There have been so many subpar horror movies in recent years. There have been a handful of passable to decent horror pictures yet nothing in recent memory that did anything to really strengthen the outlook for the genre. In other words the horror movie genre is desperate for some smart and original features. Then along comes “The Conjuring”, a movie that might not be the bold, groundbreaking film that the genre needs, but it’s certainly a good movie and a pleasant surprise.
“The Conjuring” is based on the true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators, and their encounter with the Perron family. Set in 1971 (the year I was born), the movie has a very good sense of time and setting. The outfits, automobiles, and handful of songs are all spot on. Even the intricacies of the characters seem carefully written with the time period in mind. The main characters are the Warren’s. After a very unique and unsettling career, they now spend their time giving lectures on their experiences with demonology and paranormal activity.
We are also introduced to the Perron family. Tell me if you’ve heard this before. Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) and his wife Carolyn (Lili Taylor) along with their five daughters move to rural Rhode Island after buying a two-story farmhouse. The family begins to experience strange, frightening, and unexplainable things. Wouldn’t you know it, the house turns out to have a troubling history which triggers the haunting of the Perron family. Carolyn catches the Warren’s after a lecture and convinces them to help find out what’s going on in their house.
The movie is really broken up into two halves. During the first half we spend a lot of time with the Perron family. The story is very deliberate in allowing us to get to know the family and in its revealing of the haunting. In several ways this works to the movie’s advantage but I have to admit I eventually was ready for it to move along. The second half follows the Warren’s work to help the Perron’s identify and deal with the terror. This is where the film really picked up and I quickly found myself thoroughly involved.
A lot of the film’s success can be credited to director James Wan. There is a level of tension and discomfort from the opening to the end credits and I say that positively. Clever techniques and strategies end up paying off. For example his use of scaling camera shots and creative angles work really well. And even though he uses standard stuff such as slamming doors, flickering lights, and creaky wooden floors, it’s pretty effective in its implementation. Sparse music, creepy makeup effects, and a reliability on psychological horror over gore are other sure positives.
And I have to give props to the two lead performances. The routinely underappreciated Patrick Wilson is excellent here. He falls right into the part and you never sense anything disingenuous about his performance. And I’ve said before that I am a huge fan of Vera Farmiga. This is a different role for her but once again she’s fantastic. Both Wilson and Farmiga are clearly 100% committed and it shows. There’s no winking at the camera or throwing away lines. Both are huge reasons the movie worked for me overall.
It’s hard to say that “The Conjuring” brings something new to the table. There are tastes of everything from “The Amityville Horror” to “Paranormal Activity”. Yet there’s something strikingly fresh about it even though it spends the entire time in familiar territory. “The Conjuring” has turned into a surprise hit this summer but I didn’t put much stock into that. As someone a little tired of the bland, run-of-the-mill “horror” we get today, I was a bit skeptical. But I love being surprised and this film did that for me. It has its flaws and it’s easy to pick it apart. But I had too much fun to waste my time doing that.