The Conjuring - Review
Being hailed by many critics as the saviour of the mainstream American horror film, The Conjuring differs from many other recent horror releases by drawing more influence from the older 1970s and 1980s movies. This is rather appropriate for a film centred around the haunting and possession of a family, after they move into their rather ominous new abode. Maybe it's that more people were religious forty or so years ago, but hauntings always seem more plausible in films, for some reason, when they're set in an earlier time period than our own.
Whilst The Conjuring doesn't go as far as Ti West's House of the Devil in replicating the experience of an older movie, it does recreate the era rather well. Director James Wan never goes out of his way to point out when the film is set and instead just lets the setting breathe, whilst he goes about attempting to make the audience jump.
Originally called The Warren Files, The Conjuring's plot is split between two different storylines which eventually converge. First there's the family that are experiencing some rather spooky activity in their house, and then there's the Warrens: a husband and wife team that go around exorcising demonic forces and also lecturing about it at universities. In one sense it's a somewhat useful way of divulging plot information by disguising those scenes where one group of characters tells another group of characters what is happening. On the other hand, we still manage to have scenes with awkward exposition, The Conjuring is keen to give its brand of ghost busting some kind of pseudoscientific basis, typically by having Vera Farmiga explain stuff to a bunch of students, in reality though it would have been much creepier just to not have a lot of the stuff explained to us at all. In fact, one of the movie's best moments involves the revelation that Loraine Warren came into contact with something whilst performing an exorcism, what it was the film never completely reveals.
In terms of its scares, The Conjuring is a mixed bag. The opening hour or so of the film has the best horror material. Jump scares are used but not too much, and instead emphasis is placed on the fact that most large houses are simply creepy in their own right. Scary events are drip-fed to prevent the film peaking too early, whilst also enabling Wan to drag out the tension for as long as he can. However, once things really start going down, The Conjuring descends into decent, but very predictable, The Exorcist-type horror. Jump scares become more and more frequent and, while the exorcism itself does make use of some interesting visuals, it's almost all been done before.
That's not to say that The Conjuring is ever a bad horror film by any means, and one thing that it has going for it is a very accomplished cast. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson provide great performances as the Warrens and the actors that make up the haunted Perron family are all very believable and help to reinforce the terror they are subjected to by the malevolent entity. If anything, Wan doesn't give enough time to all these different characters. The children in particular are pretty much absent from a lot of what's going on, with the exception of a couple of scenes.
What's more, there's a recurring plot element about a possessed doll (which looks very similar to the one used in James Wan's earlier film, Dead Silence), but it doesn't really evolve into anything and the screen time devoted to it could perhaps have been better served fleshing out the Warrens or the Perron family a little more. For some reason, the doll even makes it onto a lot of the promotional material even though it has hardly anything to do with the movie. At just under two hours in length, The Conjuring avoids dragging itself out unnecessarily, largely due to the fact that it is much better paced than many similar films. Despite that though, it could have used some of its runtime better.
As with Insidious, Paranormal Activity and just about any modern horror film, The Conjuring is unhappy to close the book on things and the ending hints that another film is likely to take place. With this first instalment, things look very good for a follow-up, even if the events aren't all that original.
The Conjuring was released in UK theatres on August 2nd.
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