When the Perron family move into a New England farmhouse and are harassed by malevolent spirits, they call in renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) to rid the house of the spirits. However, this is a case unlike any the Warrens have experienced before.
The Conjuring is based in the ‘true’ case files of Ed and Lorraine Warrens (probably most famous for their work on the Amityville case), which will no doubt set off alarm bells with a lot of people, as will the fact that we have yet another haunted house tale – is there anything here to set the film apart from those we’ve seen before?
Well, yes and no.
There is very little new in The Conjuring that we haven’t seen in countless other horror films. It ticks just about every horror film box which does unfortunately drag the film into cliche a little too often and make the whole thing somewhat predictable. Isolated farm house? Check. Nervous dog? Check. Spooky boarded up basement? Check. Creepy kids’ toys? Check. I could go on for quite a while.
Having said that, even though the film does tread familiar ground, it does so very effectively. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) knows how to pace a horror film and doesn’t miss a beat throughout. Whether it’s a fleeting face in a mirror, a creaking door or sleepwalking child, Wan executes it with aplomb and delivers on the scare front more often than not. And it’s in these slower, more subtle moments that the film is at its most effective, with Wan’s use of long takes, dolly zooms and disorientating camera angles really intensifying the atmosphere.
We don’t always see what the characters see, allowing our own imagination to fill in the blanks. As such, when the film does show its hand, often resorting to standard jump scare tactics, it feels a little cheap. Everything then gets ramped up in the final third, as you’d expect, and this does reduce much of the impact, although as this is based on ‘actual events’ it’s difficult to see how it could have been much different.
A lot of credit must also go to the cast. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor do well as the Perrons but it’s Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga who are the stand outs here. They are wholly believable as the famed demonologists, with Farmiga in particular excellently portraying Lorraine Warren as a caring but slightly damaged individual, although with the actual Lorraine Warren helping out with the story it’s hardly surprising the pair are sympathetically portrayed when others would argue they perhaps shouldn’t be.
For diehard horror aficionados, The Conjuring probably won’t offer up anything you haven’t seen umpteen times before and it may seem rather too ‘by numbers’. However, for the casual horror fan there’s enough here to have you gripping the edge of your seat whether you believe it’s a true story or not.