My disappointment with The Conjuring isn’t caused by oodles of pre-release buzz, but because I know director James Wan can do so much better.
Wan, who I consider a modern day master of horror, knows the genre well. He’s able to build tension and isn’t afraid to milk a quiet situation for all that it’s worth. He knows exactly how long to hold the viewers’ anticipation and how far to drag them before they fall off the edge of their seat.
His skillful direction is no different in his latest movie. The Conjuring is an intense film. Even if we can predict most of the scares, the use of sounds along with the patient performances make the dread stand out during this tremendously atmospheric flick.
Horror filmmakers who wish not to use jump scares for cheap reactions should take notes when watching Wan’s latest. Wan is able to get very close to successful results with his sleight of hand way of finding creepiness – almost like how a magician can convince you something has disappeared out of their hands.
Wan establishes multiple focal points; three seems to be a lucky number of his. During a scene where one of the haunted family’s daughters hears a noise from a dark spot in the room and even spots a grotesque creature in the same spot, another daughter – of course – checks out the situation. As someone sitting in the theatre, you’re now staring down the scared girl in the foreground, the brave daughter in the middle ground, and the dark mystery slightly behind her. As the audience, we know something’s going to happen, but we’re torn between three locations as to where that action is going occur.
The scares, such as the one mentioned, are set up fantastically but what follows is when Wan lets his eager movie goers down. The filmmaker – who’s normally in sync with what horror fiends want – hardly surprises his audience and goes for the safest standard scare possible. Not only will the audience be able to sense when a scare is coming, but they’ll more than likely be underwhelmed with the final result of a scene.
Naysayers of the Paranormal Activity series will be relieved that our focus is zoned in on distinct focal points instead of playing a game of Where’s Waldo and scanning an entire room for something to frighten them. But, they may roll their eyes at a scene that has our lead paranormal investigators grab their camera and search a damp cellar from a first person point-of-view.
However, those who love found footage films will drink in the detail executed during this scene as well as that aforementioned tension Wan can establish so well. That said, this is also one of the many scenes that go nowhere as the characters finish their search and find nothing noteworthy – except for a few halfhearted red herrings.
I was impressed by the film’s attention to detail in the environments, the costuming, and the make-up. The time period also rubs off on the filmmaking itself as Wan and DOP John R. Leonetti utilize slow zooms and disorienting camera movements. A long tracking shot done in one take is one of these technical highlights.
The performances “do the trick” in the sense that they help support the gloomy and creepy atmosphere. Ron Livingston’s role as the concerned father is appropriately caring and calm, but more unmemorable than anything as his confused character blends into the creepy chaos.
Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are the standouts in the cast. They play a religious married couple who meet their match with this latest haunting. Even when the story is going through some lulls, they’re still interesting to watch. However, I sure hope Wilson – who also stars in this Fall’s sequel to Wan’s hit horror Insidious – isn’t getting too comfortable in these type of roles. He’s far too talented to be pigeonholed.
When the unique end credits hit the screen, I couldn’t help but shrug my shoulders at Wan’s ordeal. He’s set the tone at the right place and his detail is executed well. But, it’s coming up short in what The Conjuring’s ultimately supposed to be – a worthwhile horror movie that’s supposed to be scaring the pants off of me.