March 14, 2014

Number Wan Fan

by Adam Sweeney

The Conjuring (2013) - dir. James Wan

It was a Friday. My parents were gone for the night, off to dinner and drinks with friends. My sister was at work and I had the house to myself. I decided to get a jump-start on my homework because there didn’t seem to be a lot to do. I looked around the house, trying to find something to watch.

My living room was filled with VHS. Several movies of varying genres were on the table next to me. I considered each carefully, but settled on The Haunting with Liam Neeson. I had seen the movie the year before in the theater. I knew what I was getting into. I slipped the tape out of the case and placed it in the VCR.

I grabbed myself a glass of milk and a sandwich to tide me over until my sister got home with actual food. I laid down on the ground, facing the TV. The movie started and I began doing my math homework.

Then it happened.

It was dead silent in the living room. There was a slight breeze outside, but it was barely audible from where I was. Through the silence, I heard an extended creak. I paused the tape, hoping it was the movie. I even held my breath. The sound continued.

The door towards the back of the living room was ajar, swaying slightly. When I started the movie it had been shut.

There was no one home besides me.

It wasn’t the movie.

Pure, unmitigated panic came over me. My heart began to race, my ears pounding. I slowly reached for the remote, aimed it at the TV and turned it off. I placed the remote on the table in front of me and sat on the couch. Without turning my head, I glanced towards the nearest clock.

6:47 P.M. My sister wouldn’t be getting home until 10 and my parents much after that. I took a deep breath, hoping the fear would subside and I would be able to finish the movie.

Just then, the door shut, the latch clicking into place.

Calmly, I stood and ran out the door before I could even realize what I was doing. I stood on the sidewalk looking at the house, then the sky. It was overcast - no chance of rain, but ominous. My chest heaved with every breath.

In actuality, these events took no longer than fifteen minutes. It felt like an eternity. The fear extended the anxiety and, seemingly, time itself. This experience is the closest thing I can compare to watching The Conjuring.

The Conjuring, directed by James Wan of Saw and Insidious fame, is two hours of relentless tension. Most horror movies will build tension for the first half, only to release it towards the conclusion. The Conjuring builds about every ten minutes and never really releases. By the time the end credits roll, we’re still expecting something to pop out, a demon’s voice to be heard or, for the love of God, the face of a doll to appear out of the darkness.

The plot is fairly standard. A family moves into a house, things get wonky and they enlist the help of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The Warrens go to the house, things get wonkier and a battle between good and evil ensues. As ridiculous as all this sounds, it’s treated with the utmost of seriousness by everyone involved, especially the actors.

I need to go off on a tangent for a moment: Patrick Wilson is one of the most solid actors working today. His films are always pretty good, and when they’re not, he’s usually the best part. I think often times directors will throw him in a movie because they know that he’s a team player and will bolster the performances of the rest of the cast.

It really is strange to consider Wilson’s role in the movie. He is one of the main characters, but still seems to fade into the background. This isn’t a criticism of his skills as an actor, but more of a compliment. Coming from a theater background, Wilson allows the other people to shine. He plays off all the other characters extremely well and his performance seems lived in; he plays Ed as one of the most reasonable, caring people you’d ever meet.

Anytime there is a skillfully made horror movie, comparisons to The Exorcist are inevitable. I believe even James Wan understands this, and he understands that this is a high standard to live by. Instead of trying to outdo The Exorcist, he takes a different route. The Conjuring isn’t incredibly deep. It’s not going to help negotiate peace in some war-torn country, but it’s a great entertainment.

The Conjuring is skillful in how it handles it’s scares: it piles situations up on other situations until it’s unbearable, like a snowball effect. It sneaks up on you. The camera lingers on things for so long that your brain overworks itself. At one moment in the film, the camera focuses on dark corner. Because the camera stays on it, you can’t help but think there’s gotta be something there that you’re not seeing. Slowly, you start to fill in the blanks, your own version of a demon in the corner. Mine had horns.

To me, that’s infinitely scarier than them actually showing something. Had they shown something in the corner with horns, a pitchfork and Cerberus on a leash, we wouldn’t care. I wouldn’t be writing about the movie. As obvious as it may seem that you wouldn’t want to show something like this, you have to remember what age we live in. An age where people are too busy trying to watch other people’s lives to take the focus off their own. The general movie going public would much rather have everything told to them. The fact that Wan has evolved from Saw to this gives me much hope for his career.

One last thing: the movie is rated “R”.  This may not seem like a big surprise to some, but maybe the reasoning behind the “R” is the shocking part. The movie doesn’t have any real overt violence, there’s no sex, and the language sticks to a PG-13 level. The only reason that this movie was given an “R” rating was due to the unbearable tension: the MPAA agreed that this movie was far too intense for a 13 year old.

I get the feeling that some day in the future, I’ll sit down to watch this. No one else will be in the house and everything will be quiet. The wind will blow slightly against the windows, maybe even a raindrop or two will pelt the glass. I’ll remember that night where I felt completely helpless in high school. I’ll feel scared, alive. And then I’ll likely not sleep for weeks. But, it will be worth it. Every second of it.

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