Mainstream horror has been undeniably tame in 2013. Dark Skies being the closest thing to a standout, outside of excellent Indie efforts like Resolution and V/H/S. This all changes in the opening moments of James Wan’s new film. The director of Saw and Insidious gives himself another calling card in this chiller and that comes before the September release of Wan’s Insidious: Chapter 2. The film is based on true events and set in 1971, which is appropriate, as it is a real old school fright flick.
The Conjuring lacks the shiny ingenuity of originality and opts more for older scare tactics. It does mean that seasoned veterans will be familiar to some of these bumps and jumps but Wan keeps things unpredictable enough. The film is familiar in areas but delivers in frights. This film is absolutely petrifying and it’s down to astute direction and a firm grasp of atmosphere. Wan has not made an original project but a throwback to the psychological and demonic Horrors of the 1970s. The opening recalls William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, in that the ambiance disturbs. The opening alone introduces the creepiest movie doll since Saw’s Billy the Puppet. A masterclass in evil.
The Conjuring may have occasional lags, where the scares slow but this is barely a constant issue. Wan has scattered his film with genuinely likable characters, most of which are interesting and advance the plot. The Conjuring is brilliantly crafted, Wan may well be competing for best horror film of 2013 with himself (come Insidious Chapter 2). Fair enough some may not be too keen on the outlandish climax but it fits in to the Amytiville (another real-life Warren case) vibe. While the story and tactics are not unbeknownst and lack the roundedness of Insidious’ balance of fun and drama, this is full-blooded terror.
The film is aided by another scare your pants off score from Joseph Bishara, who nails the tone head on. The settings are excellent too, with the Perron home looking appropriately gloomy and vintage. The Conjuring creeps you out enormously and despite familiarity has a few new sequences (washing line scene, clap and seek). The splendid character work helps too, Ed Warren is the right balance of professional and caring and Patrick Wilson knows how to present this. Vera Framiga is compassionate as Lorraine and her character never falls into stereotyping. The Perron family too, are a family to root for, with innocent children, a sympathetic patriarch in Ron Livingston and a helpless matriarch (Lili Taylor). Wan has fashioned another film that scares the living beejesus out of you, whilst being a good film at the same time.