In horror, an inherently limited genre that's
already been done so many times it's nearly impossible to come up with something new, execution is key. Editing, sound, camera angles and more are essential in making us jump and scream. When done well, it doesn't matter if the audience has seen it before, a good jolt will get them every time. When not done well, audiences tune out and start to laugh. It's sluggish at times, but ultimately "The Conjuring" is done quite well.
Based on the real-life exploits of paranormal investigators Ed Warren and his wife Lorraine, director James Wan's ("Insidious") story follows a haunted house premise that leads to demonic possession and exorcism. In 1971 Rhode Island, the Perron family — father Roger (Ron Livingston), mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and five daughters — move into an abandoned home they purchased at auction. Soon, birds are flying into windows. Pictures fall from the walls. Carolyn wakes up with bruises. Doors close at random. The smell of rotting flesh is omnipresent. Feet are pulled during sleep. "Get out of the house!" we think, only to learn later that doing so wouldn't solve this problem.
For help, the Perrons call upon renowned demonologist Ed (Patrick Wilson) and the clairvoyant Lorraine (Vera Farmiga), who kindly do not charge for their services. They do, however, inform the Perrons how perilous their situation is and, rest assured, it's a doozy.
At 112 minutes, the first hour is slow, with the story trotting through familiar paces while not employing much creativity. Worse, some characters make the mistake of doing things characters in a horror movie should never
do. For example, Roger ventures to the previously boarded-up and still very dark basement holding only a match. We know he owns a flashlight, because the next day he returns to the basement with it, so why he'd go down there the first time with only a lit match is anyone's guess. And for the love of mercy, if you're alone and think you see a ghost, don't follow it!
It takes about an hour into the movie for the Perrons to ask the Warrens to come to their home, but once they do, writers Chad and Carey Hayes (twin brothers) throw a few twists into the mix to keep things lively. More important, the pace quickens as the story kicks into gear in terms of tempo and scares.
Though Wan is adept at keeping us in suspense before delivering the well-timed scares, every aspect of the film has an
eerie ambiance. Even daytime scenes are
a bit dark, and the cars, costumes and production design are '70s tacky but never flashy. Also note the vertigo effect used at times when we view the outside of the house, making it appear unnaturally bigger when it should look its normal size. This allows the structure to overwhelm the screen, almost as if the demons residing there are trying to look big and intimidating to spook the newcomers away.
"The Conjuring" is rated R, but in no way is it gory or hyper-violent. This is a story of ghosts and demons, and to Wan's credit, the slow start is necessary to fully appreciate the payoff. Anyone who enjoys a good scare will not want to miss this.