“THE CONJURING” (Movie Review)
Real, palpable dread. In THE CONJURING, it is thick and ever present, and takes on many forms. It is a doll, it is a door. It is a hand clap, it is a spirit. It is malevolence in the air, it is the chill from a dark basement. It is accursed land. It is, eventually, the reveal of director James Wan’s full capabilities as a master of horror. Like INSIDIOUS before it—although miles ahead of that already splendid exercise in shoulder shudders—THE CONJURING is special because Wan, as a filmmaker is. Here, he has proven an innate understanding of the eerie and the frightening.
Wan is constantly constructing and composing in the artful, dazzling and once again, properly scary THE CONJURING. He is building actual anticipation and nervous energy within the house, and real endearment for its inhabitants. There are two things made very clear about the old farmhouse in which this film resides: its layout, and the fact that something is terribly, aggressively wrong. This is instrumental in the way THE CONJURING scares. The camera is assuredly exploring the setting as if spectral and all-encompassing. The question is never what’s behind a particular corner, but the awful worry that something is already beside you; that it (and there are a lot of variations on “it”) can come from all sides.
It does, and in familiar but—through the lens of Wan and his cast—taut and effective ways. The familiarity of THE CONJURING is akin to why ghost stories are tradition, why we return to tales of the fantastic and unknown. These things we think we know, through stories and other films, suddenly again become unknowable when told in a frankly beautiful and newly creepy manner. This extends to physical interaction and objects of warmth. The entity of THE CONJURING, after all, is attacking an ensemble that exudes support. A doll, while inherently creepy, is still a plaything. Here, it is an agent of evil and in a thematically-related prologue is our first inkling that the demons of this film will attack bonds. Later, a game the women of the Perron family play that brings both happiness and togetherness leads to isolation and terror. Later still, a gift of love becomes a vessel through which the hateful energy is spread. With so much surrounding the Perrons and the real-life paranormal investigating Warrens and their team, it is refreshing there is little room for skepticism and in-conflict here.
The cast plays wonderfully together, most notably Lili Taylor and Vera Farmiga as Carolyn Perron and Lorraine Warren, respectively. The two essay women, who are relentlessly assaulted by overwhelming negative psychic energy, yet are warm and strong throughout. They are backed by Ron Livingston and Patrick Wilson as Roger Perron and Ed Warren, and great, if minor bits from the Perrons’ five daughters (including DETENTION standout Shanley Caswell) and the two (much needed) levity-bringing investigators played by John Brotherton and Shannon Kook.
As suggested above though, the stars of the film are Wan and cinematographer John Leonetti. The filmmaker is as comfortable making the audience uncomfortable in dark shadow and faint light, as he is roaming the lush, colorful environment of this rural 70s Rhode Island. THE CONJURING is sprawling in its visual approach because its scares also cover a wide spectrum. There is massive energy and heart on display. THE CONJURING not only wants to scare you, but loves to. Even indoors, the film’s action spreads out, soaking every inch of the frame. It’s twice that Wan stages multi-tiered spookshow set pieces, and both are intense, terrifying pieces of work.
The entire film is.