out of Five
Running time: 112
Hugely enjoyable, genuinely scary horror flick that provides a welcome throwback to classic 1970s chillers, thanks to some impeccable production design work, a superb script, powerfully atmospheric direction, nail-bitingly intense set-pieces and terrific performances from a note-perfect cast.
What's it all about?
Directed by James Wan (Saw) and set in the 1970s, The Conjuring is based on a true story and stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, whose cases also included the Amityville Horror. Their latest case involves investigating the secluded Harrisville, Rhode Island home of Carolyn and Roger Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston), who have recently moved into the house with their five daughters (Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy and Kyla Deaver) and have begun experiencing a series of spooky goings on, including foul odours, birds smashing into the outside walls, disturbing sounds, slamming doors and a series of mysterious bruises appearing on Carolyn's arms and back.
Lorraine immediately detects that something isn't right in the house and the pair conclude that the Perron's home is possessed by multiple demons, with their initial investigation revealing that the trouble may have begun as far back as the Salem Witch trials. Meanwhile, the Warren's presence angers whatever is within the house and the supernatural activity escalates to terrifying levels.
The performances are exceptional: it's a treat to see Lili Taylor handed a decent role again and she's terrific as Carolyn, particularly in the latter part of the film when her relationship with the house begins to exact a frighteningly physical toll. Similarly, Wilson (reteaming with his Insidious director) is note-perfect as Ed (his authoritative, genuinely concerned presence is comforting for both the Perrons and the audience), while Farmiga is fabulous as Lorraine, selflessly dedicating herself to helping others and supporting Ed, despite knowing the dangers they risk.
The excellent script pushes all the right buttons, ensuring that you genuinely care about both the Warrens and the Perrons and are emotionally invested in their survival, especially when the demon appears to target the Warrens' own home (conveniently packed with possessed object souvenirs of previous cases).
Wan's direction is perfectly paced, pulling off some properly scary set pieces (a game of ‘hide and clap’; some business involving a mirror and a music box) and ratcheting up the tension before unleashing a sustained, phenomenally intense finale that will have you gasping for breath. In addition, the film is heightened by some superb production design work (check out the creepy doll) that strongly recreates a 1970s vibe to the point where the film almost qualifies as pastiche.
The Conjuring is the best film of its kind in recent memory, a brilliantly directed and superbly acted horror film that's genuinely terrifying. An instant classic. Highly recommended.