- RatedNC16 /GenreHorror, Thriller
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
‘The Conjuring’ is scary.
In fact, it is THE SCARIEST movie we’ve seen this year, so far.
This is a big statement coming from someone who doesn’t get fazed by horror; ‘Evil Dead’, ‘Mama’ or ‘Sinister’ and ‘The Possession’, we sat through these easily.
So for Malaysian-Australian director James Wan to scare the bejesus out of someone who doesn’t bat an eyelid on spirits-and-blood-on-celluloid is quite a feat indeed.
But before we go on any further, let’s stop and back up a bit.
Director James Wan, now 36, arrived on the film scene in 2004 with the now cult classic ‘Saw’. Since then he’s helped launch a whole new horror sub-genre called ‘torture porn’, with ‘Saw’ spawning six sick sequels, and many imitators.
Read also: Interview with James Wan on 'The Conjuring'
His follow-up projects were surprisingly bereft of gore and veered to the past for inspiration as seen in the bizarre ‘Dead Silence’ (2007) and the uncanny (and scary) ‘Insidious’ (2010).
Similar to ‘Insidious’ – Wan’s throwback to classic horror films – ‘The Conjuring’ employs a nuanced approach with well-worn (and familiar) horror tropes. The result, though predictable, works.
Based on a case from noted paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren – the duo were behind the ‘Amityville Horror’ investigation – the latter, now 86, served as a consultant for ‘The Conjuring’.
Played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively, the Warrens are contacted by Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) who has just moved into a rural and secluded farmhouse in Rhode Island with her husband (Ron Livingston) and five daughters – and some other already present but unseen inhabitants.
There are lots of strange happenings in this movie
Read also: inSing visits The Warren Occult Museum
Right from the get-go the horror tropes fall into place like dominos. The dog that refuses to go inside, birds mysteriously crashing (and dying) into the house, a child finding a creepy music box, clocks that stop in the middle of the night, mysterious bruises appearing as well as numerous unexplained voices and sounds.
The Perron’s five children – although four too many for a horror movie (yes, the Perrons really have five kids) — provided the writers (brothers Chad and Carey Hayes) ample spooky fodder. One girl sleepwalks, one makes an imaginary friend, while another gets disturbed in her sleep.
While most horror movie filmmakers tend to tease out the tension and allow the inevitable scary bubble to boil over, Wan shocks from the start, turning up the juice with a backstory that will unnerve you for the rest of the movie.
We won’t say more except to tell you it involves a creepy looking doll.
While some elements are very familiar ‘The Conjuring’ is no mere imitator of past classics such as ‘Poltergeist’ and ‘The Exorcist’, horror fanboy Wan has taken the best bits of those films to scare us hoarse.
The dexterous camerawork – occasional long takes, slow zooms and handheld tracking shots – coupled with brisk editing maximises the tension, while the eerie soundtrack (by Joseph Bishara, who did the ‘Insidious’ soundtrack) quickens the pulse.
Like a conductor, Wan orchestrates the horror masterfully; not with CGI and copious amounts of blood but with lo-fi scares. From well-timed claps and mysterious Hitchcockian piano-playing, to skilful framing that jumps and shocks. Wan adds, subtracts and repeat; giving you a breather when you least expect it, unleashing another torrent until we reach the climactic and exhaustive scare.
What makes ‘The Conjuring’ work though are its likeable characters played by a cast that remains committed throughout.
Farmiga as the emphatic the clairvoyant half of the Warren duo shines through for her authenticity, while Wilson’s earnest portrayal as the rational and concerned Ed wins audiences over.
Read also: Interview with Vera Farmiga
Livingston as Roger Perron plays a convincing though serviceable performance at best as a hardworking working class husband in the middle of something inexplicable, while Lili Taylor holds the fort as the motherly Carolyn. Even supporting characters such as the Warrens’ assistant investigators Brad (John Brotherton) and Drew (Shannon Kook) stand out with their relatable acting.
Ultimately, it is the ladies who steal the film. From Taylor and Farmiga to the five young actresses (Joey King, Shanley Caswell, Haley McFarland, Mackenzie Foy and Kyla Deaver), all deliver believable, non-horror shtick portrayals.
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And through his cast, Wan make you care what happens to the characters. Each scene and sequence is so inextricably linked and well-scripted that you find yourself invested in all of them.
For almost a decade, James Wan has made it his calling card to amp up the horror game but through ‘The Conjuring’ he’s clearly matured and evolved as a master of the genre.
This film certainly lives up to its name; conjuring chills, scares, screams, carefully sustaining the film throughout with a sense of terror.
Sharp performances as well as an intriguing premise elevates ‘The Conjuring’ above standard horror offerings and will appeal to moviegoers interested in a well-crafted horror drama punctuated by a number of disturbing spine-chilling moments that will leave you forever fearing ‘The Conjuring’.