Australian director James Wan has definitely come a long way in the nine years since his debut film in 2004. He directed a film that started one of the biggest horror franchises in the last decade with SAW and then went on to make many more really good films in either the action and horror genres. One in particularly was his last film INSIDIOUS, which I think is one of the best horror films released over the last couple of years (the sequel INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER II, also directed Wan, will be out later this year). Now he is back with his latest horror film THE CONJURING, which he returns to the ghost/haunted house sub-genre that explored in his previous film but this time he takes on an actual real-life haunting that happened in the 70’s. Once I heard about this film it definitely caught my interest for sure and I couldn’t wait to check it out. So did the film manage to live up to my expectations? You’re damn right it did!
Based on true events, the film tells the story of husband & wife paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) who are hired by Carolyn & Roger Perron (Lili Taylor & Ron Livingston) to come to their farmhouse in Rhode Island to investigate some terrifying occurrences that have been happening to them and their six daughters. When the Warrens get there, they soon discover that a truly dark evil presence has taken over the house and soon threatens to destroy the lives of the Perron family.
While the plot isn’t the most original for a horror film ever made but what makes this stand out among other recent films of this type is that it is fantastically executed on every level. Not only is this James Wan’s best film so far, this definitely going to be a modern-day horror classic for sure. I think if this film were made by a different director, it probably wouldn’t have been as effective as it was. But in Wan’s hands, he makes into a highly effective ghost story that I found to be compelling, creepy, intense and scary from beginning to end. I absolutely loved everything about this film. I loved that Wan went for a very stripped back old school style when to came to his direction (which reminded me how THE EXORCIST and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR were made), while also adding some modern touches to it (there are some terrific hand-held steady-cam shots in this film, some of which are done in a few times in one take).
James Wan knows how to build up tension throughout the film, it starts off with rather simple in terms of tension but as it goes along the horror escalates more and more right up to the film’s nail-biting thrilling 3rd act (some people might think that the 3rd act might be a little *overblown* but for me personally it never bothered me at all and I loved how incredibly intense it was). He definitely knows how to craft some really terrific horror set pieces, this film was highly effective mixture of both jump scares and slow burn scares. Also the film feels like it was actually made in the 70’s. Wan and his collaborators really capture the 70’s period in perfect detail, from John R. Leonetti’s visually beautiful cinematography (the visual look he gives the film is so beautifully done) to its very authentic production/costume design to the creepy score by Joseph Bishaha (he also did the score for INSIDIOUS). Plus the script by brothers Chad Hayes & Casey W. Hayes is very well written. I must admit I was a bit worried that were writing the script for this film, mainly because the horror/thriller films that they wrote previously (HOUSE OF WAX, THE REAPING, WHITEOUT) all ended up being really bad. Luckily this is definitely of the strongest horror scripts they’ve written so far.
The cast all do a great job with their roles: Patrick Wilson and, especially, Vera Farmiga are both terrific as real-life paranormal investigators “Ed & Lorraine Warren”. They have good chemistry with each other and their character’s relationship with each other is very well-developed. While their real-life counterparts have had a controversal career (some say that they are the real deal, other say that they are frauds) but I like that Wan treats them with respect and gives us some insight into their work as paranormal investigators, their marriage and as well as their Catholic faith, which played a big part in their lives. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are also great as well as “Carolyn & Roger Perron”, they both bring a naturalism to their roles and felt like a real-life couple. Taylor in particular was excellent, her character goes through a lot during the course of the film and she handles it all perfectly (I have to say that it was quite nice to Taylor appear in a haunted house film that was actually good and not bad *cough* THE HAUNTING *cough*). Plus the young actresses who play the Perron daughters (Joey King, Menkenzie Foy Shannon Kook, Hayley McFarland, Shanley Caswell, Kyla Deaver) all do a really good job as well with their roles.
In terms of negatives, to be honest I don’t really have any. While the film isn’t really all that original and there are a few scares that you probably have already seen before but Wan’s execution of all these elements is still so brilliantly well handled that they still come across very effectively nonetheless. The only thing I can think of is that while the film is based on a true story, there are some moments (especially in the 3rd act) that feel that where either created or made up for dramatic purposes and to add some more tension to the story (then again I’m not really familiar with the true story, so I don’t know which stuff actually happened or not). Also there was a scene that involved some CGI birds that looked a bit hokey.
Overall I absolutely loved THE CONJURING. James Wan set out to make a truly scary good old-fashioned haunted house film and, in my opinion, he absolutely succeeded. This is best horror film I’ve seen in nearly three years and it’s one that I highly recommended any fan of horror to check out. This is one I can see becoming a classic of the genre in the future.
Review by Bede Jermyn