Earlier this year settling in for another flick when I had the wonderful, exhilarating surprise of being terrified by the trailer of a horror film. In that brief atmospheric scene, an ominous colonial house, full of a vulnerable sleeping family, a clapping poltergeist was toying with an isolated mother. That teaser was for Australian horror director extraordinaire (Saw, Insidious) James Wan's latest The Conjuring, which I am now pleased to say is one of the most frightening films this reviewer has ever seen.
Dusted off from the previously secret files of husband and wife paranormal team The Warrens (Lorraine - Vera Farmiga and Ed - Patrick Wilson) is the harrowing 'true' story of the Perrons. In order to get a fresh start Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) move their large brood to a secluded farm house, once a series of unquestionably paranormal activities occur and fear ripples throughout the family Carolyn reaches out to the Warren's to help rid their lives of the ghoul.
The Conjuring is a testament to Wan's proficiency behind the lens. He's just so dextrous at using a plethora of different photographic techniques to evoke a feeling. Whether it's following Carolyn down the claustrophobic cob web filled hall ways; placing the camera at the foot of a closet slowly drawing skyward, effectively ringing you out in your seat anticipating something to burst forth from the inside or suddenly reveal itself perched atop. And yet on of the most powerful moments in the film comes at capturing the stubborn family dog refusing to enter the house (sensing the ill presence) with suitable stillness. While most of the scares were achieved with classic 'in camera' effects there's an absolutely sublime scare that perfectly utilised digital tools to achieve something otherwise impossible.
Writers Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes unfurl The Conjuring with tremendous precision. The audience is given ample time to get to know (and thus care) about the Perrons. And there's enough brief glimpses at the Warren's showcasing their ghost busting wares — from college to college — to subtly put them on a collision course with the mother of all demonic possessions. The Warren's are fully fledged, famous occult figures that are suitably given their dues because the story comes from their own biography. However I found Patrick Wilson's Ed flippant in the face of the reality of an active and vengeful spirit world.
Livingston does a great job of reeking of working class pragmatism completely ill-equipped with the other world torment that's facing his family. But enough with the dudes - The Conjuring belongs to its female leads Taylor and Farmiga. Taylor's raw love and helplessness paired with Farmiga's empathic and assertive maternal instincts anchored both spheres of the narrative.
The flaws are slight. Personally, I never need the words 'based on a true story' read before or after a film; especially a horror film. As soon as you have to navigate the questionable morals of real-life 'mediums' etc you'll find yourself being removed from this fear inducing escape. And the final moments of The Conjuring ever so slightly faltered in the wake of the crippling tension that preceded it.
The Conjuring is like the horror equivalent of a 'Long Island iced tea'; mixing stiff belts of haunted house, poltergeist and exorcism into a near perfect and potent cocktail.
[rating=4] and a half
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to the audio review on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Chad Hayes & Carey Hayes
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor, Ron Livingston
Distributed by Roadshow Films
Released on the 19 July 2013