Horror is a genre that’s fairly difficult to get right, especially when you’re talking about mainstream horror films. Nowadays they tend to rely on way too much CG, jump scares, found footage and gore to instill fear in audiences. James Wan’s The Conjuring does none of that, and it’s one of the better horror films in years.
The film follows one of the many investigations by real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. They were the couple who investigated the Amittyville Horror case. And while the film says it’s based on true events, that’s only true if you believe in the paranormal and the Warren’s investigations.
The case at the center of The Conjuring follows the Perron’s, lead by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor. They’ve just moved into a new house, but crazy things keep happening every night at 3:07 AM. Eventually they get fed up and decide to consult paranormal investigators.
A lot of horror movies don’t pay attention to story or characters, they just want to scare you or kill people. Hell, some horror films are made purely for us to see dumb teenage kids get slashed up. The Conjuring really pays attention to story and characters, and I believe that has a tremendous impact on how damn scary this film can get. I won’t lie, I covered my eyes. This is the scariest horror film I’ve seen since the original Paranormal Activity. Easily.
But the characters here are really likable, and they’re brought to life by talented actors. It feels like most mainstream horror films, specifically slashers, just cast the most attractive people they can while making them insanely dumb so a killer or ghost can scare and/or kill them easily. It doesn’t feel like that with these characters. You really get invested in them and in their families and you want them to overcome this troublesome demon.
I’m so invested in Farmiga and Wilson’s Lorraine and Ed that I hope we get sequels to this (of the same quality, hopefully), because there is so much room for a kind of horror procedural here that it makes me giddy and I want to see these characters take on more cases.
But let’s talk about the scare factor. A lot of people think horror films need to be scary. They don’t. They just have to horrify you (they’re different things). That’s the entire purpose: to play on your fears, not jump scare you. The Conjuring certainly plays on your fears.
And like I said earlier, these scares aren’t cheap. Wan, who directed the first Saw and Insidious, is really becoming one of the better horror directors around. What he’s so good at is building a dreading tension as the film moves along. And that tension is what gets you, especially because he doesn’t always pay the tension off. He keeps it lingering throughout the film.
That lingering is poked along every so often by subtle, small events. This is a movie where something as simple as a clap or a bouncing ball can freak the crap out of you. Perhaps the most wonderful part of all of this is that it doesn’t rely on gore, sex or swearing to heighten things. It’s a movie that’s built entirely on mastered old school tricks to raise the level of tension.
The one bad spot for this film is that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table. Wan is essentially perfecting a tried and tested formula and bringing it up to speed for 2013 audiences, so don’t be surprised if there are certain aspects that are familiar (plot being one of them).
However, there’s nothing wrong with not bringing anything new to the genre if it executes on the formula amazingly well. And that’s exactly what The Conjuring does: it’s an old-school horror film in brand new clothes, and it’s more terrifying and better than many other modern horror films.