. Maybe I’m a loser for preferring the chilling suspense of Misery to the slashing scythes of Scream, but I would go into The Conjuring with the expectations of a cookie-cutter horror flick and nothing more.
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