When the Perron family, led by mother and father Carolyn and Roger (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) move their clan of five daughters into the dream house they bought at auction, they find they may have inherited a little more than they bargained for. One by one, each member of the family members starts to notice something awry. Young daughter Cindy’s sleepwalking episodes have returned. Mother Carolyn keeps waking up covered in bruises. The family dog won’t enter the premises of the house and birds continually fly themselves into the windows as if to deliberately break their necks. When the supernatural occurrences become increasingly intrusive and violent, the family seeks the help of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).
The Conjuring is the second horror collaboration between Wilson and director James Wan after 2011’s Insidious, a film which whilst immediately psychologically affecting and eerie, unfortunately squandered its last act with too much explanation and a complete deflation of tension. With The Conjuring we get a slightly more consistent film, in both narrative and tone. But beware; The Conjuring is a sloooooow burner clocking in at just under two hours. Anyone looking for immediate horror gratification may well be disappointed at the film’s unhurried pacing. Motifs are established and repeated several times before anything terrifying really happens.
But when the jumps come, they sure are effective. The Conjuring is a journey of peaks and dips. Just when you settle into some notion of calm, the film throws another old school scare at you, reminiscent of horror classics like The Exorcist and even Poltergeist. Wan and co’s stylistic nods to horrors of the 1970s are brilliantly effective, not only given the film’s narrative context but also in its tonal similarities to such films. Wan prevents the film from looking over familiar however with some wonderfully choreographed camera work which lends a fresh presentational take on the haunted house story.
The performances all are round are solid, with Vera Farmiga’s Dana Scully-esque calm being particularly enjoyable to watch. 14 year old Joey King also excels as one of the Perron daughters. Horror films can live or die on the effectiveness of its child actors, but King confidently and assuredly sells an especially important scene. The film’s score from Insidious collaborator Joseph Bishara is also noteworthy.
Unfortunately like Insidious, the film stumbles into fairly predictable territory in the finale. It also leaves a few unanswered questions. Throughout the narrative, breadcrumbs of intrigue are teased out only to be left as loose ends that one can only presume will be addressed in the inevitable sequel. All in all, The Conjuring is a fairly short-term scare, favouring jumps over longer-lasting psychological frights, but with assured direction and 1970s style flare, the film is a competent genre picture.