Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Conjuring and...Zodiac?

The main trailer for The Conjuring puts to good use Donovan’s song Hurdy Gurdy Man, and I was immediately reminded of Zodiac. Fincher’s film is bookended by that classic late 60s tune, and thus the feeling I get when I think of that film is often the feeling I get when I listen to that song. Call it what you will—the commanding power of music, or anything.

In any case, it’s hard to imagine the folks behind the trailer didn’t have Zodiac in mind when they inserted that song in it. While The Conjuring is nowhere near as good as Fincher’s film (that’s not meant to detract from The Conjuring’s efforts, but merely to acknowledge that more and more people, myself included, are beginning to see Zodiac as an out-and-out masterpiece), the fact that a movie of Zodiac’s quality may have been on the minds of its makers somewhat bespeaks their high regard for it. It’s clear that director James Wan was attempting something both beyond anything he had ever made, as well as the average modern American horror film. He wanted to make something that was good enough that people would watch it again, and scary enough that they would hesitate to, even though they knew the movie deserved it.
The obvious reason Zodiac may have been on the minds Wan and his team is the 1970s setting. Despite its modern digital look, Fincher, with his obsessive eye for detail was able to capture the look of the 70s better than anyone has in the 21st century. Waan’s film, while not quite as precise as Fincher’s, still does a remarkable job of capturing not just the look, but the aura of that decade. Because most of the film is set in the country, he’s forced to pay extra attention to costumes, cars, hair, and lighting while never actually over-emphasizing the period design. If a film looks like it’s desperately trying to capture the period design then it rings false; The Conjuring is subtle in its attempt at recreation, and thus feels more real. Thus, while the subject matters are completely different in these two movies, they actually have a mildly similar feel to them. And it’s not just in their visual appearance (besides the period detail, The Conjuring is filled with meticulous steadicam and dolly shots—gorgeous and often terrifying, almost reminiscent of something Kubrick would have done) but in the way they go about using terror. Zodiac, while not technically a horror film, is quite frightening. One of the reasons is because despite the constant presence of the law, the viewer never feels like anyone is safe. Even when the killings stop halfway through the movie, there’s a looming sense of fear because evil doesn’t just overpower, but often outsmarts authority.

The Conjuring has something comparable going on. Typically in horror films, it’s when possible victims are exposed and unprotected that we get the most frightened. The Conjuring however saves many of its scariest moments for when the Perron family gets the security of both a cop and Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal team investigating the evil ghost in the house. There’s an initial sense of comfort for both the Perrons (captured nicely with a cheery pancake breakfast scene) and the viewer. However, these vanish soon as it its revealed the malevolence of the evil spirit is only increasing.

Like Zodiac, the terror is in how defenseless good people can be in the face of true evil. Of course, while Zodiac is in no way supernatural, both of these films do share the based on fact title, which only adds to the sense of the viewer’s unease.

This all a bit of a stretch, and the last movie I expected to be thinking about after The Conjuring was Fincher’s, and yet it’s ultimately viable with the mindset that intentions lead to unexpected results. And with the high esteem nearly all filmmakers have for Fincher, it’s hard not believe Zodiac influenced Wan in some way, even if it was subconsciously. 

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