There are a small number of directors without a blemish on their record, and James Wan is one of them. Just look at his output: Saw, Dead Silence, Death Sentence, and Insidiouswere all made within a six-year period, and I can now confidently add a new entry to the unbroken chain of awesome Wan leaves in his wake. The Conjuring is his masterwork, and as of right now, it stands as one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in quite some time. In no small feat, it takes an often-used premise and breathes new life into it through technical mastery and a gift for simply scaring the shit out of me.
Patrick Wilson (Insidious) re-teams with Wan, this time playing Ed Warren, an expert in the supernatural. He and his wife, Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), travel around, giving talks at universities and evaluating alleged hauntings. Early on, they’re asked by Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) to help them rid their new house of whatever spirit infests it. While the setup is traditional, the style and confidence in which the story is told makes it feel fresh. John R. Leonetti, Wan’s director of photography on everything post-Saw, deserves a lot of the same credit that goes to Wan. Oftentimes, the camera feels like a ghost or a character itself as it twists, turns, and flies through the house with an eerie smoothness.
Try as I might, I just can’t go another paragraph without mentioning Joseph Bishara’s score. Not unlike the camerawork, it stands out as an integral part of making the on-screen horrors feel actually present. Gone are the mood-wrecking rock songs (or any genre, really) that infest a lot of modern horror movies, and in their place is a haunting cacophony of strings that elicits fear almost at will. One scene in particular having to do with a wooden wardrobe stands out as a grit-your-teeth-through-the-intense-horror moment. It’s production decisions like this that allow movies to stay relevant, and The Conjuring feels timeless because of it.
The Conjuring’s third act does share a similarity with Insidious, but don’t let that put you off. The paranormal investigations in each movie are done very differently, so there shouldn’t be any déjà vu. The build-up to revealing the true nature of the spirits is top-notch, as the Perron family is slowly turned from a happy-go-lucky bunch into a huddled-together mess sleeping in the living room for fear of their own bedrooms. Lili Taylor’s Carolyn gets the worst of it, and her veteran chops sell every second. In fact, the entire cast does a great job of keeping the story interesting and moving along at a good clip, which means there’s really no down-time or parts that drag.
There’s not much else I can say about The Conjuring. It’s scary in an old-fashioned, disturbing and tense sort of way, so if you like haunted house movies, this one is near the top of the food chain. James Wan knows how to play to the audience’s expectations yet still craft a unique and memorable experience, and it’s one I recommend you enjoy in a theater. With Insidious: Chapter 2 coming in just a couple of months, it’s a great time to be a horror fan.
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