Director – James Wan
Cast – Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Shannon Kook, John Brotherton, Sterling Jerins, Marion Guyot
Release Year – 2013
Reviewed by John of the Dead
After the amazing success of his 2011 film, Insidious, I was very surprised to see director James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) dive right back into the genre with The Conjuring – a flick 20 years in the making and the first of his two horror films debuting this year. When the real life paranormal investigator Ed Warren played his taped recording with haunting victim Carolyn Perron for producer Tony DeRosa-Grund back in the 1980s, the two struggled to turn the story into a film until producer Peter Safran and twin writers Chad and Carey Hayes refined the script and brought James Wan on board to give us maybe the scariest film of 2013. Serving as one of the best homages to 70s horror since Ti West’s The House of the Devil, The Conjuring is full of classic spooks and genuine chills that will leave you on edge and questioning every bump in the night.
Before the horror that shocked Amityville and the rest of the world there was Harrisville, Connecticut. After moving into their newly-acquired police-auctioned lakeside home, the Perron family is soon terrorized by a dark presence whose actions are growing in severity. Desperate for help, they contact world-famous paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who take on the case and confront a powerful demonic entity in what proves to be the most horrifying case of their lives.
The experience kicks off in very high gear thanks to one of the creepiest opening sequences I have ever seen – a simple idea involving a demon, a very creepy doll, and amazing direction. This scene was successful in not only grabbing the audience’s attention but giving us high hopes for the remainder of the film, and those high expectations were successfully achieved. The Hayes brothers continue the film by giving us some insight on the work the Warrens do, which not only proves the existence of ghosts but the non-existence of ghosts when logical explanations are the culprit of someone’s “haunting”. Their reputation is put to test when Carolyn Perron comes calling after we watch her and her family suffer terrible demonic terrors for the first act of the film, and their presence at the Perron home only ignites the demon’s fury. I really enjoyed the horror seen in the first half of the flick, which was very “classic” and consisted of creaking doors and inanimate objects moving when they shouldn’t. This horror continued to build though, and when it became physical (and obvious to Mr. and Mrs. Perron) it was time to call upon Ed and Lorraine. The Warrens do not show up alone, and watching them and their crew set up their equipment to attain visual and audio proof of the haunting only makes the experience even more interesting. For a film nearly two hours in length there was plenty of horror written into the story and it was surprisingly consistent during the film’s slower developmental phase. Once the Warrens get going though the horror definitely increases in its intensity and how frequently it hits the screen, giving us a very harrowing third act that gives us lots of intense demon action. I must mention that there was also a small sub-plot that would interrupt the main plot here and there, and much to my surprise it was well-written and did not detriment from the overall experience but actually improved upon it. Not only that, but I would assume it will be a definite candidate for the storyline in the upcoming sequel that we just know is going to happen.
While this screenplay is a positive one from the minds behind House of Wax (remake), The Reaping, and Whiteout, it was James Wan’s direction that really made this a terrifying experience. Right from the get-go James Wan shows us just how damn good of a director he is by scaring the crap out of me with the film’s extremely effective opening sequence. I was given chills on several occasions during this short period of time and I am glad to say that Wan continued in harassing my nervous system for the remainder of the film. His execution of the “classic” horror was great and he relied on simplicity and positive camerawork to sell it to us. He made good use of shadows and dark corners, creeping doors, and inanimate objects coming to life at the most terrifying of moments. Once things really get going the ghosts begin to manifest and I was mostly pleased with the results. The look of the main ghost was very creepy and she brought much horror to the table. As far as the other ghosts go I found them a little bit cliché and did not care for them much, but they definitely did not negatively affect the film in any way. Practical effects are heavy in this piece and very little CGI is used, which aside from not being a found footage flick is another tactic separating this from other modern horror films. We do get a little bit of POV action when Ed Warren documents the haunting in the home, and it was used in creepy and effective fashion. The acting performances are also solid and we receive some very good ones from quite a few of the actors. Patrick Wilson (Insidious, Hard Candy, Passengers, Watchmen) and Vera Farmiga (Orphan) were great as Ed and Lorraine Warren and their chemistry was pretty amazing. I definitely applaud not only the actors but the writers for writing them as very compatible protagonists. Lili Taylor, who I first thought was Marcia Gay Harden, gave a very good Harden-esque performance that required her character to jump through all kinds of emotional hoops and she did so with good results. I really do not have any major qualms with the film although my partner for this experience, Double Barrel over at Forget To Breathe, mentioned how the atmosphere would have been EVEN BETTER if James Wan shot this on film instead of digital, which naturally kept it from achieving that grainy 70s look that would have only bettered the experience.
Overall, The Conjuring is one of the best horror films of this millennium and a great homage to classic 70s horror. From start to finish this is one truly creepy experience that builds off of a great screenplay that comes based on true events, and James Wan’s direction brings the terrifying events to screen in excellent fashion. The scares are good, the chills are everywhere, and The Conjuring is an experience you should not miss…unless you like to sleep.