If anyone is proving themselves as one of the go to directors when it comes to things that go bump in the night is James Wan. As a huge fan of his last flick INSIDIOUS I was more than a little tickled to see him returning this year not once but twice with INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 coming later this year and of course the subject of this review, THE CONJURING. Wan continues to use a lot of fantastic old school techniques, but with this film he actually works with an old school setting. With that let me say once and for all- old timey housecoats are probably the most unattractive pieces of clothing to ever drape over the human form. Luckily THE CONJURING emerges unscathed of its fashion choices to be an incredibly terrifying experience.
From the get go if you’ve ever had a nightmare about being watched or stalked by a creepy puppet (which also happens to be Wan’s Twitter handle) then the opening scene will immediately set you on edge questioning what you’ve got yourself into. Oddly enough the opening scene for me, while truly terrifying, seemed to have nothing to do with the ultimate crux of the film. The film switches from a nightmare inducing doll to the story of a family being tormented by some form of sinister force in a new home they can’t afford to leave. Desperate for answers they turn to Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) Warren to help them rid their home of the supernatural force.
The aforementioned doll, which seemed to have disappeared after the opening scene does make a return- which is equally as terrifying if still a bit transparent as just a means to inject that nightmarish doll into another tense situation. The prominence of the doll in the marketing is misleading, though there’s no denying how viscerally shaking its presence in the film is- though I question the sanity of anyone willing to keep that thing in their home even before it showed any spooky tendencies.
Now on to the main story- which has more than its fair share of pee my pants moments. THE CONJURING even more than INSIDIOUS is bursting at the seams with moments that elicit what I know as nervous laughter. Meaning that what is happening is not funny in the least, but you’re terrified as to what might happen you don’t know what to do with yourself but laugh. One moment specifically in the final act is indicative to the point as every single person in my theater gasped then at a loss for what to do with their breath did nothing but chuckle. This is the type of horror film I want to see more of and the kind that made me love horror to begin with- though I’d have laughed in your face if you told me the director of SAW would be the one to give it to me.
If you hate a slow build, then don’t bother- but I’m willing to argue if you have a problem with slow horror then you also hate hollow poorly fleshed out characters. That’s fine, I dig it every once in a while too and I did so most recently in the EVIL DEAD remake, but EVIL DEAD is exactly what THE CONJURING is not. This is a rated R ghost movie that has almost no gore on screen, little if any cussing and zero nudity. This movie is rated R because it is straight up just that scary and the tone offers no solace from the mayhem you build up to in the last act.
If you like the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies there should be no reason you won’t fall in love with the type of stuff you see here- and as a bonus you will get better characters that you care about and actually be able to see what is happening. James Wan isn’t content with setting a camera in the corner of a room and letting it run, though there are a couple moments that are filmed from a handheld camera perspective. Wan’s camera movements are as relentless as the scares, but I love him for it. The angles and the movements are so fun that it feels almost like a character in and of itself.
What’s better is that Wan sticks to old school techniques, which includes shying as much as possible away from CGI. There are moments where there are obvious CGI enhancements, but for the most part the scares are done practically and incredibly so. The sound perfectly pairs with the style of the film and more often than not just slams home the sense of dread in each and every scene.
Nowadays few directors can make me sit on the edge of my seat and fear the shadows as much as James Wan and THE CONJURING is drenched in darkness. In the heart of it all there is room for a heart and characters that I cared about because a director actually took the time to patiently set up a scenario I was fully connected to. Every creek and every whisper made the hair on the back of my neck stand on in and when the heavy hitting scares burst through the seams at the end I was left gut punched. I love a terrifying cinematic experience and THE CONJURING is drenched in every horror element that makes me fall head over heels for the genre.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)