James Wan’s The Conjuring may not be the most original horror film especially when the superior The Exorcist already exists, but surprisingly what comes out is rather effective. The horror genre is a rather difficult one to perfect but it seems as if James Wan understands what makes the most effective horror films work, at least from an observation of his previous films he has slowly been improving himself. While there’s no doubt that other films have done what The Conjuring is doing much better, what we’re still left with is a rise above most mainstream horror nowadays since it almost seems rather rare to find one that actually works for its position in a lamentable state.
Inspired by the experiences of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (keeping in touch with the tagline “based on a true story”), The Conjuring presents what you would have already come to expect if you know films like The Exorcist or Poltergeist by heart. Given as The Exorcist is one of my all-time favourite films, the flow to which The Conjuring were to follow was no surprise to me, but for something that could have felt so by-the-numbers with its own execution churns out a rather nice surprise for James Wan understands what made past entries work so perfectly well, and in turn his effort becomes pleasing.
What could be possible is that instead of trying to tell of something that is wholly original, The Conjuring is instead paying a tribute to what horror fans in general love about their favourites. From the haunted house setting down to the unsettling atmosphere which he sets up so perfectly, but even down to the visual design of the film is where The Conjuring works so well. The story is set within the 1970’s and the visual look alone thanks to the cinematography, it’s evident that James Wan wishes to capture the time period not only within its setting but by trying to evoke something that we would recall from the classics which we have grown to love and for what he pays tribute to, and at that it seems he contains great knowledge of why they worked so perfectly well at what they are.
Keeping in touch with how Wan guides the film through and through, there is always a sense of dread playing in with how perfectly executed the entire first hour is, for he never spoonfeeds the audiences with an image of the entity that haunts the Perron family. Although the film loses some of that touch when the image is revealed within the second half, he still maintains what is truly the perfect atmosphere to fill up the film. Jump scares then and there are sure to fill in within the second half, but Wan never plays them at such a rate where they become tiresome. He keeps the viewers suspended and thus the manner to which he builds every last one of them up ends up eliciting one of many strengths to which The Conjuring displays over a multitude of other mainstream horror films.
While their arcs may not be the most well-rounded, Wan has an eye for placing that feeling of dread which his audiences are witnessing onto his actors as well. Whether it be from Vera Farmiga or Patrick Wilson, you can tell that Wan knows what to draw from what’s given to them. It also helps that the children are all so perfectly cast within their roles for while it may be rather easy to pull off an act from a young child inside of a horror film, an ongoing creepiness comes up from just how Wan is framing their presence. Even if some of the performances can seem rather spotty, the attention to detail that Wan places into The Conjuring is what makes for a truly effective piece of work.
You may already know how the roots of the story are to play out if you’ve already seen other films like The Exorcist but there’s an ongoing tension arising from how Wan understands what makes an effective horror film that keeps The Conjuring interesting. It is indeed rather easy to lament the state of modern mainstream horror but if anything, I do have some faith in it restored knowing that James Wan understands the very roots of horror to which I highly appreciate. It’s definitely not on the level of The Exorcist (though to be fair, few films in general are), but as it stands, it is truly one of the more effective entries into the genre to have come out in years.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via New Line Cinema.
Directed by James Wan
Screenplay by Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Produced by Tony DeRosa-Grund, Peter Safran, Rob Cowan
Starring Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Release Year: 2013
Running Time: 112 minutes