The Perron family has a problem. They have just moved into a large, spacious farm house set off a beautiful lake, but around 3:07 every morning, something goes very wrong. Clocks stop, bad smells travel around the rooms, and doors creak and bang shut for no reason. But it is during a game of “hide and clap” that an unknown cellar is revealed and the mysterious occurrences around the house get worse.
After one of her daughters is terrorized, Carolyn (Lili Taylor) realizes her family needs help. She seeks out two well-known paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), with the hope they can figure out what, if anything, may be haunting her family. The moment Lorraine enters the Perrons’ home it becomes clear this family is not experiencing rational bumps in the night. The panicked truth playing behind Lorraine’s eyes while she tries to keep her composure showcases Farmiga’s ability to create a layered and captivating performance while amplifying the terror.
Ed and Lorranie may not be spooked by what is happening in the Perron’s home, but that does not stop The Conjuring from delivering the scares. Rarely relying on the use of CGI, the more practical approach creates a palpable and believable intensity without ever becoming over the top. It is clear something evil is haunting the family, but director James Wan wisely keeps it from feeling like a single element with any identifiable features, making its presence all the more ominous by never letting you know what to look out for.
One of The Conjuring‘s most terrifying scenes happens when one of the daughters, Christine (Joey King), sees something in the shadows of her bedroom that has her paralyzed with fear. Her sister walks into the darkness to try and prove her wrong and the scares that play out all over Christine’s face as she sees something the rest of us cannot allows one’s imagination to fill in the blanks, creating a much scarier scene than if you could see exactly what Christine claimed was standing behind her sister.
The Conjuring is a well-crafted throwback to old school horror films, and the scares are unrelenting, but fans of the genre may find themselves guessing what is coming next due to the film’s style being steeped in homage. Wan definitely delivers a refreshing take on the genre through creepy new images and natural elements like mirrors and shadows to reveal the invisible terrors, but the main issue plaguing The Conjuring is showing too much, too soon.
Wan wisely keeps the terror a faceless entity, but the film would have been better served if this reveal were held back even longer to draw out the anxiety and anticipation it had spent so much time creating. Farmiga’s performance proves she has seen things she dare not talk about, but unnecessary flashbacks take away from some of those moments.
The secondary story bookending the film plus glimpses into the Warren’s own home life take away more than they add and slows down the overall pacing of the film. The Conjuring is at its best when the horror has no face and the focus is on the Perron family, and just like the evil haunting the house, that is where the narrative should have stayed.
The Upside: Solid scares delivered through creative and practical elements; unsettling performance from Farmiga; nice throwback to big studio horror films of the past.
The Downside: A few too many side stories muddle the overall narrative; the reveal of what is haunting the house comes a bit too soon; unnecessary explanation of elements that would have been better left a mystery.
On the Side: The Warrens were a real-life couple behind some of the most famous haunting cases, many of which have been made into films, including The Amityville Horror and The Haunting in Connecticut.