It’s not often that you can call a horror movie intelligent. Derivative, ridiculous, violent, and over-the-top are much more common adjectives. Well, The Conjuring is not your common horror flick. Directed with finesse by James Wan, who also worked wonders with Insidious, the film surprises you by avoiding cheap trills and grounds its story, first and foremost, with strong characters.
As the film opens, we are introduced to two young women who are telling someone about the demonic force they are having to deal with in their apartment. The reveal is that the audience shouldn’t be paying attention to the two young women, but the two individuals they are telling their story to: Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga). The married couple are paranormal investigators. It’s funny seeing Wilson reunite with his Insidious director in a completely different role. Instead of playing the terrorized family man, Wilson is on the other side playing the expert who comes in to help. Ed is a demonologist, while Lorraine is a clairvoyant who has had close encounters that have deeply effected her. Farmiga is wonderful here adding layers to Lorraine through simple moments. This is not a one-dimensional character that we usually see in horror films.
While we learn a little about Ed and Lorraine, we are also simultaneously introduced to the Perron family. Their story is nothing new for a horror film. Carolyn and Roger Perron have just moved their 5 children into a big old house in the country because that’s all they can afford. The second they arrive, creepy things start happening. It’s a classic haunted house setup, but Wan never goes for the typical scare. With wide shots, long tracking shots, or shots that turn themselves 180 degrees, Wan shoots the film beautifully. He never forces the audience into a scare. There are no telegraphed moments that you see coming a mile away. He relies on sound, light, and some simple effects to make you jolt.
Carolyn Perron is played by an effective Lily Taylor, and you can’t help be reminded that Taylor co-starred in the godawful The Haunting alongside Catherine Zeta-Jones and Liam Neeson, which was an overblown, CGI mess. It makes you appreciate The Conjuring that much more that it avoids all that schlock.
The film slowly builds to a shocking climax featuring an exorcism that will leave you breathless. While Insidious kinda lost itself with its hokey third act, The Conjuring never loses its footing. By never abandoning its characters for cheap thrills, it truly scares you with its realism. I got goosebumps several times. It’s very apparent that when the script was written and Wan came abroad that the first focus was making a good movie before they worried about getting a few jumps out of the audience. That’s why The Conjuring works so well. It’s scarier because of it.