There was a time when haunted houses were truly scary because of suspense, rather than because of the grindhouse certainty that such films as Saw II and the rise of “torture pornography” that came as a result.
The good news is that the 2013 film The Conjuring is reassuring for those who still love a haunted house tale that does not rely on a constant barrage of gore to carry things through. Director James Wan has created a genuinely scary picture that relies on the mind of the audience rather than a trail of blood and gore.
Here’s the story: Ed and Loraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are a pair of real-life investigators of the paranormal, sort of what The X-Files’ Mulder and Scully might have been if they had gone through a Joe Friday transmogrifier.
A family home in Rhode Island apparently has a demonic infestation, and they have come in to investigate the scene. In a nod to horror fans, the Warrens are the same couple who turn up in Amityville, years later, to investigate a particularly nasty house there.
Here, though, they have a home in which all the clocks have come to a stop at 3:07 A.M., and into which birds have flown by the flocks, breaking their necks in the process.
The Conjuringtakes a documentary take on the story, changing points of view from the Warrens to the Perrons (the family living in the house). While this makes the film slightly less emotionally intense, it also contributes some realism to the film.
One of the strongest points is Vera Farmiga. Her performance as one of the investigators is her best turn since her Oscar nomination came for Up in the Air.
Her anxiety seethes beneath the surface of her skin, reminiscent of the quality job that Belen Rueda brought to one of the best haunted house films of all time, The Orphanage. Lili Taylor, playing Carolyn Perron, runs the emotional spectrum adroitly, perhaps most effectively during a blindfolded game of Hide and Seek, where a hunt for her littlest daughter goes, shall we say, awry.
The best thing to say about this film is that it takes the chestnuts of the haunted house genre — creaky doors, scary basements and furniture that just has to be hiding something awful — and endows them with a new sense of suspense. Lengthy tracking shots that build the suspense are just one of the tools that Wan puts to scary use.
This film rates an impressive 80% out of 100 and is definitely a fun, fearful ride.