Title: The Conjuring
Genre(s): Biography, Horror, Thriller
Director(s): James Wan
Release Year: 2013
Every moment in The Conjuring felt like it had been done before. That’s not a bad thing though, as James Wan has managed to masterfully amalgamate many of the staples of horror films while still making the film feel genuinely creepy. And best of all, he uses the expectations set up from other horror films to great effect. What would typically end up as a jump scare, winds up as nothing at all, but adds to the tension and eerie mood of the film. Relying heavily on atmosphere, Wan uses his great cast to create a horror movie that will stand up to the rest this year as an example of how to make a film that does not necessarily do anything original, but wears its familiarity proudly.
The protagonists Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively), are probably news to a lot of passersby, but to others they are legends among the supernatural and paranormal community. Having worked on several cases dealing with possessions and spirits in real life, the two have finally been incorporated successfully into an exceptionally well done horror film. The two are experts on the paranormal, and when Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) visits them at a lecture to tell them of the crazy things happening in her family’s newly-purchased house, they are brought in on a case that is filled to the brim with creepy occurrences. And Wan pulls every element of his favourite horror films into one massive haunted house film. From creepy children, to exorcisms, to crows, to the intrigue in the unknown sounds coming from the basement; there are very few breaths taken within the film to alleviate the tension, especially in the final climax of the film.
The one downfall to this is that every trick is employed in a way that eventually feels a bit too far, but it is only briefly. The Conjuring‘s real weak point is that it takes a bit too long to finally incorporate Ed and Lorraine into the Perron family’s troubles. It felt like the film was half an hour in before it finally merged the two family’s paths. In that time, we’re introduced to the foundations of the film’s many plot points, from an immediate introduction to a spirit haunting a doll, a fun game of hide-and-clap, and Lorraine’s relationship with her daughter. Unfortunately, the brief distraction from the main haunting that entails Lorraine’s relationship with her daughter, while convincing, also feels like a last-minute introduction because of how detached it seems from the rest of the film. It is clear the main focus of the film is its mother-daughter relationships, but the Warren plot that doesn’t directly involve the Perrons feels like unneeded stress rather than a necessary through-line.
Slight distractions aside, the film feels like a lot of thought went into it, beyond just wanting to scare the audience. Unlike many of the other horror films out there lately, The Conjuring has the benefit of atmosphere. By setting the mood right away with the initial close-up shot of a doll’s face, the film is able to capture the feelings it is going for from the beginning and immediately place the audience in a state of suspense. Then there are the moments before Ed and Lorraine help the Perrons, where Wan will purposefully avoid traditional scares just to contribute to the ambiance of the film. Panning environments as a character seeks out the source of a spooky noise and then settling on a shot where you expect something to pop out, but ultimately does not, is but one of the many ways Wan is capable of creating tension out of nothing. It is a trick used a lot throughout the earlier parts of the movie, but it never gets old, leaving a very chilling vibe in the air. Having a score that fits the era in which the film is set to add to the frights certainly doesn’t hurt either.
The cast members are the true highlights here, specifically Wilson and Farmiga. Both bring an undeniable chemistry and an aura that feels like they really have done this before. That’s the magic of the performances: conveying the notion that these are people who have seen horrifying things, utilizing an acting range that successfully captures terrified, and even more terrified. Vera Farmiga especially proves herself as more than capable in a performance that truly encapsulates the maternal feelings of Lorraine Warren and how she relates to Carolyn’s plight. The mark of a good horror film where the main characters are the ones intending to stop whatever paranormal shenanigans are happening, is for those characters to feel like a part of the world. Wilson and Farmiga do a great job, and the other members of the cast contribute greatly to this, with Lili Taylor really selling her character.
It really is a beauty to see a horror film come together like The Conjuring does. It has flaws, but it makes up for a lot of them because of Wan’s ability to create tension from nothing. His horror films are those to watch out for because he understands where horror originated, and where it is heading (hence the success of the Saw series after his initial entry). His understanding of the history of horror lends itself very heavily in The Conjuring, and that he is able to use elements of other horror films while still creating a fun experience is testament to his talent. Bolstering a cast that proves itself time and time again, The Conjuring is definitely one of the best horror films of this year and an excellent encyclopedia of the horror classics that have come before it.