MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Horror/ Stars: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins/ Runtime: 112 minutes
I feel it must be said that, much in the same vein as comedy, a horror film can be quite the subjective film. I say that because the capability of a horror film to achieve its desired goal of scaring an audience silly has as much to do with how well the film is made and the delivery of the promised scares as it does with the person who makes the choice to pay the exorbitantly high ticket price to see if the film can pull off what it promises. However if a film is not frightening to that one person who really wanted it to be then it is safe, but sad to say that the film has missed the mark. As you can imagine it is quite a relief then to this movie goer that audiences have been gifted a film like The Conjuring. Indeed here is a film which is a skilled and assured throwback that is able to succeed in keeping both a high level of unease on all of the human sense whilst also conjuring, pun intended, some truly jolting jump scares, a chance to actually embrace the human element that these films are usually sorely lacking, and a skill behind the camera that has few modern-day equals in this particular genre. Indeed this is a kind of noble, but bare type of movie making in the horror genre that makes you take a more in-depth look at the other elements in play rather than just how potent the movie’s terrifying objective is. That and it doesn’t hurt in the slightest that this movie is absolutely terrifying. Indeed there truly is quite a bit to respect about a film in the horror genre that manages to go against the ever-growing tide of reimaginings, sequels, and “PG-13 watered down” horror films that haunt our theaters and homes nowadays. I also think it is safe to wager that the virtual lack of both gore and sex will deter quite a few people in the vast group of people who love horror films. Ultimately however, if you like a film that chooses to scare you in a satisfying way and also come equipped with suspense to spare then this most certainly is one nightmare you will truly cherish.
The plot is as follows: The Conjuring tells the story of an investigation done by a husband-and-wife team of paranormal experts known as Ed and Lorraine Warren in the state of Rhode Island in the far-off and long-gone year of 1971. The investigation in question is being conducted at the urgent and panicked behest of a woman by the name of Carolyn Perron. Miss Perron is the loyal spouse of a hard-working man by the name of Roger and is also an anguished mom to a group of daughters who are all just as terrified out of their wits as their parents are. It would appear that this seemingly happy and normal family have found themselves the victims of a seemingly unrelenting stream of both unnerving and quite hazardous otherworldly incidents following them moving into their new home which consists of an old house out in the countryside near a town called Harrisville. Having visited the homestead, and becoming resilient to helping the family rid themselves of this otherworldly menace, Ed and Lorraine agree to help out, but soon thereafter begin to uncover that the paranormal entities at play in this haunting aren’t going to go down without a fight. A fight that may not be resolvable without the possibility of the family at the heart of the nightmare having to pay a horrific cost…
Now it should be noted that Wan doesn’t just choose to place this film back in 1971. Rather, he also manages to pull quite a bit from the style, method, and just plain layout of cinema from that time period as well. Indeed the mirage that Wan’s phenomenally and intricately crafted film does a wonderful job of not really drawing any attention to itself; instead it instead manages to remind audiences of movies from that era to quite phenomenal effect. Indeed from shadows being widespread like a forest fire to how brilliantly omens of dark forces manage to merge into the real world and the celebration of what isn’t seen rather than weak parlor tricks, jump scares, and gore. Indeed it isn’t wrong to say that in this movie the art of simplicity is king and what a chilling simplicity it turns out to be. Indeed it is quite remarkable at just how easy it proves to be to get astray in the unease and tension of the whole thing thus making whatever frights lie ahead that much more terrifying. Indeed utilizing nothing more than a white sheet and a small wooden chair, Wan manages to craft one of the most horrific and spine-tingling possessions in a recent horror film. Indeed this is a scene that easily could have been unintentionally hilarious were it not for the unease and remarkable sense of pacing that Wan manages to utilize for the majority of the movie in order to make the horror that the Perrons have so realistic and appreciable.
Not only that, but I honestly really appreciate how there is absolutely nothing in the way of overabundance in regards to jump scares. Rather they are actually inserted into the film with a degree of care, but also do a wonderful job at being paired up with the wonderfully ever rising sense of unease present. Of course it should come as no surprise that all the clichés that are typical of a haunted house flick from weird odors, doors that always seem to creak, the creepier than thou cellar are all here for good measure. Yet even these typical staples are also aided by Wan’s skill for producing both a quality scare as well as a quite potent sense for production design. Indeed from eerie bruising and the concept of pulling one’s leg being taken quite literally to moments that will literally make your soul wish to evacuate your body however possible, The Conjuring is a fantastic lesson in maintaining tension until all heck is finally unleashed at the end.
As for this film’s cast I would like to point out that they all manage to do absolutely wonderful work as well. Indeed, as our intrepid paranormal investigator couple, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga manage to immerse Ed and Lorraine Warren with both a matter-of-fact relaxation yet also a down-to-earth humanity that really helps make our intrepid duo a wonderful and very human couple that also happen to be in possession of some quite distinct talents. Also without any unnecessary background really bringing either of these thespians down in any way, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga find themselves able to create some truly multilayered characters even if, in the first place, they might not seem that complicated. However if we peel back a layer or two, we find the intrepid and courageous souls of a couple who frequently come in conflict with horrors that would turn the majority of people’s hair chalk white with terror and then have to go to bed that same night with the knowledge of knowing just what tomorrow might have in store. We also get wonderful work from both Taylor and Livingston as the heads of the family at the heart of this dastardly haunting. Indeed they both manage to do a fantastic job of really showcasing the Perron family’s both befuddlement and terror wonderfully plus the quintet of young actresses playing their daughters actually manage to beat the “child actor curse” and actually give full three-dimensional performances rather than exist only to be precocious, annoying, or both. Indeed a lot of that can also be attributed to Wan and his dynamic screenwriting duo since they manage to avoid going to those extremes. Rather they simply give the Perron kids as much opportunity as possible to act like normal, everyday girls. No more and no less. Indeed when partnered up with the spooky occurrences going on within the haunted house, I really feel that together this pairing is quite effectively subdued with only perhaps the Warrens’ 2 partners in this seem out of place due to the feeling that they are there only for relief from all the chills as well as to ensure that the reaction shots work effectively, but honestly that’s merely a minor quibble to make about a canvas as extraordinary as this one.
All in all I feel that the ultimate compliment I can extend to this film is that this is a horror film that I feel actually has earned a chance to have more films follow it. Indeed there are quite a few narratives left involving the Warrens that could be told and with acting that is this strong, I really feel that getting the chance to revisit these distinct individuals would be a joy through and through rather than a tedious process. Indeed it really does take a filmmaker of immense skill and creativity to be able to utilize the time honored tropes of the horror genre, whilst also completely side swiping the typical genre conventions of gore as well as a lot of people ending up dead, and making them feel new again. Indeed in the eyes of an avid horror film lover, and one who has been witness to a lot more of the more disappointing efforts in genre than most would have the patience or sanity to deal with, I can honestly tell you that The Conjuring is not only a terrific addition to the horror pantheon, but also can function as a wonderful intro into the horror genre for those taking their first steps into this long-time and storied genre. On a scale of 1-5 I give The Conjuring a solid 4 out of 5.