THE CONJURING **** USA 2013 Dir: James Wan. 113 mins
Released within weeks of the equally lucrative INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2, this box office smash employs a definitive “Based On The True Story” title card and a suitably gaudy 70’s yellow font for the title itself, acknowledging its debt to that decade’s supernatural horror films. THE CONJURING takes as much from THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, THE EXORCIST and THE CHANGELING as it does from the true story, while sharing a creepy doll fetish with Wan’s commercial failure DEAD SILENCE, and, like INSIDIOUS, borrowing much from POLTERGEIST.
In 1971, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston discover that the series of alarming events befalling them and their five daughters are linked to a Salem witch’s curse on their Rhode Island property. Renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) arrive to investigate, having already accumulated enough artefacts from prior supernatural encounters to create a museum in their own home (one that resembles the curio shop in the FRIDAY THE 13TH TV series). Although relying to some extent on Dolby Stereo-assisted jolts, Wan opts for an effectively creepy slow-burn approach and proves a master of this territory: his command of the ever gliding camera, sleek yet unnerving tracking shots and the widescreen frame is exemplary. It’s superbly shot (with deliberately 70’s-styled use of the zoom lens) and, accompanied by the abrasive musical stylings of Joseph Bishara (another carry-over from the INSIDIOUS films), achieves several frightening sequences, notably a harrowing game of “Hide And Clap”. The film inevitably front-loads the most subtle (and therefore the scariest) stuff in the first hour, with the second half resorting to exploding lightbulbs and Patrick Wilson yelling at a demon to go to Hell. Still, it’s very well played, and introduces one of horror cinema’s most terrifying dolls (afforded her own spin-off prequel, ANNABELLE), while setting up a profitable franchise that looks set to run and run. Farmiga’s last line, establishing their subsequent Amityville investigation, sets up the introduction of the inevitable THE CONJURING 2.
Review by Steven West