There is a certain brilliance in the execution of The Conjuring that must be considered in that director James Wan successfully takes elements of genre films that appear to be familiar without appearing to be repetitive, generic or derivative. And with this cognizance of genre, Wan crafts the story with an intuitive sense of fear, expectation and gothic culture, and in turn, offers one of the most dread-inspiring and flat-out scary cinematic experiences in memory. In this regards, Wan has proven himself the undisputed master of cinematic horror working today, implementing tension that weighs on the audience like a boulder on your chest, growing ever so slightly as the film progresses until it’s third act, where said tension finally gives way to unimaginable terror. Furthermore, Wan plays his hand with a sense of humility, which in and of itself, makes the technical achievements of this film on the same level of the genre-respectful performances.
Make no mistake, if any statement on The Conjuring appears to be bold or enamored, that is only because watching The Conjuring is a bold, enamoring experience. The film is frightening without being gory, jumpy without being exploitative and horrific without being indulgent, rarely leaving any phobia untouched throughout the film’s lean, mean runtime. And as impressive as the set pieces are to the whole effectiveness of the film, even more impressive is that the smaller, more arbitrary scares are just as seamless and relentless as their larger counterparts, never giving a second for the film to languish.
On a purely technical level, The Conjuring is as ambitious and as remarkable as anything that’s come out of the genre. The moments of CGI manipulation are barely recognizable, and when they are, they’re so fleeting that the proceeding practical effect keeps you embedded within the picture. Otherwise, the success of the film mostly hinges on these effects, as are most ghost stories, which are also expertly complimented by editor Kirk Morri, cinematographer John Leonetti and composer Joseph Bishara. With Wan’s inherent trust with these gentlemen, he pulls off these effects with an unforeseen cinematic confidence and an inimitable sense of misdirection, which makes every scare resonate long after the moment has expired.
The Conjuring also supersedes its contemporaries with a trademark of the Australian director apparent since Dead Silence: an assembly of top notch actors who not only respect the supernaturally based material but also a devotion to the equally respectful crew. Every actor on board, from the child actors to the leads to even the ghostly figures, hit their marks and dialogue with the gusto of any dramatic endeavor and only adds more to the power of suggestion that Wan so often takes advantage of throughout the film. And while Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston bring some of their best performances to date with these roles, it’s Vera Farmiga and particularly Patrick Wilson who steal the show as Lorraine and Ed Warren. Where Farmiga throws in a physical element to her performance that allows the emotional resonance of every threat to be palpably translated to screen, it’s Wilson who alternately keeps the tale human, hinting at a desperation much further rooted than just skepticism and presence of the supernatural; rather, Wilson conveys a complete existential fear in the film, acknowledging the true fear of the otherworldly with a basic God vs. Devil finality.
The film also benefits greatly from its story and script, as even the more conventional moments are peppered with such horrific circumstances and consequences that they feel oddly unique and even to an extent even more traumatic. The dialogue of The Conjuring often feels realistic and relieving, rarely falling into the plane of exposition and condescension. The script from Chad and Carey Hayes is wonderful, completely suited for Wan’s directorial sense and narrative pride and finally giving the collaborative streak with usual scribe Leigh Whannell a break, which in turn, gives Wan a more challenging field to play in but one that benefits the maturation of his storytelling skills. The Conjuring is cohesive and simple without being dumb or inconsiderate, which is a rare quality outside of the independent film community.
From my experience alone, I would be comfortable in saying that with The Conjuring, James Wan has made a film that will one day be spoken about the same way modern audiences speak in reverence about The Exorcist or Rosemary’s Baby. The Conjuring is one of the most heart-stopping, scream-stealing films I’ve ever seen, and I doubt that this year, even in the presence of the all-too-great You’re Next, we will see another film scarier than The Conjuring. James Wan proves that he’s a forced to be reckoned with, and that the potential of his early genre efforts has not only been met, but far surpassed.
– By Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine, as well as a contributing writer for Diabolique Magazine and Fangoria Magazine. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on several screenplays spanning over different genres and subject matter, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.