The Conjuring (2013)

Directed By: James Wan
Written By: Chad Hayes
  Carey Hayes
Starring: Lili Taylor
  Vera Farmiga
  Patrick Wilson
  Ron Livingston
The Conjuring

The story of paranormal investigator couple Ed and Lorraine Warren is truly fascinating. A demonologist and clairvoyant respectively, the two were involved in the study of multiple cases of “hauntings” in the US, including the infamous Amityville. Their work so impacted on their lives, in fact, that Lorraine keeps a room of tokens, gained along the way, to this day. They, and indeed their chequered life together, arguably deserves a big screen outing, but whether or not The Conjuring does either any justice, or simply utilises elements of both to create an atmosphere of foreboding in which spooky things can happen to other, less interesting people, remains to be seen.

This is director James Wan’s second foray into haunted house territory, following the half-good, half-terrible, yet hugely popular Insidious, the sequel to which is due out later this year. Crucially, The Conjuring boasts a far more cohesive narrative than its predecessor, and thankfully, its paranormal investigators are not of the Ghostbusters variety this time around either, making the story much easier to digest. The Warrens were, after all, serious paranormal investigators, and they are presented as such. Though they assure the terrified family that there is probably a reasonable explanation – leaky pipes, anyone? – they are never cynical or jaded in their examination of the supposedly haunted house.

Though they should be front and centre – the film is also known as The Warren Files, after all – the stars of the show are the Perron family, a typical all-American bunch including five daughters, none of whom are in any way likeable. To add to this, it’s the seventies, so there’s lots of weird hair and clothes,with people using slang such as “Far out” in total seriousness.

After moving into a spacious, charming country house, the Perrons, including father (Ron Livingston, one of Carrie’s more insufferable boyfriends on Sex and the City) and mother (Lili Taylor, who also starred in the similarly-themed The Haunting) begin to notice strange occurrences, such as objects falling off the walls, doors closing by themselves and the inevitable bumps in the night. The Warrens are soon called in to investigate, and things very quickly go from bad to worse.

Crucially, Wan doesn’t make the fatal error of showing any of the ghosts too early. Rather, we are treated to lots of weird noises, and unexplained incidents, but no real sights until about halfway through the film, when a girl resembling a cross between

The Ring’s Samara and The Exorcist’s Regan turns up atop a wardrobe and, unfortunately, she doesn’t look all that impressive.

However, she’s the worst of Wan’s many ghouls, most of whom are impressively, and practically, realised. There is nothing Darth Maul-esque about them either, thankfully. The amount of time and effort that went into their creation is evident, and it makes everything feel more terrifyingly realistic, than if only a transparent, fuzzy CGI ghost were shown instead. Thus, for the most part, The Conjuring is a frightening, atmospheric chiller, that serves up quite a few decent scares. The tension is built effectively, and though the inclusion of a bumbling cop stops it from being properly dark, there is a great sense of foreboding and dread throughout.

Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson are excellent as the Warrens, but the film would’ve been much stronger if they were the main focus, instead of the rather dull Perron family who, for reasons unknown, take bizarre occurrences, such as a child banging her head repeatedly against a wardrobe, as normal symptoms of sleepwalking. The real issue, of course, is that Wan hasn’t really done anything new with the formula. The whole thing reeks of The Exorcist, and the sort-of twist, regarding the mother, is so done to death at this point, that it barely even registers. Furthermore, the ending is so sickeningly saccharine that it seems as though it belongs in another film. Therefore, The Conjuring probably won’t convince Wan’s detractors of his skills as a filmmaker, not least because he still doesn’t seem to have any idea how to end a movie, but it is an entertaining, spooky and very thrilling haunted house story nonetheless, anchored by two wholly believable performances from Farmiga and Wilson.

It’s nothing particularly new, but it is the most enjoyable film of this recently over-saturated subgenre in a long, long time – and it doesn’t even have the word “paranormal” in the title!

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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