I originally had planned to see James Wan’s new film “The Conjuring” on its opening night. I ended up walking out (due to the lack of respect of others). I returned to the cinema with my sister the next morning to see the film. In the modern world of horror films hollywood seems to be churning out remakes, sequels or different versions of the same film. Marketing the films with gimmick attempts to frighten the viewer. Films with taglines such as “The scariest movie ever made!” etc and you walk out of the cinema feeling let down.
Here we have James Wan (Insidious, Saw) with his much-anticipated possession film “The Conjuring”. James decided to cast Patrick Wilson from (Insidious, Hard Candy) again, along with a newcomer to the horror genre Vera Farmiga (The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, The Departed). The two play Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are well-known experts in paranormal investigations. Some people call them Demonologists. They have dealt with many cases, none like the one they encounter here at a small remote farmhouse in Rhode Island. The house has been purchased at auction by a family of seven. The Perrons, Carolyn, (played by Lili Taylor) and Roger (played by Ron Livingston) and their five daughters.
Shortly after the family moves in, strange occurrences start to begin in and around the house. This eventually escalates to the point that Carolyn starts to fear for her life and the lives of her husband and children. She seeks out The Warrens hoping they may be able to help. I had read some reviews about the film before seeing it, some good, some average. Insidious, Wan’s last film, I think is the best in the modern genre of horror. It was always going to be hard for him to surpass that film. Regardless I was still very much looking forward to this!
I like the casting choices, Wilson plays these type of roles really well, he isn’t trying to over sell it. He is believable in his charisma on-screen and the actions his character take. Vera Farmiga is a wonderful actress and a great counterpart for Wilson. She has some very good scenes in the film too. The family look like a real family, something you don’t see all that often. I commend Wan on his casting choices, all the young girls have some past experience but are still learning the craft. They still manage to hold their own. Joey King who plays Christine I thought was good in most of her scenes. One scene stood out to me where she played up the fear a little over the top and it felt forced. It very much seemed like acting, she was still good but I think she was the weak link in the film.
The camera work and overall look of the film is fantastic, I can’t really fault it. The attention to detail in the 70’s era setting of the film is immaculate. This is right down to the furniture, the radio, the clocks and the wallpaper. You can tell everything in the frame was important to Wan. There is also some really effective camera work, one particular scene with a character running down a passage way. We get a rotating camera from the rooftop it was really effective. Certain scenes change to some great steady cam shots, which can be very personal. They were implemented well, especially in some of the creepy cellar scenes. If you combine this with the little trick’s of light here and there, and the overall look of the film, you have a very atmospheric genre piece. It’s not the most original storyline but the particulars and technical aspects have not been rushed. It shows in the quality of the work. The only thing that felt a little flat was the score. It was a solid backing for some of the scenes, the low-end bass stuff was particularly good. However, it didn’t have that down right creepy/eerie aspect that the Insidious score and theme had.
The film runs a good length, it doesn’t feel like 112 minutes, probably because there is a fair bit happening. Initially the opening act does feel a little slow to build, but that is a sign of not giving away too much to early. I had viewed the trailer (like most people) so some of the good scares had been shown, which was a little disappointing. A few scenes I jumped at and for the most part the film is very suspenseful. This is definitely not a shock value film rather just a lesson in creating tension.
I like a few of the subtle nods to us horror fans 😉 I am always looking for them. I spotted a few, “The Shining” reference, with the young girl in the hallways of the house. She is navigating from door to door in her dressing gown. A bit of “Saw” and the “Bride of Chucky” with the Annabelle doll. It was insanely creepy and appears several times throughout the film. In hindsight I would have like to have seen more focus on the doll because it was so creepy. I even like the subtlety of not having the alpha male character that doesn’t believe in the haunting. You know the guy that just has to attempt to prove everybody wrong. Finally something scary happens to him and then he has no choice but to get a priest. I am very happy this cliché was not used in the film.
I thought this was a very well made, genuine horror suspense film. However I don’t think it lives quite up to his previous work. I think James had the opportunity to scare more and have the payoff be even greater than it was. There were a few issues with characters actions and not discovering the full length of what was going on with the other daughters. I do like the way he wrapped up the film. He didn’t give us the “final scare” we are so used to seeing, that was clever. I look forward to Insidious 2 later in the year and hopefully he can keep making these crowd pleasing films. Make sure you get out to a local cinema and check this one out!
My rating for The Conjuring is 7/10