Director. James Wan
Stars. Patrick Wilson,
Sometimes it all comes down to craftsmanship. There’s probably nothing you haven’t seen before in director James Wan’s “The Conjuring,” but rarely have you seen it done so well. A defiantly old school haunted house picture in which things go bump in the night, the movie elicits massive scares not from CGI or gore, but from careful camera placement and stunning sound design.
Based on a so-called true story, “The Conjuring” follows the down-on-their-luck Perron family as they relocate to a fixer-upper farmhouse in the Rhode Island woods. For some reason the previous owners boarded up the basement and the dog won’t set foot in the place, but Mom and Dad (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) are too busy tending to their five high-maintenance daughters to notice to those weird, drifting, rotten meat smells, or the fact that all the clocks stop every night at 3:07 a.m.
Wan and screenwriters Chad and Carey Hays take their time with the setup, wisely establishing the Perrons in a believable, workaday reality as the creeps gradually escalate. Set in 1971, the movie often feels like it was filmed then as well, the period details punctuated by wonderfully retro zoom lens work.
Things go from bad to worse, and the Perrons call in paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, the controversial real-life proto-Ghostbusters who established the New England Society for Psychic Research. He’s a Catholic demonologist, she’s a clairvoyant, and they’re played with such matter-of-fact gravitas by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga that the supernatural mumbo-jumbo seems plausible. Far better acted than most horror movies, “The Conjuring” allows for quiet character moments, giving us rare emotional investment.
Though Wan made a name for himself with “Saw,” with each successive outing his pictures have grown more restrained. “The Conjuring” has scores of indelible images but little blood. The frights are in creaking floorboards, abruptly slamming doors and the distant sound of clapping. The literally hair-raising climax relies on our understanding of the geography of the home, which has been laid out so clearly via Wan’s clean compositions that the sequence is a model of spatial relations. This is expert, classical filmmaking.