James Wan is an interesting filmmaker. I haven’t even liked all of his films, but there’s something intriguing about his style. It’s chock full of potential. His debut film was the overrated SAW. Now, he only directed the first one, which is by far the best of the series in my opinion. I thought it had a good premise but was ruined by Nine Inch Nail music video-like editing style. Fortunately, Wan learned his lesson and has never done that kind of style again, thank Christ! His follow-up was DEAD SILENCE, a mostly good, creepy flick about a haunted ventriloquist doll. Then he made his best film, DEATH SENTENCE, which was a DEATH WISH-like vigilante film that had some very impressive long takes in it. I still have yet to see his surprise hit, INSIDIOUS, but I’ll be seeing that soon enough to get ready for the sequel, which opens in September. His latest film, THE CONJURING, is yet another horror film.
Based on a true story, the film takes place in 1971. The 2 main characters of the story are Ed and Lorraine Warren, a husband and wife paranormal investigator team. They are always working on some creepy case, but most of the time, there is usually a logical explanation for supposed “supernatural” happenings. But their latest case is legitimate. A family of 7 have moved into some creepy old house in the middle of the country, and right off the bat, begin experiencing strange things. First, they hear voices, then their kids start acting weird (like banging heads on closets). When things get really intense, they call upon the Warrens to help them out. Immediately, the psychic Lorraine sees horrible visions when entering the house. Apparently, the previous owner of the house killed her youngest daughter, and now the spirit wants to possess the new mother of the home so she will kill HER youngest. Lots of spooky things happening, like spirits dragging kids across the room by their hair, creepy dolls attacking, and we even get to see an exorcism.
This is a good movie. Now, horror is usually my least favorite genre. That’s because the characters are usually boring idiots. But that’s not the case here. Similar to films like POLTERGIEST and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR (the real one, not that Ryan Reynolds bullshit), you actually care about the characters involved. I also like that the film was set in the early 70’s, so we get lots of nifty art direction, costumes and groovy tunes (like The Zombies, one of my favorite bands).
The story moves slow, which is how I prefer horror films to move. No need to blow your load right away. I like that slow-building tension, to the point where it becomes unbearable. To me, that’s scary. The film opens with the Warren’s on a case involving a creepy doll. Then we get the title accompanied by some creepy-as-shit music. Great way to start the flick. Then, we slowly get to know the family who moved into the house. There’s a scene early on, where the camera (in an unbroken stedi-cam shot) that moves through the house as the family is unpacking. I love that kind of shit! To me, that says that the filmmaker is making an effort. That he’s not just going to go through the motions. In other words, he’s not going to “Brett Ratner” his way through the movie. He’s going to actually make a fucking movie. And God bless him for that!
Is the movie scary? Well, that depends if you get scared or not. I don’t really get scared during movies (especially supernatural movies), but I do think they’re cool. I thought this was creepy, but not scary. However, my girlfriend and many other moviegoers at my screening were pretty darned scared. If you’re into this sort of thing, it definitely delivers. I mean, if you think dolls are creepy, well, this doll is one of the creepiest I’ve ever seen in a movie. All of the haunting sequences are expertly directed and meticulously paced. And the exorcism at the end is going to disturb a lot of viewers, which is probably what they’re asking for. To be creeped the fuck out! And it certainly is creepy to say the least.
The performances are pretty solid all around. Patrick Wilson (who I still think sounds like Tom Cruise if you close your eyes while he’s talking) does a fine job as well as Vera Farmiga as the Warrens. Ron Livingston plays the dad of the haunted family and is decent. All 5 of the kids do an outstanding job. It’s hard to act scared, and these young girls do a great job. But for me, the performance of the film belongs to Lili Taylor. She was an indie queen of the mid-90’s, but has virtually been absent from the mainstream film scene. James Wan has done a great thing by casting her. She has most of the heavy lifting to do in the film, and of course when she gets possessed…… she’s all sorts of awesome.
Wan has made one creepy supernatural film. One that most horror fans are going to eat up. He’s really turning into a reliable genre filmmaker. I like that he doesn’t go for that quick-cutting style. He lets things breath. He knows how to pace a horror sequence, and even knows how to create characters the audience can care about. You can’t really ask for anything more from a horror director. I can’t wait to see what he does with the next FAST AND THE FURIOUS movie (which he just recently said that he wants to approach it like a 70’s thriller!!! Fuck yeah!). The script is pretty good. And the score by Joseph Bishara is scary as fuck!
Now, the reason I’m not giving it a higher rating is because there are too many scenes of people walking slow in the dark with a flashlight, looking around. That’s my big pet peeve in a horror film. For some reason, I find this really boring. I understand that this kind of thing comes with the genre, but I just get bored with that particular element. That said, this is a successful film thanks to Wan’s unique vision and characters you can care about. Easily one of the best horror films I’ve seen in quite a while. ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
– Rated R for sequences of disturbing violence and terror. (It’s a close call. It’s not a very strong R. There are probably 2 shots that gave the movie the R rating. If the movie was editing by like 2 seconds, it could have been a PG-13. It must have been tempting for the studio to do that, since it wouldn’t have been much to cut, so I must commend them for sticking to their guns and not editing the film down).
– Running time: 1hr 51min.