From his torture porn 'adolescence' through the early installments of the 'Saw' franchise, to the late development of a fondness for demented dolls and possessed homes, director James Wan has slowly become one of the leading lights of modern-day horror. Doubling his bid to terrify the masses this year before he gets behind the wheel of the 'Fast and Furious' franchise, with a much anticipated follow-up to Insidious on the way, here he whets the appetite with a creepy haunted house offering laced with terrifying truth.
'The Conjuring' centres around the much frowned upon antics of real life figures Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) whose speculated job titles have ranged from paranormal investigators to demonologists. Firmly establishing themselves in the public eye after the acquiring of their services led to various chilling encounters, their previous exploits are inevitably set to pale in comparison to their latest case.
Enter the Perron family, led by Lili Taylor's and Ron Livingston's Carolyn and Roger respectively. Adjusting to the unremarkable conditions of their new home along with their quintet of 'hide and seek' loving daughters, they barely draw breath when they become regularly traumatised by the obligatory bumps in the night and peculiar disturbances shaking them out of their sleep. Eager to resolve the mystery of such happenings, Ed and Lorraine are called in to document the events and remove the 'threat'..
Visually bearing the hallmarks of the genre classics befitting of the 1970's period, 'The Conjuring' is perhaps unsurprisingly light on game-changing tactics to swerve audiences. Granted, we may be faced with a steady barrage of sounds amplified and the unsettling depictions of facial anguish. Yet for all its familiarity, 'The Conjuring' is elevated far and beyond its seemingly average trappings by Wan's inventive direction.
Whether it's the occasional 180 degree rolls disorientating the viewer or his assured, fluid camerawork making great use of the sizable surroundings, Wan is able to in turn establish a strong eerie atmosphere whilst executing the well crafted psychological scares in stylish fashion. His approach to the story also proves admirable here, subverting the schlocky nature of the premise by portraying the protagonists as astute professionals, adding a peculiar sense of credibility within the heightened realms of an often fantastical and ridiculed genre.
Complimenting the director's vision, regular collaborator Patrick Wilson and newbie Vera Farmiga are on fine form as the Warrens, effectively towing the line between intriguingly hiding the trauma of their own personal pratfalls and assuring their unsettled 'customers'. Elsewhere, Lilli Taylor and Ron Livingston make light work of their one-dimensional parental figures, providing solid performances as the terror escalates around them.
A misjudged excess of characters introduced in its otherwise thrilling finale may hamper proceedings and its revelling in clichés bound to attract its fair share of detractors. However, 'The Conjuring' succeeds at being a genuinely affecting horror through a compelling story that is as well-oiled as its refined scares and performances.