In the two years since James Wan’s Insidious debuted, the world of mainstream horror has been a lonely place. Films like The Cabin in the Woods and The Purge have employed the genre’s core elements to successful ends, but outright attempts ranging from standalones to sequels have consistently come up short. With the release of Wan’s The Conjuring, however, that standard has once again been met. That the void was reliant on the talents of one filmmaker is still cause for concern, but considering the back-to-back smashes from this particular creative mind, the wait was well worthwhile.
Working from a sharp script by twin brothers Chad and Carey Hayes, the director leaps right into the world of real-life demonologist Ed Warren (Patrick Wilson) and his gifted clairvoyant wife Lorraine (Vera Farmiga). Through encounters with a possessed doll and a violent exorcism, the latter of which the couple screen footage for a university lecture, the nature of their profession is rendered with a devious charm. Concurrently exploring the troubling events that befall Roger Perron (Ron Livingston), wife Carolyn (Lili Taylor), and their five daughters upon their 1971 move into a Rhode Island farm house, the malicious problem and its brave antidotes receive equal attention. Such a balance results in the film’s initial scares (a few of which were revealed in the trailer) lacking the desired punch one may crave from the onset, but as the tension builds and the two storylines convergence, the approach leads to a payoff as gratifying as the anticipation for the film itself.
Continuing the formula of his previous work, Wan relies on old school jumps and a deliciously slow build of terror. Full of eerie shots of the dark that either house evil or hint at paranormal acts to come, scenes aren’t wasted on false alarms but utilized with legitimate threats. Not only are these scares expertly timed, they’re also augmented with thoughtful shot compositions and mesmerizing camera movements. Wan employs a fine blend of crisp stationary shots, swooping steady-cam (an introduction of the Perron house cued to The Zombies “Time of the Season” is especially strong), and just the right amount of handheld mixed in so that it avoids drawing attention to itself. Add to that several stirring camera flips and Wan’s unlikely upcoming project, the seventh installment in the visually crude Fast & Furious franchise, vaults from also-ran to must-see under his clear sights.
Further enriching the spell are The Conjuring‘s opening and closing credits, a mood-setting device far too underutilized in modern cinema. The simple, classic yellow font for the opening title announces the ’70s as much as the cars and clothing, while the concluding microfilm of clippings from actual Warren cases (cued to sounds right out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) provide a comedown that barely relents on the preceding creepiness. Through these little touches, Wan brings the classic age of horror firmly into the present where the vintage components flourish. Friday, September 13, the release date of his Insidious 2, can’t come soon enough.
Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror.
The Conjuring is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.