For those of you who read my Friday Fright Club feature, you all know that I am quite a big fan of James Wan. While we first took note of him with the first Saw film, it wasn’t until Insidious that he fully grabbed my attention. Drawing heavily on our nostalgia, Wan seems to have a perfect understanding and love of the late 70’s and early 80’s horror films that kept us awake at night, and his ability to bring that to life again is truly astounding. I am happy to say that The Conjuring is no different.
I knew I was going to like The Conjuring even before I walked into the theatre. This bothered me a little as I like to think I am able to be quite objective when it comes to films I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, leading to a mild existential crisis before I sat down to wait for the film to start. After doing a little soul-searching, however, it struck me that reviewing a horror film is, by its nature, very different from the standard blockbuster reviews that we churn out periodically because of one simple fact: a horror film doesn’t need to be a ‘good’ film to be a great ‘horror’. I’ve touched on this subject before, with Evil Dead and Cabin in the Woods: The fact that these films exist indicates that familiar stories do not necessarily mean a horror film has to be considered as unoriginal. This is my main criticism with The Conjuring, which is also true for Insidious – neither film can be considered wholly original as it draws inspiration from the horror films we grew up on.
The Conjuring strikes a very similar tone to The Amityville Horror, which many fans of the latter franchise will be excited to hear. Very interestingly, the paranormal investigators featured in The Conjuring are the same couple who investigated the Amityville Horror case, which I am quite surprised wasn’t referenced more in the film. James Wan makes it no secret that The Conjuring is a love letter to late 70’s horror films… a screeching horror score and on-screen text that sets the plot are a few tiny treasures that you can expect, and I’m pretty sure that most of you will be able to spot a few more horror anachronisms.
The film opens to Ed and Lorraine Warren, based on real life paranormal investigators of the same name, giving a presentation to a lecture hall regarding a case that they have investigated. The film sets an ominous tone very quickly as we are are shown the story of Annabel, a ‘haunted’ doll that terrorised a few students in their apartment building, before the Warrens diagnosed it as being a demonic conduit. (Might I, at this point, indicate that these cases are all based on ‘real’ cases by the Warren duo? Good luck sleeping tonight!)
Annabel is safely locked away in the Warrens’ museum of cursed objects, a locked room in their house filled with objects from previous cases that are considered dangerous. While this is already a terrifying premise that I would like to be explored more, this is merely the prologue of the film as we are then introduced to the unfortunate Perron family as they are moving into an old farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode island. They obviously did not do a background check on the property as they very quickly become aware that they are not alone in the house. After a wave of horrific supernatural occurrences they enlist the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren, but neither family realises just how malicious the cause of their troubles are… That’s about as much plot as I’m willing to give away without having to spoil it all for you, but as I mentioned before, it strikes a very familiar tone to The Amityville Horror.
Patrick Wilson and the lovely Vera Farmiga are great as Ed and Lorraine Harris, managing to convincingly portray the supernatural investigators as a couple whose career has taken a toll on their health and sanity, as it would. Ron Livingston is ultimately forgettable as Roger Perron as most of the focus is put on the fantastic Lili Taylor, starring as Carolyn Perron. As it goes with horror films though, the Perron kids steal the show as you and I both know that there is nothing as terrifying as children in a horror film. Insidious, anyone? The inclusion of the Harris’ in the film adds a fantastic meta-aspect to the entire story, with the main cast not having to rely on guesswork as to what the cause of their troubles might be. Ed and Lorraine know what they are doing, and what they are dealing with – and their ‘horror museum’ is evidence of that. It allows for the scares to take precedence over too much exposition, which I am very much in favour of.
The Conjuring isn’t just a great horror film, it is a great film as well. Well directed, well acted and terrifying without having to rely on an over-abundance of jump-scares, this is definitely the film to watch if you aren’t particularly fond of being able to sleep at night. Personally, I get a great night’s rest just knowing that Mr. Wan is currently busy figuring out how to scare the bejeezus out of us once again.
Last Updated: September 17, 2013