Sunday, July 21, 2013

Haunted Mansion

Year: 2013
Director: James Wan
Cast: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor
Run Time: 1 hour 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

James Wan has found a niche and he's sticking to it. The Conjuring shares many of the same triumphs (and failures) as its predecessor, Insidious. Although, because it has an R-rating, it is necessarily one step above its baby brother.

The Conjuring serves up a tight PG-13 type haunted house movie that compiles iconography from sources as varied as The Amityville Horror, The Twilight Zone, Paranormal Activity 3, The Exorcist, and even the 2013 megaflop Dark Skies. And for a while, it is content to run along much on the same track as Insidious - having multiple obvious sources but being a good enough compilation of classic elements to not feel like a complete ripoff. And, like I have mentioned previously, nobody is making good haunted house movies anymore, so maybe a return to basics is what we need right now.

Unfortunately, this is basics.

Based on the true case files of the Warrens, a married team of paranormal investigators, this movie takes place in the fall of 1971. Carolyn Perron (Taylor) and her husband (Ron Livingston) have just moved into a new house in Rhode Island with their five daughters. As if having to take care of five rambunctious girls wasn't horror enough, they begin to hear strange noises in the night.

A variety of ghostly things happen - mysterious odors, clocks stopping, pictures falling of the walls - and it's enough to make Carolyn seek out the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga). Ed just wants to return home to their daughter but Lorraine has a giving heart and convinces him otherwise. Despite Something Horrible that happened to her on a previous case, she is determined to save this family (the girls have stuck a chord in her heart).

Without giving too much away, it turns out that a bevy of terrible things have happened on this very plot of land. Basically this house has a bloodier backstory than Jigsaw himself. I was well on my way to giving this film a 6/10 review (competent but uncreative) when the story took a sharp left turn and went from a halfway decent haunted house flick to an actually pretty good exorcism movie.

Now, it still owes a lot to previous movies but the tension is ramped up as sh!t really starts to hit the fan.  Unlike Insidious, the extended third act is what really holds this film together. If this means that James Wan's powers are only getting stronger, I am very excited for Insidious: Chapter 2's release in September.

So. Based on a true story. This gimmick is used quite a lot in the horror genre (off the top of my head we have The Blair Witch Project, The Exorcist, and The Amityville Horror) to add an extra dimension to the fear. If the audience thinks that what is happening really occurred to some poor family, we're entering pants-soiling territory here.

Although we may never know what actually happened, this film is in fact based on a true family. The Warrens were a team of demonologists that practiced for over 50 years. In fact, they were the pair that investigated the original Amityville Horror. Basically this couple is Zelda Rubinstein from Poltergeist for a living.

Now is it true? Are there demons in our universe trying to infest our souls? Maybe. Maybe not. Nobody will ever know for certain, but if not there are still enough bizarre disturbances to keep the Warrens in business, so that means there's gotta be something, right? OOOOoooooOOOOoooooOOOOOO.

Author's Note: As I write this, there is a mysterious knocking coming from upstairs. I believe somebody is hammering some kind of manly woodshop project, but I am entering Stage 3 Heebie Jeebies.

If you wanna check out the Warrens' website, click here. It is a spectacularly awful example of 90's web design (replete with terrible "spooky" MIDI music and - notably - one page with musical accompaniment by a group of Gregorian monks chanting "Boulevard of Broken Dreams"). It's actually a comfort, because it's much harder to take them seriously this way.

Although if my sources are correct, Ed Warren is what is known colloquially as a "babe."

TL;DR: A notch above Insidious, The Conjuring is content delivering effective but routine scares before it veers into a far more interesting arena.
Rating: 8/10
Should I Spend Money On This? Yes, absolutely. Especially because most modern audience members are less jaded than I am and will get a kick out of it.
Word Count: 775
Reviews In This Series
The Conjuring (Wan, 2013)
Annabelle (Leonetti, 2014)
The Conjuring 2 (Wan, 2016)
The Nun (Hardy, 2018)
The Curse of La Llorona (Chaves, 2019)

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