'The Conjuring' (2013) Movie Review

The Conjuring movie review
Photo: Warner Bros.

What truly scares us? In my opinion, it's largely the fear of the unknown. It's why when horror movies show us what's behind the curtain our fear begins to subside. A good horror director will use the idea of the unknown to their advantage, increasing the fear factor, while also improving the production's bottom line. In recent history director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) has used the fear of the unknown to his advantage and he does so again with The Conjuring, something of a Paranormal Activity meets The Exorcist, supernatural thriller certain to give even the most seasoned horror fan the chills.

The Conjuring
Grade: B

The Conjuring"The Conjuring" is a Warner Bros. release, directed by James Wan and is rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror. The running time is .

The cast includes Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Mackenzie Foy and Joey King.

Like many horror films before it, The Conjuring makes use of the idea it is based on a true story. In this instance, the story of the Perron family who bought a place in the early '70s in Harrisville, Rhode Island that eventually turned into ten years living among the dead. Their story is told over the course of two volumes written by Andrea Perron (find both volumes here), the eldest daughter of the family, and her story is adapted here, and changed quite dramatically, for the screen by Chad and Carey W. Hayes (The Reaping).

Here we meet Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) who have five daughters (Shanley Caswell, Kyla Deaver, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy and Hayley McFarland) and it isn't long after they move into their secluded farmhouse that the stench of death attaches itself to their ever-waking moment.

The Perron's dog refuses to ever enter their house, birds crash into their windows, breaking their necks and twitching to death on the ground and a hidden cellar is revealed in the midst of a game of Hide and Clap, which immediately brings to mind the knocking game in J.A. Bayona's The Orphanage.

In fact, what Wan and his team of sibling screenwriters have done is take the pieces of what's worked so well in today's horror films and combined each technique into one hell of an impressively creepy movie. As much as many of these tactics have been used in horror long before the likes of Paranormal Activity and The Orphanage, it takes a certain measure of restraint and timing to truly scare today's audiences and The Conjuring manages to not only be scary, but more importantly, it's got a creepy factor that's hard to achieve.

To my earlier point of selling the fear of the unknown, The Conjuring doesn't entirely conceal the darkness at its core. If there is any complaint about the Paranormal franchise it's the idea that all we see are doors closing and people being dragged around a room, but here the audience is given just enough of a glimpse at the evil that lurks in the shadows, allowing your mind to fill in, and fear, the blanks.

The blanks I'm referring to are filled with the rumbling bass of a demon unseen, the use of matches and flashlights as the only source of light, creepy possessed puppets, the fiend in the darkness only the characters on screen can see and the dread felt by characters that hunt evil spirits for a living. Each one of these details and then some contribute to the overall sense of fear The Conjuring provokes and that last one is an important one.

One of the my favorite moments in 2007's Paranormal Activity is the moment the psychic runs from the house, afraid of whatever demon lurks in the darkness. When someone accustomed to dealing with such darkness is so scared their only instinct is to run where does that leave the rest of us?

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play the professionals in The Conjuring. He's a Vatican approved Demonologist and she's a world-renowned clairvoyant. They're equal measure of confidence, fear and determination gives the situation weight and allows a certain level of leniency when decisions are made that will have you saying to yourself, "Don't do that! Don't go in there!"

Much has been made about the R-rating the film achieved, supposedly because it was simply too scary for a PG-13. Well, that's a bit of Hollywood build-up. I'd argue The Conjuring is more creepy than scary and a PG-13 would have probably suited this film just fine, though they probably would have had to snip a couple of bloodier moments a little tighter than they currently exist in its final form.

For the most part the performances work, though a few people did laugh a bit toward the end of my screening, but I often attribute laughter at a horror movie to a general sense of unease. So, in this case, it's probably a good sign.

Curious enough, while I despise the fact they are already planning on turning this into a franchise, the ending was a little too tidy for me. As much as I respect a film for having a beginning, middle and end, I wish the ending had been left a little more open. Granted, there are several directions even I can already come up with as to where future installments could go, but still, a little nugget of fear at the very end would have elevated the film a bit further in my eyes.

