When a horror movie has a positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you should probably pay attention to it. Horror is subjective so when a group of people actually come together and agree “that shit is scary”, it’s a pretty big deal. Now with The Conjuring, over 80% of people have agreed that yes indeed, this is some scary shit. And hey guess what? They are absolutely right.
I’ve always been a fan of director James Wan. I like his early efforts, even Dead Silence and Death Sentence which most people are pretty down on, and I was especially a fan of 2011’s Insidious. It may fall apart a little in the latter half, but as a whole Insidious was one of the better horror movies I had seen in years. With a brilliant teaser trailer and a clever marketing campaign (did anyone else see the doctor’s warnings they placed in front of some of the theatres?), The Conjuring looked to be his most solid effort yet, and he certainly delivered on that potential.
The Conjuring tells the somewhat true story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. It’s true in the sense that these two people do exist (though Ed passed away in 2006), with their most famous case being the basis for The Amityville Horror, but this is apparently the “lost” story so who knows for sure how much of it happened and just how far the truth is being stretched here.
Anyway, The Warrens are called in to help out the Parron family, who have been witnessing an increasing amount of supernatural activity in their newly purchased farm home. You got strange sounds, a seemingly possessed wardrobe, and bruises showing up on the mother (Lily Tomlin) every morning. I won’t spoil the specifics, but the front half of this movie is a slow, effective burn that winds up the tension to the almost breaking point, before complete hell is unleashed in the back half.
The thing most people want to know about a horror movie is of course, is it scary? To that I can give you a resounding oh good god yes. The Conjuring is very scary, but not in the way many horror movies are. On the surface it may seem like a typical haunted house story, and in many ways it is, but the execution is fantastic and it often plays with your expectations. Scenes that would normally be punctuated with a jump scare, often end with no scare whatsoever, only to have the following “safe” scene be the one to surprise you with the scares. Even the trailers play a part in the deception, showing you jump scares that don’t happen within the context the trailers depict.
The Conjuring doesn’t have time to fuck around with that fake jump scare shit. There’s no BWAM, OH SHIT A TREE BRANCH HIT THE WINDOW moments or someone’s friend bumping into them and scaring the shit out of them. No when you jump in this movie, it’s because something actually scary happened. Also the actual jump scares are surprisingly sparse, with the movie often relying more on suspense and unsettling imagery to put the fear in you. It also establishes early on that you are never safe, with scares taking place in broad daylight just as often as at night. Hell characters even turn the lights on when searching the dark house, it just ends up not making a difference.
Something else I appreciated is that no time is wasted with characters playing the role of the disbeliever. There’s no moment where the wife is telling her husband about the insane shit she is saying and that she thinks the house is haunted, only to have the husband respond with “I’m sure you’re just tired” or some such shit. No everybody is on board with the haunting pretty fast as there is little room for doubt.
The acting is solid across the board, with Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren and Lily Tomlin as Carolyn Perron being the standouts. Everyone shows the appropriate amount of terror without taking it too over the top, and what little expository dialogue there is is handled well. It helps that everyone is playing likable, surprisingly fleshed out characters, and you can’t help but want them to catch a break.
James Wan has now proven he is a master at crafting a solid horror movie. As mentioned, there’s no reliance on cheap scares or excessive gore. In fact, for an R-rated movie there is virtually no violence at all. No this thing is rated R for sheer terror! Instead, Wan relies on tension, long silences, and well-staged set pieces to crank up the fear. I don’t care how many times they went back to the “person will appear in the mirror when the music box music stops” gag, Wan’s direction made it work every time. Hopefully his streak continues with Insidious 2 in September as I will now officially watch anything the man attaches his name to going forward.
The Conjuring is fantastic and is a breath of fresh air in a genre loaded with remakes and reboots. It’s well worth seeing in a theatre and is a reminder of just how goddamn fun the horror genre can be when done right.