Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in James Wan’s The Conjuring. The story has been played out countless times before onscreen: There are demons terrorizing a family’s home and they must be drawn out. The Conjuring works because it uses a standard horror formula and gives us something different. There’s nothing wrong with good formula done well. The story is told mostly from the perspective of the Warrens and not the victimized family, which is very refreshing.
Supposedly, this film is based on a true case that the Warrens investigated. Whether or not you believe the “based on a true story” tagline won’t matter by the end. Skeptic or believer, this movie will probably scare the hell out of you. What’s great about The Conjuring is that the scares don’t simply stop and start. For the most part, there is a feeling of mounting and prolonged dread from beginning to end.
In fact, The Conjuring is one of the only film’s I’ve ever heard of that is rated R simply for being scary. The MPAA cites “sequences of disturbing violence and terror” as its reason for the rating, which in itself is a great compliment to the film. The Conjuring is indeed very scary, but hardly ever relies on gore or fake out “jump scares” to manipulate the audience. Director James Wan is well on his way to becoming a great horror director. Like John Carpenter, Wan understands that what is unseen is often scarier than what is explicitly shown.
The performances are all solid, especially from Lili Taylor as the tormented mother of the family dealing with things that go bump in the night. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson also take their roles as paranormal investigators very seriously, lending the film some credibility, despite its supernatural elements. The Warrens establish early on that most of the time, nothing supernatural or haunted is going on inside supposedly haunted locations. One scene shows the Warrens revealing creaky pipes and floorboards as the source of one couple’s “haunting.”
By taking time to set up the reality of this world, the later scenes inside the haunted house feel much more plausible and creepy. The Conjuring is a horror movie that I suspect will appeal to just about anyone who loves a scary story or a shiver down their spine. Viewers turned off by “torture porn” and explicit gore in recent horror films will appreciate the simplicity and inventiveness of the scares in this movie. The Conjuring is that rare horror movie that sticks with you afterwards. You may find yourself listening closely to ambient noise in your home, expecting to hear demons whispering in the shadows.