Review: THE CONJURING (2013)

Just don’t give them “The Clapper” for Christmas.


Directed by: James Wan

Starring: Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston, Vera Farmiga, and Patrick Wilson

MPAA Rating: R



the-conjuring-posterThe prevalence of haunted house stories based on true events in modern horror cinema cannot be denied. It’s starting to become a basis for derision and lamentation when a new trailer or poster is revealed with the accompanying “Based on a True Story” tagline. This doesn’t automatically lead to a bad film, but often it feels like movies use this as a marketing tool and a crutch for an average or inferior product. The latest film to utilize this approach is James Wan’s latest horror outing, THE CONJURING. Does it succumb to the tired machinations of a well-worn genre, or do we get a more nuanced film with some genuine scares?

THE CONJURING introduces us to two families: The Perrons and The Warrens. The Perrons have just moved into a new home when they begin experiencing bizarre, seemingly unexplainable occurrences. The Warrens are a couple of paranormal investigators who excel in their field. The Perrons seek out the assistance of The Warrens once the supernatural incidents become more threatening and violent. Can The Warrens bring peace to this family and their home before the malicious spirits inflict irreparable harm on them?

THE CONJURING has all the hallmarks of the standard haunted house fare we see released nowadays: it’s supposedly based on a true story, it involves cute and/or creepy children, the inclusion of ridiculously spooky dolls and toys, someone is possessed by a malevolent spirit, etc. The list could go on and on. What separates THE CONJURING from the rest of the pack is it’s refreshingly compelling narrative inhabited by fleshed-out, empathetic characters.

For the first half of the film, the focus shifts back and forth between The Perrons and The Warrens. We share the experiences of The Perron Family as the haunting activity begins and intensifies. We also share the experiences of The Warren Family as they investigate haunting cases, whether genuinely spiritual or simple misunderstandings of natural causes. Once the film brings the two together, we are allowed to engage and invest more into the story instead of wasting time catching up with new characters. This allows the atmosphere and tension to continue building instead of potentially killing the mood. This structure also allows plenty of time to get to know these characters. We gain insight into who they are and how they cope with extraordinary, possibly dangerous, circumstances. The film allows for much of the audience’s fear to be fear for the characters instead of solely on fear of what they will be assaulted with visually and aurally. This results in a more satisfying and fully-developed horror experience.

Credit where credit is due, Chad and Carey Hayes are responsible for the well-constructed, superbly-written script. Much of the material contained within isn’t all that new, but their approach to it feels fresh and invigorating. Director James Wan is no stranger to horror films or ghost stories, so he brings the material to life with many well-composed and constructed scenes designed for maximum impact. The terrific cast all give amazing performances, especially the four leads. Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston make a lovable couple. It’s nice to see a tormented family that doesn’t immediately fracture or distance themselves. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson have a wonderful chemistry as well which leads to them making a surprising and competent duo. By the end of the end, not only do we believe in their commitment to helping these people, we also believe in their ability to do so.

The special effects in the film seem to mostly be practical. If there was any CGI, it wasn’t noticeable and was blended in effectively. Either way, all of the effects are top-notch. From the ghoulish make-up of the spirits to the very minimal amounts of bloodshed, each effect is convincing and well-executed. The photography, lighting, and production design all work together to imbue the film with the proper mood and atmosphere. The sound effects and music score do a fine job of helping to ratchet up the suspense when the visuals refuse to give the audience any mercy. The production overall for THE CONJURING is incredible, and better than one would expect.

THE CONJURING is a tour-de-force of the haunted house genre. From its design to its execution, every component works in tandem to deliver a ghost story that is as emotionally satisfying as it is genuinely scary. So, gather up your courage, pick a friend or loved one, and make your way to the local theater as soon as possible. THE CONJURING is a fun, scary ride worth taking.

THE CONJURING is now playing in theaters nationwide. It can be very highly recommended by this critic.

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