James Wan is somewhat of a master of modern horror. While he probably won’t ever be as influential as, say, John Carpenter or Wes Craven, Wan has supplied cinema-goers with frights from his work such as Saw and Insidious. His latest offering takes his knowledge of horror conventions to the extreme, and presents a film that should be predictable, but as a result of his experience in the genre is a far more enjoyable and unpredictable affair.
Soon after moving into a secluded farmhouse in the early 70’s, the Perron family begin to notice and feel strange phenomena around their abode. When the occurrences become more volatile, they enlist the help of respected paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farminga respectively) to unravel the mystery. What they discover is far more terrifying than anything they’ve dealt with before, and the Warrens soon realise that by associating with the evil, their own lives become endangered.
As previously mentioned, the narrative is nothing new: in fact, it could be argued that the ‘haunted house’ story is a tired formula. What makes The Conjuring stand above the rest is the inventive cinematography. Wan collaborates with John Leonetti once again, after their last pairing on Insidious was so successful. Wide shots combine with movement to create a real sense of unease, and in one sequence we fly through the house, visiting various family members who are all being terrorized in different ways. Going from one side of the house and upstairs to down, it’s a frenetic yet effective method and is one of the many that breathes life into a previously stale sub-genre of horror. Wan checks all the boxes as to what audiences are expecting from a haunted house movie, yet still manages to surprise every step of the way.
The performances are nothing short of brilliant by all involved. Patrick Wilson, who worked with Wan in Insidious also, successfully strays from the typecast trap that he could have so easily fallen into and impresses as lead investigator. Farminga, who starred alongside George Clooney in the exceptional Up In The Air, also gives a fantastic turn. She even gives credibility to the side plot of her character’s ‘gift’ of seeing spirits, something that a lesser talent would have squandered. Credit also goes to Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor and Kyla Deaver as the most pivotal members of the Perron household.
The pacing is admittedly slow in its opening act, and the first few scares are tame, but it’s a calculated move by Wan to build tension at every possible moment. There’s an ever-present sense of dread dripping from every frame of The Conjuring, and in some scenes it’s almost unbearable. Fortunately, the majority of scares and their pay off are satisfying, and the ones that aren’t are broken up with comic relief, only to swiftly spiral back into armrest-gripping intensity a moment later; Wan has opted to unashamedly throw the Book of Scares at us at an unrelenting rate, and it’s wonderful.
The Conjuring is without a doubt the horror event of 2013. It’s worth noting that it’s hardly had any competition to that title, but if 2013 was the year that Scream or Halloween was released, it would rightfully take its place among them. A truly terrifying experience.