This review’s a month late, but better late than never
Anybody who knows me knows this: I cannot stand modern horror. I’m sure there are great, smaller products that I haven’t gotten around to, but aside from a few selective titles (including 28 Days Later and The Others), I struggle to think of many mainstream horror films which aren’t terribly written, passively acted, or just flat out not scary. Most horror films have succumb to this atrocious and cheap cliché of jump scares, which usually exploits human reflex with startling images and loud noises as an illusion of being legitimately scary. However, this cannot be said of The Conjuring. Believe the hype, this movie is legitimately frightening. Clearly taking influence from the age of horror films such as The Exorcist and The Amityville Horror, the film details the true story of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who take up the case of a family tormented by the spirits inhabiting their new home in Rhode Island.
James Wan (of Saw and Insidious fame) relishes in making the viewer uncomfortable the whole experience, and yet, he makes it difficult to stop watching, taking advantage of every old-fashioned scare that Chad and Carey Hayes’ script promises. I did notice that I wasn’t particularly interested in the Warrens as characters, but Patrick Wilson’s and Vera Farmiga’s performances pick up the slack for that, aided immeasurably by Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston. The unlikely standout of the whole affair is Julie Berghoff’s production design, as the dimly lit corridors and rooms, as well as the dusty space of the basement, establish the house as just as much a character as the people in the film. It is true that the film eventually works in the jump scare clichés, which I’ve already said I despise, but a) they’re not used that often (at least not as often as something like The Woman in Black), and b) in this film, they actually work. They’re sparing, they’re effective, and they aren’t the only way that the filmmakers know how to scare the viewer. The best scares are more to the credit of building suspense through the atmosphere, playing mind games both in imagery and sound, making us uncomfortable through light and darkness lighting dynamics, and even little details like Annabelle, a possessed doll that the Warrens keep in a room of items collected from past cases. If that doesn’t keep you up for days, nothing will. Consider this one a permanent Halloween staple…
**** / *****