There ain’t no magic tricks here – ★★★★
The Conjuring is a rare breed of horror film by today’s standards, simply because it’s pretty damn scary. Director James Wan previously terrified us with Saw and Insidious and is back to tell the true story of the Perron family. Back in the 70s they moved into a new home only to realise they weren’t alone and needed to rely on the services of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren.
The film starts by telling us about Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) and Ed (Patrick Wilson) and their line of work. They have investigated many cases of the paranormal and lecture to countless willing audiences. In parallel to this we see the Perrons setting up home and discovering that they have a boarded up basement. You would think this would be sign number one to leave the house but this occurred much earlier when their pet dog refused to enter the house. This is a great feature of the film, its awareness of the genre and the foundation for a good horror yarn. The 70s were a golden age for seminal horror it saw such releases as The Exorcist (1973), Don’t Look Now (1973), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Carrie (1976), The Omen (1976), Suspiria (1976) and Halloween (1978). This makes the decade the perfect time period in which to set The Conjuring. Its opening titles alone sets out its stall pretty clearly.
The film it will draw most comparisons to is The Amityville Horror (1979) which was based on a previous case of Ed and Lorraines. In The Conjuring Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) is a truck driver who must leave Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and the children alone for most of the day which gives a perfect opportunity for all the evil spirits to run amok. The tension builds nicely with seasoned horror fans recognising the tell tale signs of what’s coming next yet still being adequately surprised.
As with Insidious the story incorporates comic relief in the form of police officer Brad (John Brotherton) and fellow paranormal enthusiast Drew (Shannon Kook), their antics allow us to relieve the nervous tension with a good belly laugh. The story is well explained as most would simply go “SELL THE DAMN HOUSE AND MOVE” but we learn of the family’s financial troubles and besides it would make no difference as the evil spirits have entwined themselves with the family.
Certainly some may say there isn’t much new here, but for me the point of a horror is to scare and once this feat is accomplished the rest is window dressing. It knows its origins well and this is a good ghost story told with pace and buckets of tension. Director James Wan is fast becoming the modern master of horror.