Shadowvision: “THE CONJURING”
Welcome to Shadowvision, a regular column in which Fangoria.com revisits modern horror films in black-and-white. The purpose is to analyze these films through a new lens, seeing if the classically informed viewing experience will give a new angle to familiar images. If you’d like to watch along at home, it’s simple: go into your TV settings and desaturate the picture completely, then adjust the contrast and brightness to fit either standard or high definition.
When originating this article, this writer knew that THE CONJURING would be fairly high on his list of films to revisit in black and white. Few modern films are as classically inspired or as horrifying while showing a remarkable use of restraint, a tactic that James Wan has all but perfected since his underrated work on DEAD SILENCE. Yet THE CONJURING was especially proficient at rousing scares, a fact displayed in its superb box office intake and rave reviews.
But the reason why this film was so exciting to revisit in black and white is that THE CONJURING removes the Gothic stylings Wan has built over the years, focusing instead on his furious ability to incite dread. THE CONJURING takes place in the ’70s, where many of its influences reside, but also is inspired by classic haunting tales such as THE HAUNTING and THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL during many of its scarier moments. Therefore, revisiting the film as a monochromatic presentation felt tonally appropriate and stylistically warranted.
First of all, there should be an ample rise in contrast on this view, if only to help accentuate the intended look of the shadows in the film. THE CONJURING is not a film that’s dependent on the contrast of color, but it is a film that rests its laurels in its depiction of light and darkness. The film often presents its whites brighter than normal and its shadows darker, as to create a lingering sense of division between the forces of good and evil, and therefore will do much of the work for you. However, for the proper black and white translation, don’t be afraid to pump up the contrast to where you see fit.
And although THE CONJURING still delivers the same scares, and proficiently at that, the black and white experience exceeded expectations, accentuating the scarier moments greatly. In black and white, the atmosphere isn’t only suspenseful; it’s also inviting, using the mystique of the colorless shadows to present an omnipresent menace. Furthermore, the presentation of the spirits- pasty white and stuck in time- appear much scarier when robbed of their natural coloring, which makes the main antagonist, Bathsheba, all the more threatening.
James Wan’s specific style of direction, which often includes beautifully orchestrated camerawork, works wonders in the confines of black and white, especially considering how often he relies on his actors as emotional catalysts. Wan’s patience and reliance on suspense matches the eras he aims to invoke, allowing John R. Leonetti to build his frames with a conscious effort for the potential of each scare. By doing so, Wan, alongside Leonetti and INSIDIOUS composer Joseph Bishara, revives simplicity within horror films; a classically informed tactic if there ever was one yet with the confidence and understanding of a modern filmmaker, all of which suits a black and white presentation.
For instance, several sequences that are undeniably scary in THE CONJURING becomes even more intense when robbed of their color. Particularly, the “behind the door” sequence is much more intense and creepy without the bluish hue to the darkness, allowing the audience to focus more on the performance of Joey King. Furthermore, the scene following Lorraine’s unexpected descent into the basement is also amplified by the lack of color, pitting her in untrustworthy darkness as she comes face to face with the surrounding apparitions. Additionally, the climactic sequence feels much more chaotic when viewed in monochrome, as the performances feel more physical and impulsive and the camerawork appears to be more disorienting and discomforting.
Although the differences in performance aren’t as stark in black and white, there are slight changes are more noticeable outside the traditional viewings. Firstly, Patrick Wilson’s Ed Warren feels more suited for black and white, reminding this writer of the many supernatural psychics of horror’s golden era, especially when factoring in his era-appropriate New England accent. Vera Farmiga and Ron Livingston feel much more inspired by ’70s horror, but the changes in behavior as the haunting worsens is more noticeable without the distraction of the wonderful and detailed art design. However, Lili Taylor’s transformation is perhaps the most affecting without color, as the modifications from the possession appear much more monstrous than contorted.
As a whole, THE CONJURING comes at a huge recommendation for a black and white viewing, as the mechanisms that move the film all feel appropriated from a bygone era of supernatural fare. Wan’s direction, Leonetti’s lens and the performances of the actors are all strong enough in color, but in black and white, an already atmospheric film becomes nearly unbearable in its relentless terror. It’s a unique and fitting alternate way to watch THE CONJURING, and an even better way to see the timelessness of Wan’s ghost story aesthetics.
Recommended for Black and White Consumption: YES.