Can we just take a moment here to reflect on the serious directing talent in the horror world these days? New(er) talent. Fresh talent. Don’t get me wrong – Carpenter, Romero, De Palma, Hooper, Spielberg, Craven, Argento, and the rest are all still talented as hell. Brilliant or not – the films these brainiac artists make are must-see events. Something must be in the air though, because the last decade or so has brought forth a whole bunch of new names likely to be joining the aforementioned pantheon. Names like Del Toro, Roth, West, Aja, Zombie, Marshall, and more.
Like the guy who made Warner Bros’ The Conjuring, James Wan. Few would have guessed that one of the guys behind the original Saw film would end up being a major force in the return to what some might consider ‘Old School’ horror movies. It’s fitting in a karmic way, if you think about it. Saw helped birth a new wave of extremity in our beloved genre – more tension, more gore, grittier in every way; and its director has essentially turned the tables on his own progeny. Wan’s last several films are nearly timeless – gorgeous, little blood or gore, incredibly detailed, subtly acted, and designed within an inch of their celluloid lives. Dead Silence hinted at all of this and Insidious was a revelation, but The Conjuring may be his best work yet.
The movie concerns Carolyn and Roger Perron and their five precocious daughters as well as Ed and Lorraine Warren, world-famous paranormal investigators. The Warrens became famous later in the 1970’s, as they investigated the infamous Amityville House. Similar to that tale, the Perrons unwittingly purchased a haunted property in rural Rhode Island in the early 1970’s and they needed the Warren’s help to figure out what the hell was going on. While the film changes some details of the real-life case, it’s close enough – and pretty damn terrifying. Adding to the film’s magic is the brilliant, relatable cast – Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston are loveable as the harried yet happy parents who find themselves at odds with spirits and demons; they reminded me so much of Poltergeist‘s Jobeth Williams and Craig T. Nelson. Yet I cannot say enough wonderful things about Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who draw us into these two people who are completely and utterly unrelatable. If you’ve ever seen footage of Lorraine Warren, then you’ll probably feel as I do that Farmiga’s performance is award-worthy. She nails every nuance of Lorraine – the hand movements, her manner of speaking – even her way of gently meeting new people.
It’s Wan who holds the entire shebang together, though. His aesthetics are all over The Conjuring – half muted, washed-out color; half vibrant and bright; intricate sound and sweeping soundtrack; creepy toys and dolls; and fine-tuned performances. With Insidious, Wan elevated jump-scares to an art form, while with The Conjuring he instead builds an almost surreal level of tension. A good filmmaker can evoke a lot of intense emotion with a graphic terror scenario, whereas a great filmmaker – like Wan – can conjure our tears through something as small as a character’s emotional breakthrough.
The Conjuring is currently playing in the US and parts of Europe, opening worldwide through August and September.