In James Wan’s The Conjuring, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga play married couple/demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. In real life, the Warrens were demonologists who claimed to have worked over 10,000 cases, including the Amityville haunting. One of their cases was the basis for the movie The Haunting in Connecticut.
The Conjuring portrays the Warrens’ investigation into the hauntings of a farmhouse inhabited by Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) and their five young daughters. When unexplainable things start happening in the house, Carolyn seeks out the Warrens’ help.
Haunted house movies are a dime a dozen. With a genre as subjective and cyclical in its trends as horror is, when something is hot it becomes very easy for studios to crank out movies to chase the trend. The Conjuring is unique in that it’s an example of a movie that chases the current trend of psychological haunted house movies but does so with a product that’s effective and created with care.
James Wan’s direction in The Conjuring is on another level from the majority of horror movies currently being released. The film’s perspective shifts at precise moments as the camera glides across scenes in a way that dictates to the audience the ominous, intrusive feelings the characters experience. Wan commands the fear and emotions of the characters in a way that’s reminiscent of classics like Poltergeist and a bit of The Exorcist as well.
The movie’s 1970s setting acts as the perfect backdrop for the movie to pay homage to the tone of horror movies of that era. Although the movie takes place primarily in the somewhat secluded area of the farmhouse, the vintage cars and wardrobe of the characters are more than enough to suck you into the era.
The acting is solid across the board. Ron Livingston handles the task of fearful and frustrated patriarch with his trademark “Ron Livingston charm.” Lili Taylor does a commendable job as the (could have been stereotypical) lady of the house. She experiences the supernatural events more than the rest of the family and Taylor’s performance never wavers.
The daughters of the Perron family were all portrayed well enough. It’s one of my issues with the movie, however. There are five young girls in the house and I found it hard at times to differentiate which girl was which. Not only that, but I found it hard to care which girl was which. I feel like more time should have been given to developing the characters of the children or that the number of children in the house should have been reduced.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga deliver the movie’s standout performances, though. They’re believable as a married couple and, more importantly, the script gives them a certain depth with lines alluding to past cases. There’s a shared history between the two that comes across well on screen.
The scares in the movie are plentiful and unique each time. The movie relies on building tension before springing the “jump scare” trap on the audience. This gives the viewer a great chance of getting enveloped in the scene without picking apart character choices or questioning how certain effects were achieved.
The story takes a turn in the third act that could have broken the pacing if it wasn’t handled so well by Wan. However, it brings a couple underdeveloped (or undeveloped) characters into the mix that’s slightly jarring, especially when they exist mostly for comic relief.
The movie begins with a look at the Warrens’ investigation of the Annabelle doll. The story of Annabelle’s hauntings is told by frightened nurses and employs flashbacks. It’s a frightening prologue to the movie that made me eager to watch this year’s prequel, Annabelle.
However, the doll is shown in the Warrens’ house in a room filled with pieces of haunting relics. Ed Warren explains to a journalist in one scene that their logic is to have the haunted objects where they can’t do any harm. The problem I have with this is that the room is in the Warrens’ house, mostly unsecured save for a few signs on the door.
Ed explains they frequently have a priest bless the objects but I have trouble buying into the logic that they’d keep objects that, by their own admission, are possessed by inhuman spirits who deal in manipulation at the service of Satan himself in an unsecured room in the house where their young daughter sleeps. The movie amplifies these concerns by sending the Warrens to an extended stay with the Perron’s and then pitting the Warrens’ daughter into danger at the hands of the evil objects in the room. It prevented the movie from reeling me in completely.
The Conjuring has a few issues but it’s nothing that a strong behind the scenes presence can distract you from. James Wan delivered a strong throwback to 70s haunted house horror while still giving audiences something new and exciting to be scared by. The tricks employed to scare the audience are fun, terrifying and make great use of tension. The third act is a little dodgy and some characters aren’t fleshed out well enough, but The Conjuring hits hard where it counts.
Obsessive Grade: Bargain Buy
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