Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious) has made the best film of his career with The Conjuring. Hopefully he’s on a roll here; it’d be nice to see more films as good or even better from him if that’s possible.
The story concerns Lorraine and Ed Warren, two paranormal investigators, who take on a case at a remote farmhouse. A truck driver with his wife and five daughters move into the house and soon learn that they are not alone in the within. There are ghosts in the house and one has evil intensions. In fact, it’s downright demonic in nature.
The first sign there is something wrong with the house is when the family dog won’t even enter it during moving day. Later the dog ends up dead. In time, some ghostly mischievous acts start happening: sleeper’s legs are pulled to during the night; the mother awakens with some minor bruising. As the intensity of these acts goes right up to threats and violence the mother decides to contact the Warrens.
The Warrens find that the house once belonged to a Satan worshipping witch who had killed herself by hanging from a tree on the grounds. The other ghosts in the house also have a connection to this witch since she has been haunting the place since her suicide. Either because it was going to happen this way or due to the Warrens presence in the house, the intensity of the events gets even scarier. They decide to bring in a priest to perform an exorcism on the house. But, they are informed that the case, though seemingly rather conclusive, needs approval from the Vatican. That’ll take time; and time isn’t on their side.
Director Wan and screenwriters, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes (The Reaping) set the proper mood right from the get-go by showing the Warrens in action during another demonic investigation concerning a doll at the beginning of the film. This doll makes another appearance later on, which was a nice tie-in between the two stories. There’s a tense feeling from the beginning with this tone setting sequence that not only doesn’t let up during the course of the film, it intensifies. There’s very little in the way of jumps scares—though there are a few. Wan and director of photographer John R. Leonetti (Insidious) use wide angle lenses, framing and camera movements that truly add to the off-putting atmosphere of the film.
Much of the above work would be for naught if the acting wasn’t up to the task. Returning from working with James Wan on Insidious as Ed Warren is Patrick Wilson (Watchmen). Lorraine Warren is played by the great Vera Farmiga (Orphan). The trucker and his wife are played by Ron Livingston (King of the Ants) and Lili Taylor (Hemlock Grove). These four are the anchors of acting part of the film. Without such talent the film just wouldn’t work. All the young actresses playing the daughters do a fine job as well.
It’s true that we’ve all seen much of what occurs in this film before, from noises in the night and a clock stopping at the same time late at night. But Wan and company were able to execute these things with flare and success where they all come off as fresh and alive. I believe this may be viewed in time as much as a classic in the supernatural thriller subgenre of horror as any other film you can name.–Charles T. Cochran
Film Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)