The perfectly-timed scares in James Wan’s lauded “The Conjuring” attest the well-practiced fearmonger’s growth as a filmmaker. He has come a very long way from his dismissed B-vomitorium “Saw,” and his engaging, if ultimately a massive let-down, demon-flick that is “Insidious.” Wan’s knowledge about the way the genre works suffice to some seriously thrilling moments that keep the audience shut and trembling. He employs the old-school, slow-burn method with which he dutifully suggests something terrifying is there, in the shadows, unseen by the naked eye, when there isn’t anything at all. He waits in patience for the perfect moment to spook, and sure enough, when his ghouls conjure, we cringe at our seats. This is an impressive use of suspense and props should be given to the director. His scares are effective. Admit it. You jumped in the film, once or twice. But why is it that we forget about its dreadful glory hours after we exit the theaters?
Perhaps, it’s because the film is literally a house of cliches; one family moves to a peaceful country home, which, unbeknownst to them, houses a plethora demonic forces, and, even more terrifying, overused genre conventions. You know: ominous door-creaking, nightly sleepwalking, well-crafted CGI apparitions–all the staple. This is acceptable if only the script, written by twin scribes Chad and Carey Hayes (“House of Wax”), is handled any better. Questionable decision-making and syrupy exchange of lines are carelessly scattered herein. The story, based on the actual investigation by Ed and Lorraine Warren in the 70′s, tells the real-life encounters of the Perron family with the unknown. The forces that infest the house get increasingly violent from one conjuring to the next. The renowned paranormalists’ assistance is employed to extract and exorcise the demons out of their home; out of their lives. And if you’re wondering: yes, there’s an intense (if a wee underwhelming) exorcism sequence in which the vessel goes through a torturous round of possession and, at the end of the day, is inevitably spared.
The director, in all fairness, manages to draw out solid performances out of his actors. Patrick Wilson–who has worked with Wan in his recent paranormal-spooker “Insidious” (and, in an upcoming sequel)–portrays Ed Warren exquisitely by layering ample amounts of authority without leaving room for sympathy. Him, and Vera Farmiga (as Ed’s spouse, Lorraine), are spectacular as acknowledged paranormal experts. He is wise and strong and stern; she is sweet and loving and kind. Should an actual demonic possession occur, despite the cinematic faults, these two are who you want to trust your welfare with. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are great as the husband and wife of the Perron family. Support from child actors (especially that from Joey King) is suffice to make us care, despite everything.
Wan’s approach is very much old-school and I love it about that. The film greatly resembles Robert Wise’s “The Haunting,” (1963) and Ti West’s recent classic-horror homage “The Innkeepers.” (2011) The film’s spot-on, Hitchcockian-suspense aesthetic–suspense-over-surprise–works really well if we look at the film at such minuscule scope. Looking at the whole picture, however, is a different story. Aplenty of the film’s narrative elements could have been pushed further; and some could have benefited from a subtler approach. Often, and I insist on mentioning this quibble: the use of ear-bleeding, artificial tension-builders thieve a lot of the tension, as what had happened in the recent “The Awakening.” This isn’t to say that “The Conjuring” is total waste a film; but merely one that lost an opportunity or two.
RATING: 2.5 stars (out of 4)
WHAT OTHERS HAD TO SAY:
- “A horror movie has to be scary, jumpy, and full of terror that makes you sleep with more than just one night-light on. And this is thattype of movie.” – Dan the Man Movie Reviews
- “Frightening, well acted and well directed.” – Fogs Movie Reviews
- “For the casual horror fan there’s enough here to have you gripping the edge of your seat.” – Terry Malloy’s Pigeon Coop