I’ll go ahead and say upfront: I love exorcism films. They’re my favorite horror subgenre because we know the rules, we know the tropes, and new films are expected to have a fresh twist on the subject matter. The same expectations apply to haunted house films. Pairing exorcisms and haunted house tales, naturally, go together because they’re so much fun. Who doesn’t like a good ghost story?
Enter Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga), paranormal investigators renown for making supernatural house calls. THE CONJURING’s story is based on the Warrens’ most malevolent investigation surrounding the Perron family (lead by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor). Lorraine’s clairvoyance leads to significant findings within the possessed household.
Right away, THE CONJURING’s legitimacy is established in its cast. Reliable, recognizable performers Wilson, Farmiga, Livingston, and Taylor command more attention from the audience as opposed to the fresh-faced, twenty-something we’re accustomed to seeing in horror films. Their performances carry weight in the film’s exposition and nerve-racking scare sequences. It was a treat to see Lili Taylor scared senseless again, reminiscent of her work in THE HAUNTING (1999) remake.
James Wan is one of the more reliable horror directors working today. Even if the material is subpar, his camerawork tends to elevate scenes and make them notable. His work on SAW set the atmosphere for the series, in addition to DEAD SILENCE and INSIDIOUS. Wan marries ’70s and modern filmmaking techniques to make THE CONJURING feel like an appropriately timed, old school carnival ride. There were many times when Wan’s tactics got the best of me — either through dread or a well-placed jump.
Don’t expect THE CONJURING to reinvent the exorcism subgenre. Savvy horror fans will pick up on some of the influences and techniques right away, so some would dub it as “predictable.” THE CONJURING, more than anything, is a celebration of haunted house, exorcism, and ghost tales — a celebration of what’s been missing from recent horror films. The “torture porn” days of the SAW franchise are behind us. Found-footage horror films are seeing a revival, with the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series being the most successful in recent years. Sooner or later, Hollywood will have to go back to its roots to reconnect with audiences again. Seeing as THE CONJURING brought in $41 million opening weekend, I’d say we can expect ghost stories to become the norm again in the near future.
If you’re looking for a good time at the theater, check out THE CONJURING. Be sure to see it with a packed audience. You’ll be surprised at the volume of screams and laughs throughout its runtime.