I thought it was PG-13! On the podcast, I swore it was PG-13! It's totally R. Although does it have to be "R"? Does "R" just mean, actually good? I have the feeling that "R" is a judgment call. It's borderline. It's a really mature PG-13 or a somewhat light R.
DIRECTOR: James Wan
I don't know why I avoided this movie for so long. I think it was the audience. I have officially separated myself from the horror movies that seem to pull in younger audiences. Why? Because I'm a huge turd. I'm a dirty elitist who writes a blog and does a podcast and wears glasses to look smart. (Wait, what?) In my brain, I associated this movie with PG-13 garbage (which isn't even a thing. Some PG-13 horror is great!), so I ducked it out. Then I found out that there was an Annabelle sequel, so I rolled my eyes even harder. I had become the very person I hate. I was the guy who had judged way before actually seeing something. Consider this blog a confession. I often laud my own hypocrisy on this page, but this one is where I've been the most wrong. I liked this movie a lot, but probably not for the same reasons most people did.
Mr. Henson is going to talk about how Ed and Leslie (?) Warren weren't really like this and it is all Hollywood. If you are watching a horror movie that announces itself to be based on a true story, get ready for some disappointment. These movies are very loosely true. If you look up the actual events of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Psycho, the true event is that there have been serial killers before. The. End. What the "True Story" trope adds to this movie is a certain aesthetic and that aesthetic is great. I don't know why a movie set in the '70s is so much scarier than something set in the 21st Century. I have to assume the lack of cell phones really goes a long way. Technology and horror are usually some tired storytelling anyway. (Sorry, Friend Request. I probably won't be seeing you either despite the fact that I just ranted about giving things a chance. Admittedly, you have terrible reviews.) Old timey analog technology, for some reason, works so much better. There's also the element of plausible deniability. By making everyone look all hip from the '70s, there's a part of me that lies to myself and says that this really happened. It grounds this ridiculous story in reality in a way that it normally wouldn't be. Also, I kind of wish I lived in the '70s because fashion was way more dope than in the '60s and the '80s. Fight me. Really, the aesthetics of this movie as a whole is what really works. I even lost my mind on The Conjuring title font. It looks good on the DVD, sure. But when it is slowly scrolling up the screen in bright yellow on black with a music crescendo, it is just the best. I will admit, it is pretty sad to fall in love with a movie over a cool font. But I like what I like and I shouldn't apologize for that.
I should put that Lily Taylor in a haunted house movie is just a remake of The Haunting with the same lead protagonist. I can't help but get that in my mind while I'm writing this. I liked that movie back in the day. I was a teen when that movie came out, so I'm allowed to say that I watched teen horror back then without too much rebuke. It is so weird to see Lily Taylor play a part so different from the Lily Taylor roles that my wife loathes. While I just compared her to The Haunting, her performance is really very different than things I've seen from her in the past. I don't know why I'm giving her such kudos for playing the part as normal as possible, but I think that's a big deal for her. I'm so used to Lily Taylor playing things all weird that to see her as a housewife and a mother is bizarre to me. She's across from Ron Livingston, who managed to fall off the face of the earth. Why hasn't Ron Livingston been in everything? He crushed in Office Space and then he did a bunch of smaller roles after that. What happened? Regardless, he does his part. Both Lily Taylor and Ron Livingston's roles aren't really all that rewarding. There's a lot of reaction. Okay, Lily Taylor does have the sweet exorcism sequence. I guess that's a minor spoiler, but it's not much of one. That sequence is pretty great. Like with It, the fact that this movie shows us some genuinely scary stuff is a pretty smart move. There was a time when leaving the creature and scary stuff off camera was the best choice because it couldn't stand up to our imaginations. While I'm not the biggest fan of Blumhouse as a whole, they are extremely adept at creepy creatures. The ghost in this one is just perfect. I want to believe that the creature was created with practical effects. If you tell me otherwise, I might give a round of applause for a really creepy digital effect because it is very disturbing. I have to believe that the cast makes these moments believable...hich brings me to the stars of the film. Vera Farmiga (a woman who is known for her Ukrainianness by my mother) and Patrick Wilson, whom I dug in Watchmen, really anchor the film in something cool. I can't say that the roles are ones for the ages, but they do bring an awesome intensity.
Is it weird that they stick all these cursed objects in the house with their kid? That was a weird choice.
Now it comes down to the personal stuff. After watching a ton of Nightmare on Elm Street movies, I really like when a movie is more creepy than scary. I don't know what it is about a good ghost story that makes the story more interesting, but I can get behind something like this very easily. The Conjuring doesn't necessarily hit any new beats that can be seen outside other haunted house storylines, but I think revisiting this story again has merit. Like I mentioned with It, the bones (pun intended) are the same, but scares are different. The one thing that I really liked about the Nightmare movies was the playfulness with the scares. The same can be said about the haunted house / ghost story subgenre as well. There has to be something new while following the same basic formula that we've seen. The movie establishes its rules and sticks to them, having the cynicism lead to genuine fear. The house of daughters gives the parents a greater stake and their skepticism must be washed away with the introduction of the ghost hunters. It all works and there's nothing particularly special about the film itself except for the fact that it just works. It doesn't give the overly happy ending that some of the ghost stories and haunted house movies do, giving the entity rest. Rather, this treats it with a more demonic edge, which might make it cooler than other film. (I don't know why I want my demons more malevolent, but it makes the movie slightly more hardcore.)
I don't know if I'll revisit this one anytime soon. It's not super scary or anything, but it was an enjoyable watch. I actually look forward to finish The Conjuring 2 and I have stuff to say about Annabelle. I hope this franchise doesn't jump the shark because I dug it more than I thought I would.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.