UK Release Date: August 02nd, 2013 (UK)
Running Time: 112 mins.
Director: James Wan
Writer: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lilie Taylor, Ron Livingston, Joey King, Stanley Casewell, Hayley McFarland, Mackenzie Foy, Kyla Deaver, Sterling Jerins,
Apparently, just like Amityville Horror, this is based on a true story about a real life Perron family who endured the haunting until the Warrens, a real life paranormal investigators intervened which I guess makes it even more scary because this stuff actually happened. Really? Whatever the case, The Conjuring is a pretty interesting choice of title. Conjuring is a word that may make one think of summoning demons or of magicians fooling audiences into believing in magic with sleights of hand. A curse and ghosts are conjured up but the performance aspect of the word is pretty apt here since Wan tells the story with grotesque glee proving that he is one of the best modern horror directors working.
Ed (Wilson) and Lorraine (Farmiga) Warren are paranormal investigators based in New England. In the basement of their house in Monroe Connecticut they keep cursed objects like samurai armour and a haunted doll named Annabelle locked up. Over the course of their career they have investigated many different cases and gained much arcade knowledge but after a traumatic exorcism that leaves Lorraine debilitated they shelve their careers in favour of academic tours and raising their daughter.
1971, Harrisville Rhode Island. The Perron family have moved into a dilapidated farmhouse. The father, Roger (Livingstone), is a trucker often on the road while mother, Carolyn (Taylor) is a homemaker who takes care of their five daughters. The family are overjoyed with the property but there are strange things going on. The family dog Sadie refuses to go in the house, one of the daughters finds a strange discarded music box while another finds a boarded up entrance to a cellar. Things are about to get worse…
The next morning the family discovers Sadie lying dead outside the house. The supernatural activity increases to even more violent levels when Roger is away on the road. Carolyn wakes up with mysterious bruises, poltergeist activity ensues, a ghost boy named Rory appears to the youngest daughter and the apparition of a gnarled old woman begins to terrorise the family. After Carolyn finds herself under a sustained supernatural assault she contacts Ed and Lorraine Warren.
At first the Warrens are reluctant to intervene due to Lorraine’s weakened state but an investigation into the house and the powerful forces dwelling with changes their minds…
The Conjuring like Insidious and Insidious Chapter 2, feature Patrick Wilson traversing a spook house directed by James Wan. Like Insidious Chapter 2, this film is pretty derivative of other horror titles and the director reuses the same visual and audio techniques to generate atmosphere but in the case of these films it is more about the experience than originality.
Derivative sounds pretty damnable but for horror veterans they will recognise references or sequences from other films like The Orphanage and Poltergeist.
We get to see freaky possessed dolls, haunted houses, a strange music box which plays an unnerving tune, ghost children, references to the Salem witch trials, witches and curses, a spooky basement and even an exorcism. The soundtrack features a shivering violin, blaring trumpets and banging doors in quiet moments. The camera hovers about a silent house, pans around rooms, and there are dolly shots as it creeps forward on specific objects. There are even Dutch angles to show characters under possession etc.
Fortunately James Wan is a talented director who has horror mise en scene on lock and production design is top notch so it is all delivered with aplomb and the atmosphere is visceral.
I was never bored. Indeed I found myself coming under its spell and did enjoy it. There is always something glimpsed at the corner of the screen as the camera shows the unnerving and menacing aspects of an empty room or darkened staircase where something odd or unidentifiable. The mood is unbroken and so any problems about unoriginality are easily ignorable because the film feels like an extremely well-made title. Indeed I did jump despite myself (the maid and the wardrobe sequence caught me out…). There are a lot of jump-scares set up by some very, very intelligent camera work that weaves around the well-designed set. It is all about misdirection and fooling the audience which brings it all back to the title. This is proof that James Wan is a master showman.