Thursday, 21 August 2014
James Wan // 2013 // 112 mins
Ed and Lorraine Warren are paranormal investigators, regularly recruited by the church to visit supposed haunted houses and help the scared families that occupy them. When they are approached by Carolyn Perron, a woman whose family is being terrorised by an oppressive force, the couple must exhaust their resources in order the cleanse the farmhouse of the multiple entities that occupy it and in particular the spirit of an evil witch who is intent on possessing Carolyn and harming her children.
James Wan has firmly established himself as one of the horror genres most exciting talents, and his sixth feature film may just be his most well balanced, successful effort yet. Whats makes The Conjuring stand out from the increasing number of horror films that have been released over recent years is how effortlessly it mediates both horror and personal drama to make a film that can boast well rounded characters as well as affecting scares. This is very much a film about two families, and Ed and Lorraine Warren are explored in as much, if not more, depth as the family that they are helping. A staple of the genre, supernatural specialists are very often one-dimensional characters that are a bit kooky and provide technical jargon to legitimise the events, usually only surfacing in the films final act as a means to generate a more aggressively frightening finale for the film and resolve the nightmares for good. By promoting these characters to to the lead roles, Wan and the writers allow us a glimpse into how such events affect not only those that are haunted, but those that are tasked with helping them.
Filling the roles of Ed and Lorraine are Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga and the two actors do a remarkable job of convincing in both the domestic and professional sides of their characters. So often in this genre character development is a mere afterthought or completely disregarded, yet here is a film that values well-rounded characters as much as an unnerving atmosphere and it is all the better for it. The pair share a number of sweet husband/wife moments in the brief interludes between set-pieces and work brilliantly off of one another during their investigation into what is haunting the Perron's. Farmiga in particular is captivating in her role, evoking Lorraine's dread or concern with the subtlest shift in her expression. Allusions to the toll that this work takes on her are unfortunately never fully explored, but she is nonetheless one of the best characters to come from the genre in a long time. We are also given brief glimpses of previous cases that the Warrens have worked on and these build up a rich backstory for the couple while also providing extra scares and dalliances with different types of horror without ever veering too far from the central plot.
The horror itself remains consistent throughout the films entire runtime. The handful of jump scares are effective without ever feeling too cheap, but Wan isn't afraid to tread a more subtle route as well. The film boasts a tangible atmosphere that stays strong and is greatly enhanced by individual scenes where nothing at all is shown, the horror is merely implied, and Wan's excellent direction makes these unsettling moments just as affecting as the louder frights. The directors technical prowess is also in full force here, The Conjuring features a great number of excellently choreographed sequences where the camera drifts through the house as the characters investigate strange sounds in the darkness.
With The Conjuring, Wan has taken a premise that has been used time and time again and maximised on its potential, producing a genuinely scary film filled with characters we can actually invest in and care for. Every creaking floorboard, every childish giggle and every spectral image is used sparingly and used well. Wan doesn't bombard us with violent jump-scare after violent jump-scare, rather he trusts that by drawing us into the lives of these people and implementing carefully considered frights he can produce a film that will have much more lasting effect than many others, and he has.