The Conjuring is very much a product of the success of Paranormal Activity. A film that deals in the things that go bump in the night, that shadow behind the door and the feeling of chills up the spine. But The Conjuring wears its more pressing influence firmly on its sleeve, it is, in almost every way, a love letter to William Friedkin’s The Exorcist. From the open credits to the closing exorcism, The Conjuring often feels like a re-tread of one of horror’s all time greats but that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of scares to be had along the way.
The film tells the supposedly true story of Ed and Loraine Warren, the paranormal investigators whose story The Amityville Horror inspired. The Conjuring is based on an event that the Warren’s deemed too horrific to tell….until now. When Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and Roger Perron (Ron Livingston) move into their new home with their five young daughters it’s only a matter of time before they realise they re not alone. At their wits end they turn to Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Loraine (Vera Farmiga) to gather enough information on the haunting to have The Vatican sanction an exorcism. But Loraine’s last outing with demons has left her vulnerable to attack and Ed scared of what may happen to his wife.
Conjuring director James Wan has certainly made a name for himself in the horror genre. From the Saw franchise, which spawned no less than seven films to date, to the more recent Insidious franchise, Wan knows his way around the genre. The Conjuring is another example of that, Wan’s direction being the highlight of the film. Like Insidious and Ti West’s The Innkeepers, Wan allows the film to build slowly, letting the little glimpses of ghouls gradually be revealed by following characters in tight close-ups to see fleeting glances in the background. Of course when all hell breaks loose Wan allows his camera work to go all Hitchcockian, flipping and twisting to further heighten the terror.
Where The Conjuring fails to dazzle is in dipping so firmly into horror cliché. From the moment the Perrons arrive at the house there may as well be a big sign saying “Demons Within”. The dog refuses to enter, creepy toys are littered everywhere and there’s even a secret boarded up basement. Somewhere there’s a property surveyor just waiting for a lawsuit to drop through his letterbox. On the ‘Making Of’ documentary Wan makes it clear that he tapped into many of these horror tropes because they work but when it lacks originality the scares become too predictable. As such, come the closing credits you won’t worry about checking behind doors or be scared of your own reflection.
A solid and often fun ghost house ride, The Conjuring doesn’t do anything different but creates enough tension and chill to have you strapped in from beginning to end.