It wasn’t the first, nor will it be the last time this frequently treaded fable gets a slightly altered, cinematic treatment. Nevertheless, James Wan’s “The Conjuring” is a tension-filled, unrelentingly terrifying spook-fest that trades in buckets of gore and excessive violence for old-fashion scares that effectively and completely paralyze the viewer in fear. Complimented by a cast that fully invest in their characters and give it their all. “The Conjuring” is a devilishly authentic, heart-stopping haunted house story that is surprisingly and thankfully refreshing. While it may not be a universally acclaimed instant classic, it’s pretty damn close. There is no denying its solidness or steady stream of constsnt fright, nor the fact that Wan is one of the best in the genre currently and is heading in the right direction. “The Conjuring” is the creepy thought you try to forget, but can never quite shake.
In 1971, the Perron family move into a rickety, depleted farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Soon, the family begins to experience strange events like unexplainable bruises, tugging, and the death of their dog. Later, one of the daughters is attacked by a mysterious entity and the Perron’s seek the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are noted paranormal investigators. Upon arriving and searching the grounds, the couple come to the conclusion that there is an evil spirit dwelling inside the Perron family’s house. Now, Ed, Lorraine, and the Perron family must work with a few volunteers to rid their house of this malevolent spirit.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. What makes a horror film genuinely petrifying is the level of believability and empathy it’s characters are able to evoke from the audience. The more the viewer relates and sympathizes with the tormented, the more chilling, disheartening, and horrifying the tormentor and its results become. Wan has seemingly always understood this well, but it appears that in his most recent efforts such as “Insidious” and now “The Conjuring,” he’s eking closer and closer to perfecting this most necessary genre tactic. With “The Conjuring” Wan encases all his characters with this honest authenticity, even the paranormal entity. And what you’re left with is a complex cocktail of emotion and dread that bores down into the roots of the viewers. Effectively disengaging their ability to differentiate film from reality, ultimately allowing the film to transcend the screen and sincerely scare.
Whether you believe the hoopla surrounding “The Conjuring” to be true or not is basically irrelevant. The film is nightmarish enough on its own, let alone the addition of it possibly being fact. Of course I am talking about the real Ed and Lorraine Warren, their encounters, and the film’s source material. Apparently the film is a dramatic retelling of the Warren’s life-work, in particular the Perron family case. Essentially what I’m driving at is that “The Conjuring” is supposedly based on a true story. I’ve done some research into the couples storied history and their experiences, somewhere between enough to keep me informed and not scared half-to-death for the rest of my existence. And while I’ve never experienced first-hand interactions with the paranormal (I hope I never do). It seems as if they’ve had their fair-share of communication and physical clairvoyance with the paranormal, which is just…terrific. Now “The Conjuring” is even more utterly terrifying and startling. Obviously, research and judge for yourself.
There is a vast difference between being able to create subtlety and explosiveness and knowing how to use these facets to one’s advantage. James Wan is in complete control of his films and “The Conjuring” is no exception. Wan knows when to fluidly open a creaky wooden door and when not to. As simple as it may sound, a lot of filmmakers can’t effectively place even the most played-out and mundane of cinematic tactics, this is not the case with James Wan. His camera work is as swift and seamless as ever. Tossing some sly, simplistic scares into an old, rickety farmhouse with a few unnerving sounds here and there, in addition to a possession that rivals “The Exorcist.” Wan has spawned a haunted-house flick that looks primed to enter the horror canon soon enough.
Atmosphere and horror really do go hand-in-hand. A big reason for this is a mix of visuals with a beautifully ambient, yet unsettling score to accompany it. This is the second collaboration for James Wan and composer Joseph Bishara, who initially teamed up for 2010’s frightening hit “Insidious.” Although Bishara’s original soundtrack for “The Conjuring” isn’t as phantasmagoric or memorable as 2010s “Insidious,” it’s still fairly alarming and intoxicating. Check out all of Bishara’s work if you get the chance, a very talented man.
Of course, what horror film would be complete without its unfortunate victims? Someone to witness the door eerily crack open, hear a repetitive noise down the hallway, or succumb to a shadowy entity. Someone needs to keep the devil company and it surely isn’t me. Luckily “The Conjuring” has found its fair share of talented souls to deal with the paranormal. Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, and an unheralded, courageous supporting cast. James Wan and associates appear fortunate enough to have conjured up a cast as crazy and brave as they are. The Perron family, although portrayed well, is sparsely used. That being said, Livingston and his family do an outstanding job making the fear real and pull hard on the viewers heart-strings. Making for a meaningful and frightening ghost story.
It still astounds me how Patrick Wilson continually manages to fly under the radar. After giving brilliant performances in “Watchmen” and “Little Children,” in addition to a plethora of smaller, yet significant roles. You’d think that filmmakers would take notice of his talent and how he makes everything look so effortless. Nonetheless, Wilson gives another firm, heartfelt, and intimidating performance here and will hopefully proceed forward later this year when he teams up once again with James Wan for “Insidious: Chapter 2.” As for the other heavyweight, Vera Farmiga, I feel that she’s still flip-flopping. For an actress who has given immaculate portrayals in “The Departed” and “Source Code,” she still sprinkles an odd choice here and there. Don’t get me wrong, she’s terrific in “The Conjuring,” I’d just like to see a little more consistency.
Gleefully scary and decidedly heartfelt. James Wan’s “The Conjuring” is proof that the genre isn’t dying, even though it may feel like a blast from the past.
The Conjuring: 8.5 out of 10.