I saw the trailer for The Conjuring early last spring, you know the one I’m talking about, with the hide and seek, the clap, clap. Whatever movie this preview was opening for wasn’t even scary, and so I found myself totally unprepared for the terror that I was about to experience. Sure, and without giving too much away, the essence of that scene is mostly shock, or as they refer to it in that South Park episode, being startled.
But that’s exactly what you go to a horror movie to feel. A good one, anyway. The Conjuring is definitely a good horror movie. I felt like I was clinging to the sides of my seat the entire time, the sides of my seat, the bottom, I’d grab onto any part of the movie theater seat and clench my hands, my arms, everything, and I’d realize that it wasn’t really helping me manage the terror. So I’d shift, I’d grab something else. I wound up spending most of the movie sitting there with my arms wrapped tightly around my chest, exercising basically every muscle in my body.
So you get the picture, I was scared, I liked it. But why does this movie work where so many horror films fall flat? It’s all about pace, especially with a movie like this that doesn’t really stray too far from the time tested forms of the genre. There are creaky stairs, doors opening and closing by themselves, there was definitely a lot of stuff that we’ve already scene before.
But the pacing was perfect. It’s the kind of very slow, things-slightly-start-to-go-wrong mentality, an ominous build up that lets you know something very sinister is going on. That’s easy enough, at least, they made me scared during that trailer. But how would this idea play out for an entire movie?
We all know that there are going to be things popping out at you, lots of slow camera shots that just beg to be interrupted by a scary ghost-lady close-up, but at what point to you sit back and go, OK, this isn’t scary anymore? A lot of times whatever is being used as a plot gets too convoluted, like maybe they’ll look in the history books and figure out the origins of the paranormal activity, and they’ll have to return an amulet or something to set a certain spirit to rest.
So to me, the perfect horror movie never lets you go. Even as whatever is going on is brought to a climax, you’re still sitting there in your seat trying to find that magical position that might make the fear somewhat more bearable. That’s what this movie achieves. You’re never comfortable.
There’s a little side-story opening, involving a doll, which almost made me check out ten minutes into the film. Then we dive right into this family moving into this house somewhere in New England. It looks like it might have started falling apart a hundred years ago. They don’t waste time on too much backstory, and it’s not one of these things where only one person can tell there’s something wrong here.
And equally as important, there’s also not that one idiot character that, despite all of the evidence to the contrary, remains firm in his or her conviction that there’s absolutely nothing going on here.
Oh yeah, and it’s in the seventies. I’m telling you, the seventies are fucking scary. So are the sixties. The eighties are just this big neon joke and the nineties, well, I grew up in the nineties, so to me, it’s all a little too familiar. And go ahead trying to make a horror movie set in the present. Whenever I get scared in my house, I turn on all of my TVs, my lights, and I start streaming as much music and video from the Internet at the same time. There’s too much distraction in our modern world to get really scared of anything.
But the seventies, man, you’ve got a problem with ghosts? You can’t just send an email to some random ghost hunters you found on the Internet. No, you have to stalk them at some college hours away where they happen to be giving a lecture. And what if you need emergency clearance from the Vatican for a last minute exorcism? Sorry pal, we’ll see if we can’t get in touch with Rome tomorrow morning. And by the way, that call’s going to be expensive, so we’re going to need a deposit.
Also, the kids say stuff like groovy, and far out. Yup, that’s pretty much how I imagine the seventies, no cell phones, lots of creepy black and white TV static, groovy. I’m terrified.
The Conjuring is fantastically scary. Seriously, I’m still shaking. And no, nothing especially new happened, no envelopes were pushed or anything like that. It’s just a very well put together horror film. It’s like a really catchy summer pop song that the entire world gets stuck in its head. No, there’s nothing especially revolutionary going on here, but something’s been tapped, something universal, and it’s been executed almost flawlessly.