The Conjuring is a horror film that will make you uncomfortable, but never too uncomfortable and only to the level that is enjoyable. That is a hard thing to do. These days, films (especially horror films) lean towards excess in everything they do. Too much gore, too much shock, too much, too much, TOO MUCH! The Conjuring is the rare exception to that trend. It has scares, it has gore, and it has melodrama, but they are perfectly blended to create one of the most enjoyable “haunted house” experiences since the original ‘Poltergeist’.
The Conjuring is about the lives of two families. The Warrens are paranormal investigators with a respectable reputation and a few stories that would make anyone believe in the existence of demons and evil spirits – their specialty. The Perron’s are a family of 7, with 5 daughters, ranging from pre-school to high school, who move into an old house they have just purchased. This house is creeeeepy. From day one, they experience strange and horrifying things that they can’t explain. Eventually, these incidents become too intense to ignore and they track down the Warrens for their help. According to the opening text, this movie is based on a true incident that the real-life Warrens experienced and had refused to talk about until recently.
The Conjuring works because its director, James Wan (Saw, Insidious) understands how to successfully build a scene to climax. He also values the idea that certain things left unseen can be the scariest. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t see frightening things in The Conjuring, because we do, its just that Wan understands how to hold back enough to let us imagine our own horrors before springing his vision on us. Sometimes, when he does show us something, the images are so brief that we only get pieces of what we’re looking at. These techniques keep audiences on the edge of their seats (and biting their nails). Wan’s previous effort Insidious (2010) was also an impressive entry into the horror genre, but he outdoes himself with The Conjuring.
The Conjuring also succeeds because it is a “fun” horror film; something that you could probably take the whole family to see (minus those under 13). Much like the classic Poltergeist, we enjoy watching this movie; the scares themselves are enjoyable. They provide the perfect amount of fright so that you want to see more, but not so much so that you are scarred to point of submission. This is a tricky skill to master in horror filmmaking and credit must be given to Wan and screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes. With our desensitized culture; it’s almost a prerequisite that you shock the audience into submission if you truly want to capture their attention. Here, the filmmakers are able to keep the audiences interested without resorting to those cheap tricks. Part of this comes in the characters that the Hayes’ create. They are funny, they have depth, and we really care about what happens to them. Without this element, The Conjuring could have just been another Netflix throwaway.
Part of creating a genuinely frightening haunted house film involves actually creating a house that gives off the appropriate mood and tone so that the story can do the rest. The Conjuring scores on this level too. The house feels like a character in the film. The creaky wood and flaky paint on the walls casts an oppressive feeling over everything. The age of the house helps to draw out every little noise for maximum fright and the basement (cliche, but effective) is loaded with all sorts of terrifying objects from past times. Wan has gotten better with each film at establishing a strong setting to weave his story through and the Perron house in The Conjuring is his best yet.
It’s a rare treat in the horror genre to find a film that is as effective and well-made as The Conjuring. It won’t be taking home any Oscars, but as a fun, scary ride that keeps your attention for a full two hours, this is one of the best the genre has seen in some time. While this movie will be just as effective at home on Blu-ray (with surround sound); it really is much better to see it on the big screen so that you don’t miss any of the subtle details that the filmmakers use to draw you into the story. Plus, the audience participation factor is high on this one, with the tension during some scenes almost palpable in the theater. Like a good roller coaster, you will come out a little frayed, but thrilled (and happy) from the ride.
The Conjuring – Rated ‘R’ – Runtime: 1 hour, 52 minutes