**** (out of 5)
July 19, 2013
Vera Farmiga as LORRAINE WARREN
Patrick Wilson as ED WARREN
Lili Taylor as CAROLYN PERRON
Ron Livingston as ROGER PERRON
Shanley Caswell as ANDREA
Hayley McFarland as NANCY
Joey King as CHRISTINE
Mackenzie Foy as CINDY
Kyla Deaver as APRIL
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: James Wan
BY KEVIN CARR
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The praise that many critics – including myself – are heaping on “The Conjuring” has brought Hollywood full circle in a weird way. One of the triumphs of this film is that it doesn’t rely on modern fads of horror, the most notable ones being found footage and torture porn (though the latter has already fallen out of favor with the public).
I find it interesting in this respect because director James Wan, who gave us the equally chilling and similarly old-school thriller “Insidious” a couple years ago, helped bring torture porn to the mainstream with his 2004 film “Saw.”
Wan has spent some time slumming it with his films. After “Saw,” he did downright awful horror movies like “Dead Silence” as well as decent but not-well-received thrillers like “Death Sentence.” He has really hit a stride, however, with his recent bouts of 70s-inspired horror films.
“The Conjuring” takes place in the early 1970s, telling the story of a family that is being haunted by evil spirits. They turn to notable paranormal researchers Lorainne and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson), who later would go on to investigate the Amityville Horror haunting, to help them answer questions about the experience. As the Warrens delve deeper into their investigation, they discover some true malevolence behind the incidents, and they do what they can to exorcise the demons involved.
Wan, who has not been against modern filmmaking techniques in his career, has differentiated himself recently by using old-school techniques to scare audiences. Just as “Insidious” used a powerful soundtrack and quick cuts to startling ghosts, “The Conjuring” uses light and shadow to create a creepy atmosphere. There’s very little in “The Conjuring” that couldn’t have been achieved on film 40 years ago, which lends it a very authentic feel.
The film is propelled by an exceptionally good cast, which also features Lili Taylor in the role of the wife in the possessed house. No stranger to ghost stories (Taylor starred in the lackluster remake of “The Haunting” back in 1999), she brings a level of respect to the picture that a lesser actress wouldn’t.
The 70s sensibilities with which this film was made doesn’t just stop at set design and old-school effects. It also follows the structure and pacing of a 70s film. Things moved slower with movies back then, and it’s refreshing to see a horror film that doesn’t have to pour blood down the walls in the first five minutes just to get the attention of its short-attention-span-plagued audience.
In this respect, “The Conjuring” could be a fantastic companion piece to Ti West’s “House of the Devil,” which reveled in its deliberate pacing and refusal to give into contemporary extravagance.
In addition to the pacing and scary moments, “The Conjuring” features a modicum of awkward moments that are infused with corniness, mainly meant to characterize the religious nature of the Warrens. These perceived moments of preaching have turned some people off, but they fit into the 70s style, as many films back then contained a certain degree of cheese. I have enough faith in Wan to believe these were put in to capture the essence of the era rather than to push an agenda.
Is “The Conjuring” the scariest movie ever made? No, but neither was “Evil Dead,” which lofted the same claim earlier this year. However, that doesn’t stop either film from being an enjoyable thrill ride in the theaters.