t h e c o n j u r i n g
2nd August 2013
Demons. Lots of demons
4th August 2013
James Wan has a lot to answer for. His Saw pretty much spawned an entire, vicious genre that is only just running out of it's horrible steam. This led us to approach his latest effort with some trepidation. Would it be as scary as the trailer seemed to indicate or would we just be treated to yet more splatter? Happy to report then that it is more the former than the latter.
The Conjuring is a relatively standard ghost story, but being set in the early seventies it is fortunately bereft of what has become the standard post Paranormal Activity technology reliance. It is apparently based on a true story but we’ll let you work out how much you believe that. A typical bound to be haunted family (hard working dad, housewife plus a larger than normal range of daughters) move into a large mansion in the middle of nowhere having bought it for a bargain at auction, find a boarded up basement and subsequently all hell breaks loose. Almost literally. Alarm bells are ringing the instant that the family dog refuses to enter the house. Things do not go well for said pet. Once the haunting becomes spectacularly obvious, the family recruit a husband and wife team of investigators, themselves troubled by a previous exorcism gone wrong.
The Conjuring scores pretty low on any measure of originality. It is pretty much a greatest hits of ghost films. Wan throws just about every possible movie horror at the family. The obviously sinister basement, an ominous piano, a creepy doll, flapping white sheets, birds flying into windows.... you name it, he flings it in there. What he does do very well though is tension. The movie is actually scary. The growing sense of unease as odd things start to happen (all the clocks stopping at the same time), followed with some properly good jump moments really make this film a pretty traumatic experience. It even manages some originality. The ending manages to just about surprise despite being a much overused emergency exorcism (no spoilers so I can’t explain any further), Wan thankfully fails to throw in the cat jumping out of a closet scare and the team’s use of available technology is interesting.
The family is well played and down to earth, for once the husband doesn’t spend half the film in denial in the face of blatant supernatural shenanigans and we spend enough time with them to actually care about their predicament. Lilly Tomlin is particularly effective as the head ghost's main victim, her descent really creeps up on you. The husband and wife team form an interesting sub-plot with their business of dealing with spooks and lecturing on the subject, giving us something more than just parachuting them in when things start falling off walls.
The threat level is cranked up by the revelation that the ghosts (and there are a whole troupe of them) are attaching themselves to various members of the family and subsequently the often overlooked common sense idea of simply moving out just won’t do the trick (though this seems to be temporarily rescinded when the family do move to a motel). Wan uses a variety of neat tricks to bring on the terror, for example, it’s amazing how scary a child’s game of hide and seek can be when the seeker is blindfolded and the hiders must clap to help them and there are some original scares in here (bet you don’t see the flapping sheets one coming). Sound is vital in a ghost story and that too is used well, that is sparingly. The volume does increase as the scares are coming but not to the aural assault levels of say, the soon to be released In Fear.
I enjoyed The Conjuring a lot. It’s not going to win any awards and I’m sure it will be forgotten quickly as it departs our screens but it does what it sets out to do really well. It doesn’t take any shortcuts with the script, it’s well directed and at times it is genuinely scary. Just don’t go in the cellar.
Check our the trailer here.