The Conjuring (2013)
Based on the true case files of the Warrens.
The Perron family — consisting of Carolyn (Lili Taylor), Roger (Ron Livingston) and their five daughters, Andrea (Shanley Caswell), Nancy (Hayley McFarland), Christine (Joey King), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy) and April (Kyla Deaver) — move into a large farmhouse in Rhode Island to start a new life for themselves. It’s not long however, before a dark presence makes itself known with Carolyn seeking out the aid of paranormal investigators and demonology experts Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga respectively). But even the Warrens, who appear to have seen it all, find this particular case deeply disturbing as a malevolent force threatens to tear down everyone involved.
Those who know me know that I’m a long-time fan of Australian director James Wan. My admiration for Wan stems all the way back to Saw (2004) and the criminally under-seen and under-appreciated Dead Silence (2007) and Death Sentence (2007).
Wan’s 2010 sleeper hit Insidious felt like a strong statement from a young filmmaker who wanted to be recognized and taken seriously; and you know what, he pretty much got there, minus the flick’s third act, which went fully explicit and dampened the wonderful subdued spooky atmosphere of its previous acts.
Apparently, with Insidious, Wan had made a conscious decision to study the supernatural horror classics — think The Exorcist (1973), The Shining (1980) and The Haunting (1963) — in an effort to understand what conventions worked and which ones had been worn out, and then attempted to find a new angle. As such, I wondered if Wan had much left to offer the paranormal horror genre. Turns out he still has plenty.
With The Conjuring, Wan appears to have acknowledged all of his previous short-comings and actively improved upon them, while still delivering the goods and nodding to his personal interests — namely spooky dolls, demons, witchcraft and creepy ghosts.
This film works beautifully. Wan demonstrates a deep respect for the genre, his characters, their story and most importantly, his audience. The pacing is steady, with no fatty scenes whatsoever, subtle scares throughout (even in the all-out climax) and when he does loosen his hold on being ambiguous, Wan does so in a short, sharp manner, never spending any more time than he needs to.
This represents the second time Wan has worked from a script that wasn’t penned by his Aussie buddy/ regular collaborator Leigh Whannell, the first being Death Sentence, and considering that I thought the said flick was his best film (till now), The Conjuring certifies certain suspicions.
The writers this time are the Hayes brothers — Chad and Carey — who wrote the maligned Whiteout (2009) and the fun, yet overly panned remake of House of Wax (2005). In Wan’s hands, I’ve no doubt he has improved upon the material (which, by the way, is based upon a true story) and I feel this demonstrates that when allowed a more objective perspective on the narrative, Wan can do greater things.
I truly struggled to find faults in the film. Besides maybe the brief scene with the not-quite-convincing actresses that open the picture, I wouldn’t change a thing here.
The acting ensemble — including the young girls playing the Perron daughters — are all excellent. My favorite scene being a chilling, late-night bedroom encounter, which rests purely on 14-year-old Joey King’s petrified shoulders and she pulls it off with flying colors. The superb sound design by Joe Dzuban, Broken Kingdom (2012), and the cinematography by John R. Leonetti, The Mask (1994), only enhance the overall experience, creating one heck of an arresting ride.
Take it from me, this is one of the best films of its year and a genuine, modern horror classic — it’s simply a rare treat to see this kind of fright fest done so right. The last time I was this super-high off a supernatural chiller, it was the criminally under-seen Aussie gem Lake Mungo (2008).
Horror fans — run, don’t walk, to see this gem. And James Wan, congratulations on your masterpiece.
4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie
The Conjuring is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia