There's a lot to admire about a horror film that in this day and age stands tall and proud against the ream of remakes, sequels and teen friendly slashers that "haunt" the multiplexes with all too much frequency these days. Free of gore and sex, this was automatically going to alienate a good portion of the lustful members of the horror fan base, but for those who like their horror served with appetising scares and a cauldron of suspense, then this delivers plenty to your particular table.
Forget the "based on a true story" tag, since it's kind of irrelevant in this new technological age, it's a selling gimmick that actually means "this story might be true and we might have played with it a bit". Regardless of hoax charges and embellishments, just buy into the premise, commit to it as a scary story in the same way as director James Wan has, for then the rewards are there for the compliant.
Story essentially is based around an investigation in the early seventies by paranormal specialists Ed and Lorraine Warren, who aided the Perron family as they were victims of dreadful supernatural events at their Rhode Island home. Wan builds it deftly, letting us into the Perron families lives as they move into what they believe to be a dream home. Then things start to happen, but again Wan builds it in slow instances, creating a palpable sense of dread, his camera work intelligent. So when the big moments come they have maximum impact and have us also yearning for the Warren's to get involved.
There is no over killing of the boo-jump scares, they are placed with care and marry up superbly with the mounting tension. Naturally all the cliché conventions of the haunted house movie are here, strange smells, creaky doors, ominous cellar and etc, yet these are supplemented with Wan's talented knack for a good scare and a very effective production design. From mysterious bruises and literal leg pulls – breath holding games of hide and seek – to bona fide pant soiling moments, The Conjuring is a lesson in sustained unease until the big finale is unleashed.
The script is devoid of cheese and pointless filler, itself refreshing in a horror sub-genre that suffers often with these problems. Joseph Bishara's musical score is an absolute nerve shredder, and again it's a refreshing accompaniment because it doesn't resort to telegraphed shrieks to tell us to be afraid, it never overwhelms a scene. John Leonetti's cinematography has Gothic textures, both in the house and outside of the lakeside farmhouse, while the strong lead cast of Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston come up trumps for sure.
Met with critical and box office success, The Conjuring justifies its reputation as a superb haunted house movie. 9/10