Director: James Wan
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Shanley Caswell
Written by: Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes
Running Time: 112 mins
Release date: 2nd August 2013
Those who read my blog will know that I’m not a great lover of modern horrors, preferring my thrills from films of the 70s, where they knew how to build atmosphere and suspense, even if the scares were few and far between. So James Wan’s 70s set ghost story The Conjuring, had me curious. Could the director who has worked in the genre for quite some time now, be able to capture the chills and thrills that were around in that decade? I can report that he has and in the process, produced a very effective shocker indeed.
The Perron family move into an large farmhouse. As soon as they do, strange things begin to happen: the family dog dies under mysterious circumstances, mother Carolyn has bruises appearing on her body and the children are experiencing odd noises and events in the night. Carolyn turns to paranormal experts Ed and Lorraine Warren for help but as they dig deeper into the history of the house, they discover a force so strong and so evil that it might take an exorcism to dispose or it before someone gets killed.
Wan makes the brave move of taking his time to tell the true story. Most horror directors would want to get to the shocks as quickly as possible, so they don’t lose their obviously young audience. Wan doesn’t. Within the first hour he throws us the occasional juicy bone with a jump here, a loud noise there but has the good sense to leave the biggest shocks till the second half, when the Warrens arrive. In doing so, he allows his cast of excellent actors to develop their characters, so we can become emotionally involved, making the oncoming peril even more tense.
He also knows what works to manipulate an audience. So we get the loud noises, the dark corners. In fact, he uses every trick in the book to frighten the bejesus out of us and while it might not always work and it may not be the most original thing we have seen, it is done with such style and attention to detail that it has to be applauded.
The cast works too. Instead of turning to unknowns or movie stars, he gives the leads to actors. Proper actors who will understand their parts. Patrick Wilson, working with Wan for a third time (having starred in Insidious and the up-and-coming sequel), taking on the role of Ed, he brings this man to life, getting deeper into the mind of a man who has seen it all, while the always excellent and underrated Vera Farmiga is perfect as the fragile yet determined Lorraine.
It’s good to see Lili Taylor back in a mainstream movie. The queen of Indie cinema is superb as the trouble Carolyn, ably supported by Ron Livingston as husband Roger. The children are also very good, never allowed to cross that line of being brattish.
Filmed with care so that we don’t get unnecessary cuts to keep the pace going and feeling like a 70s horror, this is a a solid if flawed spooky tale. Flawed in the sense that the shocks are a little predictable in places but I have to confess I did jump a few times and the finale is so adrenaline-fuelled that you might need to catch your breath once its over. Not the greatest horror ever but far more entertaining and chilling than most recent films in the genre. A word of warning: If you find a secret cellar…leave it well alone.