Director: James Wan
Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston
Plot: It’s 1971 and Paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Farmiga, Wilson) are called in to help a family who are being plagued by a evil spirit.
The horror genre seems to be under the weight of caving in on itself quite frequently. While it is definitely better than it has been in a long time, it does seem to have fallen on quite a stock storyline in order to guarantee the scare factor. Possession and haunted houses have been seen all over for the last five years, ranging from the endless Paranormal Activities all the way to Wan’s own creations, Insidious. Surely, despite good products always being at the helm, soon we will tire of the same spooks and tricks.
The Conjuring goes the complete opposite way and gives us the same kind of storyline (a family of seven move into a new house and begin hearing noises around the house), but makes it all seem so fresh. Sure, when we break it down, it is the same case of paranormal investigators heading around a house, trying to track down what evil spirit is plaguing the victims of this particular story. However, Wan’s invention makes the Conjuring feel new and exciting. While I could have done without the final exorcism scene, for the rest of the movie, Wan finds new ways of getting the hairs on the back of the audience’s neck to stand on end. Two scenes see each leading lady get trapped in the hidden basement, cut off from any form of help, and both of those scenes are impossibly terrifying, each resulting in brilliant pay-offs that seem miles ahead in the game from the cheap shots its rivals use to make the audience squeal. Wan has done these sequences before (a game of hide and clap feels like a classic James Wan moment), but who can complain when they are this terrifying? While the Conjuring’s actual monster might not be as translatable into cultdom as some of his other creations (Saw, Red Face), its menace is felt throughout. It spends most of the movie hidden in the shadows, yet it is such a malevolent creation that its evil feels like a character right from the first mention of it. And when the reveal does happen, it is fantastically horrific, sadly watered down slightly by the fact it was included on a trailer. A rookie mistake there…
My favourite thing about the Conjuring was that it was more than a cheap horror movie. It evolved into more of a paranormal detective story and this is the key aspect that helped the Conjuring feel so vibrant and fresh, despite retreading tired clichés of the horror genre. Sure, keeping your spirits anonymous and unexplainable works to a point, making the first Paranormal Activity and Alien films so memorable. However, it is nice to finally be able to fully explore the chosen villain of a movie, without being worried that its menace will be diluted. As each new horror rises to the surface, Wan finds new ways to make each reveal more potent than the last, as we dive deeper and deeper into this supernatural conspiracy. It also helps the Conjuring work on many more levels, because if the scares don’t get to you (but they will!), then the mystery is appealing enough to attract anyone that actually wants to grasp some form of narrative. It does mean that the Conjuring needs to race through its opening chapters. Before the Warrens meet up with Lili Taylor’s traumatised family, we need to race through the week of haunting that push the victims to the breaking point. It is all good, but a few breathers in between could have been appreciated.
And then there is Annabelle. I am not going to lie, she isn’t as big a feature as I thought she was going to be. Seeing as fans everywhere whisper her name with an intense fear, I assumed she would be the centrepiece of the Conjuring. The film opens with her as a prologue monster for the Warrens to face (making Annabelle the equivalent of a pre-credits Bond baddie), introducing her as one of the eeriest creations to come out of horror in quite a while. She is largely forgotten and I was actually expecting her to make a comeback as a twist villain in the third act. How terrifying would it have been if Annabelle was orchestrating the haunting from the Warren’s household? Alas, she doesn’t, although she does get to return for one more scene that easily becomes the most memorable of the entire movie. The little girl is locked in a room, hears the creaking of a rocking chair and turns around… That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you make a horror movie.
Final Verdict: Cynics will accuse The Conjuring of not breaking any new ground, but in actual fact, the clichés build towards one of Wan’s finest movies to date.