It’s pointless to try and go over a list from the past five years of all the haunted house, exorcism and horror movies that haven’t worked, be it either from familiarity or production laziness. The genre itself just seems tired and all-too-willing to fall back on mediocrity.
While there’s not a whole lot about The Conjuring that screams originality, there is something to be said for familiar elements that are executed well. That’s just what The Conjuring is — a superbly executed horror movie out to terrify with mood and imagery that ends up being more effective than ever thought possible.
The film starts out with a short vignette about a possessed doll — a sort of fourth wall breaking wink that the movie is directed by James Wan, purveyor and creator of creepy puppets from Saw and Dead Silence. The sequence itself is pure cheese and tonally not the best indicator of what’s to come but it does at least let us know that as much time will be spent with our paranormal investigators as with the actual family.
From there on out the movie slowly builds the tension by letting the atmosphere sink its way into your bones before the supernatural happens. Subtle things like all the clocks stopping at 3:07 a.m. and the music box with an interesting view are just as chilling as some big boogie. As the tension hits its high and stays there, the haunting becomes more and more malevolent, giving the movie some of its most memorable and intense moments.
The movie runs a gamut of things usually found in horror flicks: creepy puppets, women in white nightgowns, possession, haunted items, witches, children in danger, gnarled old trees and other bone-chilling tropes. Some may see all these as too familiar but the execution keeps things from being completely predictable. The cast do an exemplary job of selling absolute terror and Wan keeps the tension going until the best possible moment.
The Conjuring screams classic horror, be it due to the themes or Wan’s playful throwback style of filming and even with its clear time setting in the ’70s, the scares feel completely timeless. It’s easily a movie you could revisit every year around Halloween and revel in the perfect horror movie atmosphere, even if you know where the jumps arrive.
The thrills are good and the chills are better and it’s because of this that The Conjuring has a place carved out for it among the more effective and crowd-pleasing horror movies in recent memory.
For that, a small round of applause is in order.