Horror director James Wan (Insidious, Saw) has returned to the genre with The Conjuring, an R-rated haunted house film that doesn’t work over the audience as well as his last couple films, but does function in a strangely effective manner as an accurately felt period piece. The Conjuring fails to spook and scare where it counts, but it does offer up enough old-school thrills and jumps to keep the audiences mostly paying attention.
Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) are a team of paranormal investigators that are known throughout the area as the two best people to talk to when it comes to ghosts, hauntings or possessions. They get called out to a farmhouse that has a dark and bone-chilling history that slowly creeps on Ed, Lorraine and the family that’s occupying the residence.
James Wan‘s The Conjuring is a very traditional horror film. Very rarely does it rely on CGI or quick-cut camera scares to jolt fear into the audience members. Instead, it functions like a well-done period piece from top-to-bottom, from the film’s classic musical score, to the set pieces and costumes. Everything about The Conjuring feels vintage 1970’s or to some extend 80’s and because of that fact the film quickly gets off on the right foot.
Wan is a fan of slow-burn build up and tension in his latest horror films and he brings that on high-alert in The Conjuring. The film almost feels too slow, as Ed and Lorraine slowly get brought into the main family’s focus.
But that’s okay, because Wan is a master with a camera and his movements feel like brushstrokes on a canvas — only if the canvas was covered in blood and featured some sort of spooky-looking demon.
To be honest, The Conjuring doesn’t really have that much blood or on-screen violence, if any. The film received its R rating for its general scariness and I’d have to agree with it. Moments of the film will make horror buffs jump in their seats, while casual movie-goers will probably be clinching their loved ones or spilling their popcorn buckets all over the people in front of them.
The Conjuring falls victim to a familiar crutch that tends to hold back most horror films of this nature — it gets repetitive. In fact, a majority of the film’s jump out moments feel like simple rehashes. Certain characters are switched around and the actual delivery is toyed with, but things tend to play out in a similar fashion almost always. Wan gets points for refraining from cheap scares, but he loses those same points for building up to the same eventual outcome.
You can only scare someone in so many different ways before they become numb to the process or stop caring in general. The Conjuring comes fully-loaded, but runs out of juice far before the finale.
Luckily Mr. Wan has a fantastic ensemble cast, led primarily by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The two represent rare characters to the horror genre. Ed and Lorraine Warren are actual professionals, which means they’re not dumb and detestable, like most haunted house victims. The actual family that lives in the house varies on a day-to-day basis when it comes to logic and how they interpret a certain occurrence, but Ed and Lorraine are almost always on point within reason and that alone is a breath of much-needed fresh air for a horror film like this.
James Wan‘s direction also boosts the film up to a level where most modern horror films can’t even reach on their greatest day. Wan has a way with the camera that makes everything flow like a dream, often panning in and out of rooms without ever cutting or any close up. Wan also understands how to create a moody atmosphere with lighting, music and general set pieces that don’t rely on computers or quick cuts. His traditional approach to horror is always a plus and rarely a minus.
On the whole I’d say The Conjuring mostly works for those looking for a quick Friday night scare. It’s not Wan’s scariest movie yet or far from his most effective on any level, but it’s a decent enough throwback feature that cleverly nods to those before it, while also coming up with a few new things for itself. Horror fans might be disappointed by the lack of true genuine scares, but most will find more than enough to squirm in their seat over.
See it. Support good horror, especially R-rated horror and get ready for Insidious: Chapter 2, which opens in just a couple months. As far as I’m concerned James Wan is one of the last mainstream horror filmmakers that actually delivers quality work, even if something like The Conjuring fails to impress as much as Insidious or Saw.
The Conjuring – 7/10