Directed by: James Wan
R. 112 mins
A delightfully sinister tale whose vintage charm doesn’t make it any less terrifying. This is the true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), world renowned paranormal investigators, who were called in the early 1970s to help The Perrons, a family terrorized by a dark presence in a remote farmhouse.
The film features a opening crawl which evokes the time period and immediately ratchets up the tension. It soon becomes clear that this film will be similar in tone to Wan’s latest paranormal tale, Insidious. In terms of the spirits at play, Wan features multiple personalities and the tried-and-true horror staples: creepy dolls, satanic witches, birds and of course, jump scares. It would appear that The Warrens are not scam artists and the lo-fi film cameras, microphones and flashbulb photography add to the authenticity of this film. There is such a great sense of atmosphere throughout the film, even if the tricks are nothing new. Somehow, Wan has managed to exploit classic scares into something that is still remarkably effective. The audience knows what is about to happen and yet we remain scared and almost laugh in anticipation as if we are a part of a game played between director and audience. It seems like Wan threw in all these horror cliches just to remind us that those elements still have the ability to scare us – they just have to be under the control of a true craftsman. But perhaps the most effective component in this film is the cast.
Vera Farminga is brilliant as the clairvoyant who carries the weight of all these horrifying visions within her but continues to use her gift to benefit others, even if it puts her own life at risk. After a previous exorcism that didn’t end well, Elaine Warren is grim and visibly exhausted. Naturally, her husband is just as hesitant to risk their lives once more for a family they just met. What seals the deal, though, is Lorraine’s empathy for Carolyn Perron as a fellow mother. The writers could have done a better job in terms of linking all these stories together, especially with regards to the history of this haunted house, but overall the film succeeds because of that extra layer of emotion behind all the smoke and mirrors.
The Conjuring is a revelation for modern horror films because it manages to be believable, despite the recycled scare tactics, and it’s one of the best I’ve seen in a while. When the audience around me is holding their breath in anticipation, I know this one’s a winner – * * * 1/2