Having reinvented the horror genre with Saw (seriously, think about the first one and how new it was), James Wan drags us back to a simpler past when trousers were flared and houses were haunted. The Conjuring is a back-to-basics lesson in atmospheric tension building and good old-fashioned scares.
In 1971 Roger and Carolyn Perron move themselves and the 5 daughters into what can only be described as a stereotypical 1970’s haunted house. You know what’s coming – clocks stopping, a funky smell, imaginary friends, doors slamming, sleepwalking, scratches – the works. In desperation, they recruit ghost hunting spouses Ed and Lorraine Warren to help rid them of what haunts the house. The Warren’s have their own daughter and so feel compelled to help, even if it could come at a cost to themselves.
The Warren’s (of real-life Amityville fame) rich back story adds a compelling edge to the film. Time is spent establishing their relationship and their motivation and this does effectively draw the viewer in. However, much is made of the Annabelle doll, which is one of the real-life Warren’s creepiest cases. Unfortunately, it feels somewhat shoe-horned into The Conjuring, drawing the action away from the Perron house (although it is terrifying). I would not be surprised if a sequel appeared in the near future featuring Annabelle, the new female Chuckie.
The Conjuring is a nostalgic film. Nostalgic for the Warren’s hey-day, nostalgic for the terror that comes from creaky floor boards and nostalgic for old-fashioned, God-fearing horror. If you have seen any haunted house film, you have essentially seen The Conjuring. But it does what it does extremely well. Tension is built throughout and not dropped, the characters are sympathetic, the scares will make you jump and there’s a few classic cross-references thrown in for entertainment value. It is an intense viewing experience and recommended for all horror fans.