‘The Conjuring’ reminds us how good horror movies can be
“The Conjuring” shows us — in moments both startlingly violent and unnervingly silent — how horror is done. Intense and frightening in ways rarely experienced in the theater anymore, “The Conjuring” takes us back to scare tactics of old. Yes, there are some more modern techniques, but it’s the throwbacks that will leave you cowering in fear.
From the 1980s-style font choices and groovy costume designs to the creaky doors, sharp noises and never-ending cobwebs, “The Conjuring” recreates the visceral effects and sounds of horror. Instead of using the now-overused “found footage” tack or incessant amounts of gore, director James Wan uses more tried-and-true methods capable of inflicting fear on a more psychological level. And it’s a wonder in an age where a “Saw” movie passes for mind-bending horror.
“Conjuring” was inspired by the real-life endeavors of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a husband-and-wife team of paranormal sleuths who investigated nearly 4,000 cases involving otherworldly attributes (including the Amityville Horror event).
The husband, played by Patrick Wilson in the film, was a demonologist capable of exorcising demon spawn. Lorriane, portrayed by Vera Farmiga, was a clairvoyant. The pair routinely showed a healthy skepticism for events that were easily explained. But they weren’t out to simply debunk every event; they had a firm belief in the supernatural.
This particular investigation-based story begins when a couple (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) with five daughters moves into a Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971. The strangeness starts right away when the family dog refuses to enter the residence. Then the clocks — all of them — stop at 3:07 a.m. Noises, smells and other basic creepiness abound. And all of this happens in a few days’ time. It just gets worse from here. Enter the Warrens. And boy, the things they find in this house.
“The Conjuring,” written by Chad and Carey Hayes, excels in many ways, but its strengths resoundingly center on the basics. Sound and suggestion, anticipation and anxiety: these are the techniques used so effectively. It just goes to show that not everything needs to be “Saw”-style gory.
The intensity is ratcheted up several notches when the more subtle touches start falling to the wayside and the demonic antics become more pronounced. And though the plot itself may not win any accolades, thanks in part because of basic horror-movie plot structure, the movie is well-paced and keeps us moving from one horrifying scene to the next. Skillful cinematography keeps you in suspense (what’s behind that door?!), and basic questions regarding the haunting (why can’t they leave, why them, et cetera) are answered in a logical (if you will) manner. There aren’t any deus ex machina events going on, which is a plus.
For this and much more that can’t be written without ruining all the fun, “The Conjuring” is the horror/haunted house movie to see. But be warned: You’ll never look at clapping the same way again.
Four possessed stars out of five.