We all have our ghost stories. Tales of encounters with the other side. Moving drapes in our bedroom, light bulbs that mysteriously flicker on, picture frames that are somehow moved. If we don’t have stories of our own, then we know someone who knows someone who has a great one. I have one myself; an irrefutable event that I (an admitted skeptic to all things paranormal) have never been able to find a logical explanation for. But I’m not going to share it here because, quite frankly, it’s too personal.
The point is, everyone has a ghost story to tell, including the Perron family, who claimed that their Harrisville, Rhode Island farmhouse was haunted by ghosts of century’s past. One of the Perron daughters, Andrea, wrote three novels that documented her family’s horrific experience. In Perron’s text, she mentions how supernatural investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, helped rid her house of paranormal activity. And it is the accounts of both of these families that act as the basis for James Wan’s The Conjuring.
We’ve all seen this type of movie before: new family moves into a haunted house, thereby angering ghosts of said home. And therein lies Wan’s challenge. When I first heard about The Conjuring, I wondered why in the hell James Wan (who helped make horror cool and profitable again with his second film, Saw) would want to tackle such a tired sub genre of horror. Hell, his haunted house flick from two years ago, the box office hit, Insidious (also starring Wilson), has a sequel dropping in less than two months, so why risk oversaturating his filmography with more of the same? Audaciousness, it appears. And damn spooky source material to boot.
Now, here’s the thing. I’m not really a fan of Insidious. It is well acted, well shot, well scored, sure. And if it was the only haunted house film I’d ever seen, then I’m sure I’d appreciate it more. But to be honest, I have trouble differentiating it among the dozens of other new-family-moving-into-a-haunted-home films I’ve seen. I forgot about Insidious the moment after I saw it, and I mention all this because I know I’m not going to forget The Conjuring anytime soon.
Let me be clear about something: movies like Insidious or The Conjuring or last year’s Sinister do not scare me. I think the frights in those films are based on an effective blend of choreography and stringed music and nothing more. So I knew that in order for me to enjoy The Conjuring, it would have to go for something more than those scares (which it does have plenty of). The story would have to intrigue me, its look would have to impress me, and so on. And, to put it mildly, I was intrigued, I was impressed – point in fact, I was stunned by how well made The Conjuring was.
The cinematography by John R. Leonetti is some of the best camera work I have seen from a modern horror film. Wan and Leonetti use long takes and a floating camera to summon fear. The film is set in the early ‘70s, and Leonetti has very wisely gone to great lengths to shoot his film in a way that evokes other films of that time. Kirk M. Morri’s editing is patient, which is not a word I use for most horror films made today. Morri knows how long to hold a shot, and precisely which coverage is best for relaying information. In short, The Conjuring is made by a guy who cares about movies. I haven’t liked all of Wan’s films, but you will never hear me argue that he doesn’t know what he’s doing.
You’ll have to forgive me, I know I haven’t focused on the things reviews usually focus on – plot, acting creditability, effectiveness of climax – but those all felt secondary to me. I was first impressed by The Conjuring when I saw its massive, ‘70s era title card slowly pan into frame. That’s all it takes for me: a bold title card to get my attention, and I’m suddenly rooting for you. The challenge is to hold interest, which The Conjuring did, and then some. B+