Holy shit. I have no idea why it took me so long to watch this movie.

In case you live under a rock like me, James Wan is being heralded as one of the best directors working in horror at the moment. Directly responsible for starting three of the most famous recent franchises in horror (Saw, Insidious, and The Conjuring), Wan has quite the blood spattered, demon haunted pedigree. The Conjuring, widely considered Wan’s masterpiece (which may possibly be dethroned by its newly released sequel) has even spawned a spin off movie franchise. Like it or not, Wan is probably here to stay and I think we’re all better off for it.

The Conjuring is based on a story from real life demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), and follows a case from 1971 where they are recruited to investigate a farmhouse that the Perron family has just moved into. The Perrons slowly begin to notice a couple odd things happening with their house and to their family, but as the days march onward things begin to escalate and the Perrons begin to fear for their lives. Once Ed and Lorraine are on the case, they need to do everything they can to get to get to the bottom of the haunting and overcome their greatest challenge to date.

This may be my new favorite horror movie. Right now it’s a three way tie between this, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Tobe Hooper’s 1974 masterpiece The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is my first Wan film in a very long time, and I totally get why he’s loved so much. This film came out around the height of the paranormal horror trend (within a year of this movie’s release Sinister, Paranormal Activity 4, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, Oujia, and Jessabelle were released, and that’s just from one studio), and among a sea of dumb jump scares and found footage ghost stories The Conjuring stood out as a movie that boasted impressive cinematography, real tension, and likable characters.

Wait. What was that? I hear your brain screaming. Horror movies with likable characters? Those don’t exist! Well buckle in, bucko, because The Conjuring isn’t just scary because things go bump in the night, but because we like and root for the fleshed out characters in the movie, making their potential defeat that much more important to us. We spend almost two hours getting to know the Warrens and the Perrons while the case is underway. We learn our characters’ fears and motivations, likes and dislikes and when shit really hits the fan, we’re truly scared for these people. Sure, there are a handful of jump scares in the movie, some more tasteful than others (the clapping hands come to mind as one of the better ones), but as the tension ramps up, we really want Ed and Lorraine to come out on top in the end.

The tension build up in this movie is amazing, too. I would put this movie on par with a movie like John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness where lots of small, unsettling things happen without respite, each one a little more unnerving than the last until the climax of the film where everything gets blown wide open. Simple things ratchet up the intensity like one of the Perrons’ daughters having her leg tugged on in the middle of the night. In most run of the mill horror movies, this is where she would look around her room and WHAM a big scary face would fly out at the screen with an obscenely loud noise. Here it happens and she just rolls over half asleep asking her sister (who also happens to share the same room as her) to stop it and go back to bed. Then, the next night she gets tugged again, so she wakes up and gets ready to tell her sister off until she sees her sister soundly asleep in the bed next to her. She creeps to the edge of the bed to see if anything is on the floor. Nothing. She slowly leans over to see if anything is under the bed. Nothi- wait, did the door just move a tiny bit? She gets back to the top of her bed and stares at the impenetrable darkness resting behind the bedroom door. The scene goes on, but I won’t spoil how it ends. That is how horror should be done. Not cheap boo scares that immediately dissolve all tension.

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The reason some of the earlier scares work so well is because while the Perrons are a young family of six, the child actresses that play their daughters are surprisingly good. While obviously Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Lili Taylor (Mama Perron), and Ron Livingston (Papa Perron, also holy shit, Ron Livingston!) give much better performances, I found myself believing the fear the children were feeling for most of the movie. The youngest daughter, April (Kyla Deaver), was a little rough sometimes, but the fact that she was super young when this was being filmed and didn’t even have many lines in the movie is enough for me to see past it and not let it get in the way of me enjoying the film.

The more I think on it, I think The Conjuring sits comfortably at number three in my top all time horror movies list (I’m more of a slasher and body horror guy than a supernatural/ paranormal horror one). It’s got fantastic tension building and atmosphere, characters you actually like and care about, and the cinematography is fantastic to boot. Sure, it’s pretty by-the-books and doesn’t flip the genre on its head, but it doesn’t have to. It’s a neat movie that excels at being spooky as hell and is tons of fun to watch. My girlfriend called it the scariest movie she’s ever seen, and she’s sat through (and been relatively unfazed by) movies like The Descent, The Exorcist, and Alien. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to seeing The Conjuring, I’m dying to see the sequel which has been out for almost two weeks now. Hopefully I can catch it while it is still in theaters. If you’ve seen The Conjuring, let me know what you thought of it! Did it scare the pants off you?

-David