Frightening, well acted and well directed, “The Conjuring” is the Haunted House movie that horror fans have been waiting for. It skillfully savors the slight chills in the early going, then indulges in some outright jump in your seat moments before heading into the no holds barred ending.
This is a movie that is certain to be discussed as one of the best of the year, and likely to claim a spot in the discussion of all time great haunted house movies in years to come.
When the Perron family (with Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as Father and Mother) moves into a new home, they quickly realize that not all is as it seems. The family dog won’t enter the house, the clocks stop every night at a little past three, and they’re constantly experiencing strange sounds and smells. They soon discover a boarded up basement filled with dusty antiques. Creepy quickly turns to frightening though, as the oddities and incidents become more violent and undeniably supernatural.
This leads them to seek out the help of Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), a married couple who are professional investigators into the paranormal. The audience is introduced to the couple in an opening sequence that shows them resolving a case involving a creepy, possessed doll. Later, as they lecture at a nearby University, Mrs Perron approaches them and pleads for their help. The Warrens agree, and immediately upon visiting are overwhelmed by the feeling of malevolence within the house. They begin a full scale investigation and discover that the property has a history of violent spiritual occurrences dating back for centuries. From there, the couple and their team strive to find a way to exorcise the spirits haunting the house, in spite of the inherent danger.
Will the Warrens be able to cleanse the house of the forces within?
Like most haunted house movies, “The Conjuring” begins slowly with strange and suspicious activity and builds until the signs of haunting are undeniable. Stopped clocks and things that go bump in the night eventually give way to physical encounters and glimpses of ghosts. It’s a tried and true formula, but “The Conjuring” really executes it in a masterful way. Curious events, strange phenomena and a boarded up, cobwebby basement lead to apparitions, flying objects and outright possessions. It’s a perfectly paced escalation that will have people constantly gasping and clutching the arm rests of their seats… just when they get accustomed to one level of scares, “The Conjuring” raises the bar to a new height.
Many haunted house movies begin well and end poorly, though. I’ve come to believe that it’s easy for movies about hauntings to be scary in the creaking floorboards/slowly opening doors/shadows moving behind people phase. Most of them, however, lose their balance as they enter their last act and reveal their “shark”. That’s certainly no issue here, though, thankfully. “The Conjuring” begins as a ghost story and ends as an exorcism movie. The shift in tone helps things stay fresh and helps avoid the typical “show the ghost” issues. Also, by the third act, you’re completely engrossed in the story and attached to the characters, so when the finale approaches and things hit a crescendo, you’re completely invested. The movie doesn’t overplay its hand, either; it skillfully orchestrates a batshit crazy, super intense ending without blowing the carefully established tone of suspense.
The acting is solid across the board, from the child performances to Livingston and Taylor as frightened parents to Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine Warren. It’s also extremely well directed by James Wan (“Saw”, “Insidious”), who uses fantastic shots and great editing to keep things visually interesting and help emphasize the scares.
“The Conjuring” is a movie that chills and frightens from beginning to end, with a clever, suspenseful haunting build up that leads to an explosive finale. It has genuine moments of shock and fright, great characters and solid acting. This is a film that has an excellent shot at my top ten this year, and potentially could even be considered for movie of the year (if nothing wows me in the second half). I absolutely hope to see some form of sequel that focuses on the further adventures of the Warrens and their paranormal investigations, it would be a shame to squander such a high quality premise.