Insidious, I think it’s fair to say, was a movie that chilled a fair number of people out there. Unfortunately, it was on my ‘Meh’ list of last year. It held me for an hour, and, although it didn’t completely shit the bed, I felt the ending was weaker than a Smirnoff Ice. Regardless, being a fan of the first Saw movie, and liking James Wan’s general style and the way he tells a story, I jumped at the opportunity to see The Conjuring.
Based on true events: When a young family move into an old farmhouse, their lives get turned upside down by forces only a married couple of paranormal investigators can seem to understand. As things get more intense, the relationships between the family, their gifted helpers and the local police get tested to breaking point.
And that, in a nutshell, is the story of most ghost/paranormal movies you’ve seen in the last 43 years.
However, and that’s a big however, The Conjuring may be the tipping point for commercial horror…in a hugely positive way. In my opinion, this movie was almost a complete success! It was genuinely scary and unsettling, the likes of which I haven’t felt since I was a young kid, and trust me, I have been searching. There were points in this movie during which my skin tingled with terrified euphoria, and it felt so fucking great. The scares were lingering and not persistent, they were all varying degrees of terror, and although there were few moments of original horror, what was on show was absolutely engaging and never felt pointless. And the trailer didn’t reveal some of the best moments, which was refreshing!
Wan has constructed a movie that pays subtle homage to 70s cinema in general, especially when you look at the camerawork. Within the first 20 minutes we have a rapid zoom from the foreground, across the garden and onto one of the daughters who is playing at the foot of a tree about 100 metres (109 yards) away. This trend of self-aware zooms and exciting pans really enhanced what was on screen, and along with the costumes and set design, the movie was a thoroughly satisfying visual treat.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play the Warrens, a real-life husband and wife paranormal investigation team. While the subject matter lends itself to scrutiny, their performances were completely believable and I never questioned their relationship. The tour de force on show was complemented by the rest of the cast, with standout performances from the dead pan Ron Livingston and his family, especially one of the youngest daughters (Joey King). Moments of light humour peppered the runtime, which actually enhanced some the scares, and I feel James Wan employs comedy as a tool to break down audience suspension of disbelief enough to get people emotionally invested in the story.
It was not without its flaws, however, as was evident when the ending ramped up. What I felt could have been a fantastically dark ending was hampered by the ‘true story’ elements, and it did almost get into cloying Disney territory. The big strings and bright sunshine felt like I was watching the end of Who Framed Rodger Rabbit, regardless of the Inception-esque final shot.
All-in-all, The Conjuring was a shining example of how you make a mainstream horror movie without the need for torture porn or slasher villains. While elements were directly referencing the demonic movies of the 70s, it was paced well enough, looked beautiful enough and was directed adeptly enough for it to hold the attention of a mainstream audience. It won’t be considered a classic, but it’s absolutely worth your admission money.