Film Review: The Conjuring
The most successful horror film of its year, James Wan’s 2011 tale of demons and possessions, Insidious, was generally considered to be a fun but silly film that relied too heavily on loud noises to be truly scary, despite a few creepy moments. Now, Wan is back with The Conjuring, amusingly ‘based on a true story’, the tale of real life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Insidious star Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who are called in to investigate the house of the Perron family. The reason? Their home seems to be housing a spirit that only wants the worst for them, with toothless crones, hanging bodies and spooky shadows all making an appearance. To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson in 1408, the Perron family home is an evil fucking home.
Though the plot is just about as basic as you can get for a horror film, Wan uses this as an excuse to simply create terrifying set piece after terrifying set piece. Much like how a comedy can only be judged on the amount of laughs, films like The Conjuring must be judged on how many scares there are, and it has one of the highest jump counts in recent cinema. Despite the first sequence, involving a creepy doll, which offers the routine predictability we’ve come to expect, the rest of The Conjuring is horribly effective.
Starting with classic tricks like faces glimpsed in shadows and pictures being thrown off walls, the mood is slowly built up, and the pinnacle comes into two of the best jump scares of the last ten years; a hideous old woman on the wardrobe and a game of hide and clap in the basement. From this point onwards, as the Warrens are called in and events become more and more sinister, The Conjuring proves itself as the best horror film of the year, and possibly the scariest film in a long time.
Interestingly, unlike Insidious, which proved itself to be the cinematic equivalent of a ghost train, The Conjuring manages to produce some nightmare-inducing imagery to go alongside the shocks. A woman hanging from a tree in the garden is unlikely to be forgotten, as is a possessed woman attacking her children against her will. Points also go to that piano chord from the basement, which might be cliché, but is enjoyable nonetheless. Another intriguing feature of The Conjuring is a thick vein of humour that runs throughout, not seen since the classic periods of the eighties. One of the best scares of the first half is a prank played by one of the young daughters, while there’s fun to be had in the debunking provided by the Warrens in the early stages.
Though there’s no stunning work to be seen, The Conjuring does feature a talented cast, mostly made up of younger actors. Both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, solid actors who never seem to get a lot of recognition, are likeable and personable, even when their marriage stumbles into melodrama. As the Perron parents, Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor are very good, Taylor especially, who suffers the worst of the family and really goes all out in the finale. But, special kudos must go the five daughters, all of whom are clearly talented and will one day be fine actors. Special mention goes to Shanley Caswell, last seen in the brilliantly entertaining Detention, as the oldest daughter who could be a stereotypical moody teenager but does something more interesting, and Joey King, who flexes her dramatic chops in the tensest sequence in the film.
Sadly, the only time The Conjuring really falters is when the horror stops. Some of the dialogue, especially between Ed and Lorraine, is cringeworthy; never in 2013 should any character say “I can’t lose you!” The score doesn’t help for these scenes, a saccharine, dated soundtrack that feels plucked out of an eighties romance. Though the film has the traditional, classic feel of ‘loud silences’ and a slow build up to hell, The Conjuring also features, it has to be said, a poor ending. All the good work of the final act, which is a bit silly in the people flying around and crazed birds but overall effective, is dampened by a resolution in 30 seconds, in which we are told that a nice memory will rid the possessed of a demon. It doesn’t ruin the film, but the final five minutes are greatly unsatisfying.
Less silly than Insidious, creepier than Paranormal Activity and featuring a fraction of the gore in Saw, The Conjuring may well be looked at as one of the best mainstream, pure horror films of the last decade. Packed with disturbing, memorable images, a horribly tense atmosphere and some of the finest jump scares ever, you may have seen The Conjuring done before many times, but that doesn’t stop it from being hellishly effective. Flawed in parts and certainly rushed, but that doesn’t stop The Conjuring from being a non-stop thrill ride, and a treat for horror fans.
By Harry Ford