Still, Wan has captured a mood similar to his last horror success Insidious, taken advantage of the only creepy part of Dead Silence in repeating his use of creepy puppets and given us a horror film we can respect, which is more than I can say for a lot of 2013's releases at this point.


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More Reviews
  • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

    Going tomorrow night and seriously cannot wait. One of my most anticipated of the year.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Adu/ Adu

    Quite excited to see this.

  • http://couchpotatodigest.blogspot.com Matt

    Great review, Brad! I'm really excited for this and should be seeing it tomorrow night. I think James Wan has a lot of talent and Vera Farmiga is one of my favorite actresses at the moment. I also loved the 70s vibe and, based on your review, the film should be right up my alley.

    Random side note: the moment from "Paranormal Activity" you describe in your review was my favorite scene in the film.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Mv11391/ Michael

    Really can't wait to see this!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/dam94/ dam94
  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

    Great review, but I'm not interested in this film at all. I don't find being scared very entertaining.

    • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

      Funny, we're exact opposites.

      When a movie can actually frighten me (rare these days), I tend to love it.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

      what i do like about creepy horror films is that they turn you back into a child where you're just thinking irrational thoughts about what's in the wardrobe or under the bed.....or is that just me? haha

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Jake17/ Jake17

        I'm with you. I love the feeling of being terrified, feeling like a helpless, naive little kid again.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

    Fab review, Brad. I would love to see this but definitely with someone else, i might try and see it on the big screen where i suspect it'll be amazing. I should try and give more horror a go, i used to love it growing up but in the last ten years or so i have been really put off by all the torture porn stuff, hopefully that phase is done with now

  • http://themoviegurusblog.blogspot.com The Movie Guru

    Can't wait but I know I'm going to be scared as hell.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    Really excited for this. I probably won't be seeing it this weekend but I will definitely be seeing it eventually.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kessler/ Kessler

    Good to hear it's a solid film. I watched the Evil Dead remake last night and found it to be insufferable. This looks like a much better and scarier movie. I'm hoping it's as frightening as the advertising says.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Xarnis/ Xarnis

    I will say, I'd rather see this than R.I.P.D.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RandallPMcMurphy/ Randall P McMurphy

    Great review Brad. Here are my thoughts after watching it: http://letterboxd.com/randle_mcmurphy/film/the-conjuring/

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/RandallPMcMurphy/ Randall P McMurphy

    I also wanted to say I find it ironic that James Wan would leave it so open ended, leaving enough space for a sequel, after saying he hated what they did with the Saw franchise. Why not give it a proper ending? Still, I wouldn't mind if the sequel were directed by him.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      Really? I wish it had been more open-ended. An open ending doesn't have to suggest a sequel, even though that's how they are largely viewed these days. It can also suggest that while one particular story may have come to a close, life still goes on and in this case, evil still exists.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Jake17/ Jake17

    I'm probably seeing this Saturday, and despite not caring for Insidious I have very high expectations. Hope it lives up to them.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    I never get "scared" in these movies. It's a movie. How can you be scared from it? I've never understood the notion and don't think I ever will.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/thatank04/ Hank Akin

      There have been so many real life cases of perfectly sane people having interactions with what could only be described as the supernatural. Many people desperately don't want to believe ghosts or spirits exist, but if it looks like a duck.....In college I lived in a house that was haunted by a spirit of a man whose wife killed him in the 60's. One time one of my friends who didn't believe started talking shit to the ghost, saying how pathetic this man was for letting his wife killed him etc. Later that night his girlfriend (who lived in the house with us) had her tiny puppy locked in the bathroom while all of us were out to dinner. The door had the poor dog's blood all over the door because it was trying to scratch it open. You could tell the dog had been seriously traumatized. There have been several documented cases of these interactions with the supernatural being violent. The mainstream news media would of course never pick up on them.

      • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

        Supernatural events could very well be possible, but as much as films want to represent them, they're still "films". Do you get traumatized every time you see a murder happen on-screen? Do you get queazy every time you see blood? Do you get aroused from every time you see a sex scene in a film? These would be normal reactions to encountering these scenes in real life, but seeing it in a film is very different. So for the life of me, I just don't get people who get "scared" of seeing ghosts, serial killers or monsters in movies.

        Every time I see a little girl crawl like a demon in the movies, I can't help but laugh at what I assumed the directing must have sounded like. Getting "scared" is the last thing I expect to happen at the movies.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          Remove "every time" from your questions and I think you will find you answer yes to most of them yourself. Most films aren't scary or creepy, but some of them tap into that emotion, the same way movies are meant to tap into feelings of anger, romance, humor, etc. If you aren't going to the movies to feel something why are you going?

  • http://timeforafilm.com Alex Thomas

    Love the hide and clap game, slight spoiler here for anyone reading: When the doll / ghost claps from inside the closet I was ***ting myself!!!

    Really enjoyed this one, was holding my breath and grabbing the chair a lot lol!

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Corbin/ Corbin

    I can't wait to see this movie, looking forward to it even more now.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    Hell yeah! It's been way too long since we have been treated to a solid horror movie...excited for this one.

  • http://www.seensome.com SeenSome

    I saw this one a few weeks back at a film festival and really liked it. While it is obviously derivative of so many haunted house films that have gone before it and is packed full of just about every horror trope you can think of - creepy doll, mysterious basement, distressed pet, banging doors - Wan handles them all with such skill and creates a real uneasy atmosphere.

    I found the film to be scary but in a fun way. There was no haunting or unpleasant imagery that stayed with me after watching it, like last year's Sinister did, it was just a fun, satisfying experience.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Ryguy815/ Ryguy815

    Well..turns out maybe I won't be seeing this so soon. I just checked my local theatre listings for this week and guess what? Their not showing it.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Kimberlesk/ Kimberlesk

    Seeing a well done 'scary' movie is like riding a roller coaster -- it's a thrill. It's fun to get scared in the theater, knowing you leave and go back to your normal life. It's safe.

    I'm really looking forward to seeing this movie Saturday! I met the Warrens, years ago, and they really have some great scary stories!

    Also going to read Andrea's books. I bet they are even better.

  • http://www.digitalkebab.com Shaun Heenan

    I saw it last night and was glad to see a solidly made horror movie that featured real actors actually acting. I don't think it's as scary as Sinister, but it also cheats less than that movie, so it evens out a little. The horror movie audience is usually a nightmare to deal with, but this one kept them mostly quiet, which says a lot about how engaging it is.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Beautifulm/ Beautifulm

    I loved this it was really good.

  • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

    Just got back and really enjoyed it. Here is my quick review:

    Terrifying and masterfully paced, The Conjuring is one of the best horror movies we've had in years. The movie does a nice job of building up the story so the audience actually cares about the characters. All the while the movie keeps teasing bits and pieces of horror and suspense to keep the audience thirsty for more. A combination of an eerie atmosphere, jump scares (not too many, making them more meaningful), good sound and thoughtful camerawork, made this an effective horror movie for me. I can definitely see myself returning to this one again in the future. Recommended, especially if you like the horror genre.

    8.0 / 10 or "B+"

  • http://reelprojection.com/ GothamCity151

    It takes a lot to scare me in a movie. Only a few films have really gotten to me. Jump scares are something I cannot stand. They are not scary. They are surprising. They are a jolt of adrenaline rather than taking time to create a real dread in the air. This film was just another collection of jump scares that had me slouched over in my seat for the entire runtime. Not to mention every single plot point was so familiar and so overdone that it was hard to be invested in anything. Aside from one scene involving laundry that got under my skin a bit, I was jut bored.

    • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

      I really have to disagree with you on this one concerning the jump scares. On one hand, it kind of bothers me when horror movies are criticized for having jump scares. Practically every horror movie has jump scares (Halloween, The Shining). That's like criticizing an action movie for having explosions - it comes with the territory and are effective when not overused and put in the proper places. That's where I felt The Conjuring worked so well. There were so many opportunities to use jump scares and they were rarely used, just building to the suspense and eventual surprise when we got one. I thought most of the terror was built from what was unseen anyways.

