James Wan is a director whom I enjoy the work of. He has made films I really enjoyed (Death Sentence, Saw, Dead Silence) and films I thought were alright (Insidious) so I was interested in checking out this, a ghost story reminiscent of The Amityville Horror and other haunted house stories of the past, based on a “true story”.
The story in question follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, a married couple who spent their professional lives as paranormal researchers. They receive a visit from Carolyn Perron, whom along with her family, moved into a farm house in Rhode Island only to experience strange and escalatingly physical experiences in the home. The Warren’s agree to visit the Perron home and investigate whether or not there is a “haunting” happening there. What they find when they arrive as the farm house, though, is on another level of evil and so begins an attempt to gather evidence in order for the house to receive a cleansing. The story is based on real-life people who apparently lived this experience. There is also a side-story involving a doll called “Annabelle” that the film glimpses at from time to time, bringing a creepy element that will certainly freak out people who have a fear of old antique toys.
I was concerned, prior to my viewing of this film, that I would be greeted by a unrelenting amount of “jump-scares” and cheap tactics, but what Wan brought to the table was much more than that, using practical effects throughout the film and creating a tense and hauntingly uncomfortable atmosphere that reminded me of “The Legend of Hell House” and the original “The Haunting” as well as the aforementioned “Amityville Horror”. The 1970’s feel that the film brings works really well and makes the film almost feel like a lost tape, a lost story that has been covered up because it is way too demented for people to see. There were plenty of “jump-scares”, but I didn’t mind them because of the detail and attention shown to creating an authentic and sinister gust of possession that made for an intense experience.
I am not someone who gets excited about horror films in 2014 like I did years ago, but when a film comes along of the quality of The Conjuring it is impossible not to get a boost of hope that there are still some top directors out there with some excellent and interesting stories to tell. It wasn’t original in many ways, but it did what most other haunted house films since the 70’s have failed to do, forming an air of terror and characters that feel really petrified of what is occurring around them.
Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) and Patrick Wilson (Hard Candy), as Lorraine and Ed Warren, offer experience and confidence, an element to the story that brings structure and strength to the suffering in which the Perron family is feeling. Their performances are realised brilliantly, with Farmiga especially bringing intensity and deep-seeded concern to her character. Lili Taylor (High Fidelity) as Carolyn Perron, is the character in which much of the film is centred around. Her experience with the evil presence in her home and the fact that it is attempting to possess her brings out a fearful and protective performance that feels real and natural, she stole the show in my view. Ron Livingston (Office Space) plays Carolyn’s husband, Roger, and his way of bringing about a character who wants to protect his family yet is unable to do so because he cannot understand what is happening, let along begin to know how to fight it, is done very well. The rest of the cast is mostly made up from the Perron children and a couple of secondary characters who assist in the evidence-collecting alongside the Warren’s. The children are all tremendous, especially Joey King (Oz, The Great & Powerful) as Christine, her fearful and confused performance really showing the terror that a child would feel in this sort of scenario.
The setting is what you would expect, but it works wonderfully. An old farm-house with a past that sticks to its wall like a black tar. You see the house taking on a character of its own and as the film progresses the house opens up and reveals itself much like all of the other characters, showing hidden rooms and various sides to its personality.
I would have to say though, that as much as I enjoyed this film, and I did, there is one major thing that always takes me out of a film like this and makes the feeling of dread disappear. When a film created atmosphere and tension, showing shadows, moving items, unexplainable coincidences, voices and even children seeing people standing in the corner of rooms, it is scary and works beautifully, but when the director then allows the viewer to see the spectre in question, gaze upon its face and see its snarl, it takes the fear away. The imagination is much more terrifying than seeing a zombiefied ghost bearing its teeth. This might just be me, but it took me out of the film a little and sort of spoiled the feeling of terror that was building for most of the movie.
Wan did a commendable job here, without doubt, and the cast entered top notch work on top of it. In a space in time when the horror genre has more misses than hits, The Conjuring hit the mark without a doubt. I was entertained and creeped out at various times and this is a film I will return to again on more than one occasion.