The Conjuring is an especially effective entry into the horror genre. It is done with a homage to the horror movies of the 1970’s and evokes the spirit of those movies throughout the film. James Wan directs with a sure hand and lets the mood and atmosphere permeate the story. Tension is built naturally and the actors react more or less as we would expect real people to react. (Including, GASP, turning on the lights before entering a room?!) The best part of the film, in my opinion, is the use of practical effects. The best horror films convince the audience that the horror is real and could happen to anyone. Lately, the genre has gone the way of computer graphics which cheapens the experience. The Conjuring lets old school effects send the chills to the audience.
The story, which is based on a true story, follows two families. The Warrens, who are noted demonologists and supernatural hunters, and the Perrons, a family who has unwittingly moved into an old house that is home to more than themselves. Vera Farminga and Patrick Wilson play the Warrens. Lorraine Warren is described as a clairvoyant and has opened herself up to the spirits around her which has taken its toll on both mental health and her family life. Ed Warren is constantly trying to protect her to which she rebukes him. She believes that she has been given this gift from God so that they can fight in His name together.
The Perrons are an All-American family trying to make the best of the situation. He is a cross-country trucker and she is a stay at home mom for their five daughters. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor play the Perrons so convincingly you would swear they were married in real life. All five girls are allowed to have their own personalities and the young actresses portraying them do a solid job of keeping the characters separate. Lili Taylor is especially good in this film and has to run the gamut with her character.
The Perrons have issues in their new farmhouse almost immediately. Clocks stop at the same time, doors open and close, strange noises, typical haunted house stuff. As the film progresses the situation becomes more malevolent and the danger is ramped up exponentially. What I found interesting was the use of modern ghost hunting tropes filtered through 1970’s technology. Cameras and microphones are used effectively and help to keep the story hurtling forward. At about the halfway point there is no stopping to take a breath. The action moves at a frantic pace, yet, each elevation feels like a natural consequence to the Warrens involvement.
Vera Farminga and Lili Taylor are the lynchpins to this movie. They ground the supernatural with natural performances and allow the tension to feel both earned and anxiety ridden. They are the stars and give incredible performances. Taylor gives equal weight to her motherly role and the more extreme sides she is required to portray. Farminga plays Lorraine Warren with a sense of steeled fragility that can be felt in every scene. She is wildly successful in letting the audience know exactly how much she gives of herself to help others. These are great performances for the genre and I hope the tradition continues.
James Wan is responsible for some of the best horror movies of the last decade and he continues his streak here. The Conjuring will proudly sit amongst his filmography along the likes of Saw, Dead Silence, and Insidious. His direction for each movie feels different and plot based. Saw may be his biggest hit and he wisely left the series before it devolved into self-parody. Each subsequent effort sees him sharpening his horror skills. Here he revels in 1970’s feel both in terms of actual plot line and his directorial style. Wan is quickly becoming a name that we can trust in the horror genre much like Craven and Carpenter. He has years to go to catch up to those names, but the films so far show immense potential.
The Conjuring is a legitimate horror hit. It strikes the right tone and lets mood, atmosphere, and performances guide the film to its scares. These coupled with the practical effects make this a horror film worth checking out. It certainly gives it distinction from the scores of awful horror films released year after year. I, for one, hope the genre will continue in this path and James Wan has my sincere best wishes for the future.