The scares begin almost immediately with The Conjuring as we are informed that real-life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga); famous for investigating The Amityville Horror, found the case we are about to see so evil and malevolent that they kept it quiet for decades. Cripes.
Opening with a tense scene we meet two terrified young women who recount their tale of a possessed doll to Ed and Lorraine and it ticks all the horror movie cliché boxes. Dark corridor? Check. Opening doors to investigate strange noises? Check. Creepy doll? Check. And it all adds up to a creepily effective start that sets the scene for the terror to come.
It’s 1971 and Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) are moving into their new home with their five daughters. The secluded, centuries-old farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island, immediately looks sinister to any seasoned spooky film fan and director James Wan (Insidious, Saw) sets the scene with the family dog refusing to enter the house, childish games of hide and seek are lent an unnerving air and Roger unwisely unearthing a blocked up basement.
As the terror escalates a desperate and bruised Carolyn begs the Warren’s for help who themselves are recovering from a particularly hard case that affected Lorraine deeply. The Warrens, together with their investigative assistant Drew (Shannon Kook) and a sceptical local enforcement officer (John Brotherton, providing some respite from the scares with some much needed giggles), set up residence in the house with the Perrons in an effort to gather enough evidence to gain church help.
Director James Wan is no stranger to supernaturally terrorised families with 2010’s breakout hit Insidious dishing up a high quota of scares for an increasingly hard to please audience. Wan keeps the action close and personal by using point of view camera techniques that ensures the audience see things at the same time as the protagonists on screen.
While The Conjuring runs the risk of hokiness, the classy performances of the leads lends the film some much needed weight with Farmiga in particular rising to the challenge to make her Lorraine Warren utterly believable and sympathetic. Like The Exorcist before it, horror is so much more convincing when played by a dependable and likeable cast. You so desperately want the Perrons to be safe and for the Warrens to save the day that it makes the ensuing mayhem all the more unbearable.
Whether you believe in demons and witches and things that go bump in the night or if your feet are firmly planted in cynicism and sceptical shoes, The Conjuring is a highly effective and well crafted chiller, sure to make even the sturdiest audience shiver during this hot and balmy British summer.