Horror movies can be tricky. Overusing jump scares is cheap, and if the suspense is drawn out too long, the movie can get boring. If the storyline and characters are shallow, the movie won't stick with you. There is a fine line that modern horror movies walk; the line that determines if the movie is just a Friday night flick or if it will be passed down from generation to generation as one of Hollywood's scariest. I believe that James Wan's 2013 "The Conjuring" falls into the latter category. Not only is the acting, writing, and directing masterfully done, but it is straight-up terrifying. In case you haven't seen it, here's a list of the top #3 reasons why this movie will continue to give it's viewers actual chills up their spines and keep them up at night.
1. Perfect use of suspense.
As I mentioned earlier, suspense can be a hard thing to handle. I think that if it's drawn out too long, the story can become a little boring. Some of you may argue with me and say that prolonged suspense can build a false sense of comfort, and that is true in some cases. Prolonged suspense, for example, works well in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"; we spend the majority of the movie safe from any real scares. The long period of "nothing" scaring us in actuality works for that movie - we start to feel the isolation of the hotel and the eerieness that comes with its daily life. This technique wouldn't have worked in "The Conjuring" though. After the Perron family movies into the home, we almost immediately start to see the fabric of things unravel. The doors opening on their own. The hand claps that aren't made by the kids playing. We get a little time between these things, but inevitably the malevolent spirits pick up their game at a steady pace - the mysterious bruises on Carolyn, the apparition of different ghosts, the attack on the girls as they sleep. The tension and severity of the Perron's interactions with the supernatural grow and grow until you are wound as tight as a bowstring for the climax: the possession of Carolyn Perron.
2. Deep characters.
This point is pretty self-explanatory. The characters have some depth; this has a lot to do with the brilliant acting. The chemistry is so obvious between each of them - when someone is worried about another character's safety, you don't doubt the authenticity of their concerns. In consequence, you feed off of that concern. Not only that, but every gasp, every scream feels so real that it makes your heart clench in your chest. These characters are truly terrified, and that keeps you "in" the movie.
3. The sense of realism.
A lot of horror movies are just unrealistic. Sure they can still be scary, but odds are you aren't going to run into any vampires or werewolves or the Man with the Fire Face from "Insidious" or any killer clowns like Pennywise from "IT" (unless you lived in America during the 2016 clown epidemic). Point being, "The Conjuring" has a more realistic flavor to it. After all, the characters in the movie are based on real people! Whether their story is actually true to any extent is debatable, but it still adds a level of horror to know that somewhere out there, the Perron family and the paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren actually exist.
Now let us talk about the antagonists. As I mentioned earlier, the way the antagonists are revealed is stealthy. We don't see the demon for a long time; we get flashes, we get hand claps from unknown sources, our own imagination gets the best of us, and then we get the possession of Carolyn. No fake looking ghouls. Bathsheba Sherman is the name of the evil spirit that has latched herself onto the Perron family; when she was still alive, she practiced witchcraft, killed her children and then hung herself. That's something that could happen in real life! Demented parents are something that actually exists and that is why it's terrifying. Not to mention the exorcism - whether you're a believer or not, records of exorcisms and demonic possessions do actually exist; whether they actually happened is up to you, but the fact that any frights we see in this movie seem more plausible than what happens in a lot of other horror movies is what ultimately leads "The Conjuring" to be one of the scariest movies in the 21st century.