Dir. James Wan
Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lilly Taylor, Ron Livingston
James Wan has now been a part of the mainstream horror scene for almost ten years. In fact it is hard to conceive that there was a time when Saw (2004) and its sequels didn’t exist. Divisive as those films were, they were incredibly successful and Wan was labelled as something of a young master of the genre. It was a little premature to bestow such honours on a young film maker, but he has spent the last decade leading up to The Conjuring. This time he may have proven that he is worthy of the early accolades as it is a thoroughly effective shocker that manages to be a breath of fresh air for the old haunted house movie.
Set in 1971 the movie follows Ed and Lorraine Warren(Wilson and Farmiga), real life paranormal investigators and their encounters with the Perron family. Roger and Carolyn Perron(Livingston, and Taylor) move into an old run down farmhouse with their five daughters and immediately the trouble starts. Clocks stop, pictures are thrown, and the daughters are all in some way affected and rattled by the presences in the house. The Warrens are contacted and the investigation begins, building and building to a thunderous final half hour when all hell begins to break loose, and demons are literally faced. Whilst this is an over simplification of things, it does have an air of deja vu about it.
The truth is we have been here before and there is nothing overly new about The Conjuring. True story or not, Wan and his writers stick closely to some tried and tested tricks and structures, and there are nods to the Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, Poltergeist and even The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But they use them as weapons rather than clichés to hide behind and the familiarity of the situation helps to lure the viewer into a false sense of security. Along with the period setting, and the autumnal photography it is one of the film’s major strengths. They all combine, carefully building a creeping atmosphere and an undercurrent of dread that holds the viewer from very early on. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of ‘jump’ scares littered throughout, and a few fake ones to boot. But rather than detract from the terror it serves it, timing its thrills with a precision unusual for a modern mainstream horror movie.
The performances here are all good too, right down to minor supporting characters. Ron Livingston is of particular note; the quiet desperation and devastation he portrays as the terror mounts in the foreground is particularly affecting. Everyone here has something to work with though, as even the seemingly minor characters have real and believable personalities.
The Conjuring is something of a surprise then, when considered in the context of other ‘summer’ movies. It is both adult (the movie received an R rating in the States.) and classical in its approach, which could conceivably alienate casual audiences looking for a quick thrill. For those looking for a more thoughtful and traditional approach however, this will be the diamond in a summer of rough.
Next out for Wan is the already completed Insidious Chapter 2. He then leaves our beloved horror genre behind for the mega budget Fast and Furious 7, perhaps never to return. This would be a shame as from Saw, to the underrated Dead Silence, and the bonkers, but brilliant Insidious he has proved himself adept at handling the genre with skill.