      To each their own about how they feel about the movie. If it didn't work for you, I can't argue there, but the jump scares were not overbearing in The Conjuring and used effectively in my opinion.

      • http://www.seensome.com SeenSome

        A jump scare on its own is surprising rather than scary but in the middle of all the tension and atmosphere Wan creates in The Conjuring, the jump scares - or moreso the anticipation of them - definitely worked for me.

        Like any trope in any film, if it's used well it can be effective. The Conjuring didn't rely on jump scares and used them sparingly so it didn't feel cheap or lazy.

  • http://www.smartfilm.blogspot.com SmartFilm

    First off, here's my quick little review:

    All in all, The Conjuring is just an incredibly effective creeper that is much more likely to linger with its patrons than much of the horror fare of the recent past. As such, it's a flag-bearer of horror as homage and fear as a genuine experience. While the early claims of this being one of the scariest movies of all time may be a little forced, it does sit high up on the shelf. Following suit, horror movies following in The Conjuring's footsteps will have to withstand a new harsh standard that'll demand them stand on its own two-feet without handicapping themselves with CGI or excessive gore. Going forth, prepare for a regular knocking when using simple jump-scare tactics as a solitary and weak-legged crutch.

    Read more here: http://smartfilm.blogspot.com/2013/07/out-in-theaters-conjuring.html

  • http://www.smartfilm.blogspot.com SmartFilm

    Now down to the brass tax.

    Brad, I'm pretty sure that we attended the same screening of this based on the timing of your review and I was wondering if you were similarly annoyed by the amount of people laughing in it. I get that some horror movies are played for laughs but it was like from the very first opening scene, a crew of people were just in stitches. It just really didn't make sense in the context of the film and annoyed me because I felt that people were just trying to make a scene/were showing off to their friends.

    I know screening audiences are notoriously inconsiderate (had two people behind me in tonight's Crystal Fairy screening that were just talking to each other freely at full volume) but I was particularly annoyed with the audience's response and almost wish I had experienced it at home or, even better, in a theater by myself surrounded by considerate patrons. I had a somewhat similar experience with The Heat audience but that was more just out of sheer confusion as to how everyone but me seemed to think it was literally the funniest thing they've ever seen in their entire life. Rambling aside, did you get that vibe in this particular screening or am I standing solo here?

    • http://www.seensome.com SeenSome

      Some cinema audiences are unbelievable. From what Brad and Laremy have said on the podcast though, it does sound like American audiences are a lot rowdier than those over here. There are some people here who will get their phone out and text and continually mumble to their friends or whatever, but it never really gets bad enough that they're having full blown conversations or something.

      When I saw Pacific RIm last week though, a woman came in with a baby that must have been less than a year old. How they even let her in is beyond me. Thankfully she left after about 10 minutes but the child is probably traumatised for life.

  • http://letterboxd.com/gman/ G-Man

    I loved the opening crawl sequence by the way!

    • http://www.smartfilm.blogspot.com SmartFilm

      I totally agree. It was very reminiscent of The Exorcist.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Django/ Django

    Looks like James Wan is turning into a very reliable horror film director.

  • cineJAB

    the phrase "little nugget of fear" has me in fits right now. This movie was excellent, but I too am uneasy about sequels. Can't Wan just take some of his team into a whole new story instead of having them reopened? Go from Insidious to The Conjuring to something new instead of Insidious part 2 and The Conjuring 2

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/kclaw31/ kclaw31

    What I found to be so great about THE CONJURING was the character development and excellent acting performances all around. This movie did a great job storytelling. Also, it's nice to see competent people in a horror film instead of a bunch of bumbling idiots making bad decisions. I was rooting for these two families all the way. Very, very solid film. At least a B+ for me.

  • Joseph Bridges

    What really impressed me about The Conjuring is that they are throwing every single horror trope at the screen all at the same time and they are sticking. There are tons of films that do this every year and they just dont emerge into anything. Why did this break the mold?