The Conjuring deviates from the gore-centric horror films of the past decade and reverently returns to the origins of what makes people experience true terror in the cinema. Recognised (unfairly in my opinion) by most circles as one of the spearhead directors of the torture porn genre, Malaysian-born, Australian-raised James Wan doesn’t reinvent the ‘horror wheel’, but cleverly pays homage to the codes and conventions of the classic supernatural horror films of the 70’s. By avoiding unnecessary gratuitous violence and carnage, Wan’s restrained direction crafts an incredibly creepy and effective thriller that does far more with silence and subtle movements, than any amount of bloodshed ever could.
Based on the supposed ‘true story’ events of real world demonologists, Ed and Lorraine Warren (played superbly by the highly respectable Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the film takes place in the newly-acquired Rhode Island home of the Perrons (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five beautiful daughters. In a series of unsettling and well-executed scares, the family is gradually tormented by forces unseen. As the tension and dread escalate, the Warrens are contacted to uncover and extract this demonic entity before the entire family is consumed by it.
If any of this premise seems vaguely familiar to you (The Exorcist, Poltergeist, The Amityville Horror), then you’d be correct. Audiences have seen hundreds of haunted house tales before. Admittedly, I found most of the scares to be iterations of previous horror works, but there was something about Wan’s creation here that consistently made my skin crawl. One could look to the film’s careful attention to building relatable ‘human’ characters, the refined but effective use of Joesph Bashara’s score, the lack of special effects and the overall sense of realism as sources for its overall effectiveness.
I do however argue that ultimately the praise must go to Wan’s methodical direction that makes the familiar seem so fresh and utterly unnerving. Gone is his overproduced, MTV-styled presentation that we witnessed in Saw. Almost a decade later, we’re discovering a director that has matured in his craft and refined his skillset. The scares are genuinely earned in this film and don’t rely on cheap gimmickry or violent shock value to manipulate its audience. In those moments between complete silence and masterfully constructed sound design, a simple game of hide-and-seek has tremendous and terrifying impact.
The film is not without fault. The major problem with any horror film is finding the best way to finish the proceedings and things do wrap up almost too conveniently. This is however forgiveable given how strong and effective the sum of its parts were.
Going to see The Conjuring, you are accepting being plunged into one of the most genuinely creepy, atmospheric and downright scary film experiences you will have. Do not go see this film alone and make certain you have someone to cuddle with afterwards. It may also be wise to leave the lights on when you attempt to sleep. Consider yourself warned.