Conjuring, The (2013)

Director:  James Wan
Cast:  Vera FarmigaPatrick WilsonLili Taylor
Plot:  Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.

Genre:  Horror / Thriller

Awards:  -
Runtime:  112min
Rating:  NC16 for sequences of disturbing violence and terror.

“When the music stops, you'll see him in the mirror standing behind you.”

Yes, I plucked up my courage and bought a ticket to see The Conjuring.  I came out of the theater psychologically scarred.  I died of fear, maybe the first person to have done so for a long time.  I died of fright too, though I believe horror moviegoers have mastered that particular art of dying... and then somehow they would effortlessly orchestrate their rebirth until the next great horror film kills them. 

The Conjuring is that next great horror film, a contemporary classic that will go down as one of James Wan's most accomplished works.  This is from a Malaysian filmmaker who gave us Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010), and who continues to be one of the shining lights working in American horror cinema of the last few years.

The Conjuring is a textbook example of how to do a horror film right.  It ticks all the genre's boxes of conventions, but Wan elevates his movie to the top-tier by spinning a fascinating concoction of excellent storytelling and character development built upon a foundation of unbearable suspense and rock-solid scares. 

The story follows a two-strand approach that eventually converges.  It alternates between the haunting of the Perron family who have just moved into a farmhouse, and the Warren paranormal investigators who later take on the Perron case.  The convergence is seamless and well-timed, by which the characters are fully developed. 

The Conjuring may follow the haunted house/demonic possession formula, but it reformulates itself by tapping into the genre’s history.  In essence, Wan goes back into the 1970s closet and digs out an astutely-crafted horror film that impresses with its cinematography, atmospherics, and sound design. 

In particular, the roving camerawork with its virtuoso tracking shots, swivel shots, upside-down shots and slow zooms give The Conjuring an old-school feel reminiscent of the works of John Carpenter and genre classics like The Evil Dead (1981).  The opening titles, obviously designed as a throwback to that era, foreshadows Wan’s foray into the past while finding something refreshingly new in the process.

The Conjuring features fine performances from the cast, but it is Wan’s handling of suspense that is most unforgettable.  He plays with the audience, toying with our fears, building to scare moments that are satisfying because they are either often unexpected or that the feeling of immense dread that accompanies them lingers on, sometimes cumulatively. 

From The Birds (1963) to Poltergeist (1982) to Wan’s own sleight of hand, The Conjuring is traditional and modern at the same time.  It is not only 2013’s horror movie to beat, but also one of the scariest in a long while.  James Wan, you have my respect. 

Verdict:  James Wan goes back into the 1970s closet and digs out an astutely-crafted horror film built upon the foundation of unbearable suspense.

GRADE: A- (8.5/10 or 4 stars)

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