Saw just fine, but James Wan’s two follow-ups, Dead Silence and Death Sentence, were extremely disappointing. Who am I kidding? They were shit. So a few years back I won tickets to see an advance screening of his newest attempt at making a horror flick, the PG-13 Insidious. Being that they were free I went regardless that the trailers I had seen were not all that impressive. Holy shit did it come out of nowhere and knock me on my ass!
So when Wan’s newest venture into the world of scary flicks was announced I was extremely excited. If he can knock a movie out of the park like he did previously, where he showed off a significant amount of growth as a storyteller, The Conjuring was going to be awesome.
And it was.
Based on the true story of a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators, The Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who take on the case of a haunting that has turned violent toward the victims, the Perrons (Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor, Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy and Kyla Deaver).
If there’s one thing James Wan has certainly learned over the course of his career it is how to properly build suspense and a sense of absolute dread. It’s in overdrive for the entirety of The Conjuring. This flick kept me on the edge of my seat to the point that I was tapping my feet against the floor in anticipation of something to happen. 95% of the scares are effective and most are not of the “boo” variety. The aspect I liked the best was that Wan used the audience’s expectations against themselves by setting up cliché situations where any other generic horror flick would toss in a cheap scare and build up the suspense and then that stinger never comes. But then a few moments later a totally different kind of jolt occurs that takes you completely by surprise. Everything is expertly choreographed and handled. Smart work there, James!
The other area I will say he’s greatly improved is in his ability to direct his actors. Each film has seen some progression, but as far as I’m concerned he has finally hit the mark with The Conjuring. Each and every single cast member is phenomenally awesome in their role, be it one of the girls from the opening scene involving the Annabelle doll to the youngest daughter of the Perron family. There is not one performance that I can find at fault, and that’s saying something truly spectacular for a horror movie where the acting is never a high point.
I have to admit, I was worried when I saw that 90s indie queen Lili Taylor was cast in this film. Back in the day she was amazing in each and every low budget flick she starred in, from I Shot Andy Warhol to Four Rooms to The Addiction. However, whenever she crossed over to big budget Hollywood films her talent seemed to disappear. Just look at her in The Haunting, Ransom or Public Enemies. Goddamn did she suck in those (Pecker too, and that was an indie!). I dreaded her turn as the tortured mother, Carolyn Perron, but in the end she wowed me just like she did when I first saw her in Mystic Pizza. You can tell she put her all into the part and the movie benefits greatly from it, especially in the final act of the film.
Patrick Wilson, who starred in Wan’s Insidious and will reprise his role in the upcoming Insidious: Chapter 2, seems to be right at home in these types of films. I never liked him all that much after his craptastic performance in the film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, but I began to warm up to him beginning with Hard Candy. He is great here as ghostbuster Ed Warren, and when teamed up with the phenomenal Vera Farmiga, who is one of my all-time favorite actresses (ever see her performance in Running Scared?), as his wife Lorraine, the chemistry they share leaps off the screen and just grabs you.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that Ron Livingston, who is primarily a comedic actor, took on such a demanding part such as Roger Perron. He manages to pull it off thanks to some great chemistry (I’m thinking Wan cast this film based on that fact alone) with Lili Taylor and the young actresses who play his daughters (I’m telling you, Joey King is going to be the next Dakota Fanning).
The script by Chad and Carey Hayes moves at a steady clip, is never boring and features a large amount of characterization for a movie that will be dismissed as just another run-of-the-mill horror flick. While I did like the characters, I do feel that some of their developments resembled events from other scary movies of the past, most notably Poltergeist. There are some ideas ripped right from that script, be it the family no longer wanting to sleep upstairs and campimg out in the living room to the youngest girl being drawn into her closet. Sure not all of these developments turn out the way they did in that masterpiece, but the fact that they were so close irked me a bit. The same goes for the Annabelle doll, which is part clown doll from Poltergeist and part Jigsaw doll from Saw. Thankfully that development never went the route I figured it would have because that would have been a deal breaker for me.
I won’t ruin any of the scares, surprises or twists that make this movie as frightening and awesome as it is, so I will just say that not only does The Conjuring contain an ample amount of the spooky stuff audiences want nowadays, but it also features some of the best acting I’ve seen all summer and some of the slickest and most restrained directing from James Wan yet. It’s well made, doesn’t rely on gore or violence (why it’s rated R I have no idea as it is virtually bloodless and features no harsh language) and knows exactly what it takes to scare an audience as efficiently as possible.
This is an awesome flick that got under my skin and stayed there for its two hour run time. If you want to be scared, this is the flick for you. I hope Wan and company make a sequel since there’s plenty more stories about the Warren’s paranormal investigations. I mean, did you know they were the ones who originally investigated the Amityville haunting? Now that would be the shit! I am now eagerly awaiting Wan’s Insidious sequel and an excited to see how he handles the big budget franchise picture Fast and Furious 7 next summer.
4 out of 5