By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Vera Fermiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, and Joey King
The Conjuring, which marks Melbourne Australia born James Wan’s 5th film as a director, is an interesting tent pole in his already storied career. The man who stamped his horror presence with a film called Saw in 2004 has now made his second film in a row about house possession. Now as someone who grew up watching every haunted house film imaginable (with Poltergeist the obvious highlight) I thought I had seen it all. Yet with 2011’s Insidious and now The Conjuring, Wan proves to be just as great a master of his craft as a professional boxing champion is of his. Because as soon as you think you have seen it all and let your guard down, that’s when Wan attacks.
The film has just about as obvious a set up as possible. A healthy but financially challenged family gets the bargain of a lifetime and moves into said bargain. Only to slowly realize, (gasp) that they’re not alone. Enter paranormal investigators the Warrens (Fermiga and Wilson), who ever so slowly start to put together the pieces of who and what the house is possessed by. What makes The Conjuring stand out as a great piece of horror is that instead of focusing on jump scares and the spirit’s execution, Wan turns our attention to the effects it is having on the family. The chemistry and dynamic between Wilson and Fermiga is impeccable, and once the unrelenting scares start, helps root the The Conjuring in a form of emotional reality. This form of character development can make even the most skeptic of skeptics believe in even the slightest hint of possibility this story could be bathed in at least some hint of truth. Meaning, seeing Fermiga’s reactions to what is going on around her pulls us to her like a poetic magnet. Also, it was a nice idea of introducing us to the investigators before the Perron family meet them, as it helps Wan’s form of fright building narrative even more.The supporting cast is good in roles that, again, could have come off as cardboard cutouts. In particular King, who I was pretty harsh on in my review of White House Down, stood out to me and is very good as one of five daughters in the house. Livingston and Taylor are as good as can be expected playing the couple you would like to have over for brownies. I have made no bones about my love for Taylor & what I feel her presence brings to certain roles (Say Anything immediately comes to mind.). When used right, she can be excellent. The Conjuring marks her first return to horror since 1999’s ill conceived The Haunting remake. And again, it is her reactions that particularly sold me on her characters. Especially in the film’s unrelenting climax.Speaking of the film’s final act, Wan seems to have learned a thing or two from the experience of Insidious, a film which I felt completely unraveled in its final thirty minutes. He does not let up here, as by the time The Conjuring’s ending happens and you are finding yourself having to leave your seat, you will probably think twice before going in the dark again. Wan’s strengths as a director really shine through in The Conjuring, and I feel it is a testament to his style that the film earned an R rating. There is no scene of pitiless gore and the film’s profanity consists of exactly one word…uttered once. This film’s R rating was given simply out of its fierce intensity, as Wan’s high contrasting color pallets and way of quickly zooming in and out of rooms during the film’s scariest scenes makes for an unrelentingly frightening time at the movies. Sure, The Conjuring’s dialogue could have used a little tweaking (you can’t expect the writers of 2005’s House of Wax remake to conquer this aspect.) But where The Conjuring surpasses all expectations is that it knows which ones you have and pounces on them. This is not a film about plot twists. Wan has succeeded in taking techniques perfected by films like The Shining, Amityville Horror and yes, Poltergeist, & & molding them with as minimal CGI as possible. Go see The Conjuring. Before yet another horror remake takes its spot.