Director: James Wan
Cast: Ron Livingston, Lilly Taylor, Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson
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The Conjuring starts with a fascinating idea: a couple of paranormal investigators (The Warrens) with a roomful of scary MacGuffins from past cases. That collection of creepy objects sparks a flashback to an earlier case involving a super-freaky doll, and a reminder that our lead couple are always in danger from the phenomena they explore. Then, James Wan’s horror movie jumps to something far more conventional: a haunted house.
We meet The Perron family, who have just moved into a old mansion on Rhode Island. A deserted building? A nearby lake? A dog that’s too afraid to go inside? What could possibly go wrong?
In short, everything – and James Wan wastes no time in wheeling out the genre playbook to tick them off the list. That’s the main problem with The Conjuring. Ron Livingston and Lilly Taylor are good as the spooked husband and wife, a nice compliment to Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson’s equally believable partnership, but while the script is based on a true story from the 70s, a lot of its real-life scares simply feel dated.
There are stand-out moments that remind you how good Wan is at giving you the willies: one sequence involving a wardrobe is seat-squirmingly effective, while the decision to introduce the family with a tracking shot from inside the house is subtly unsettling. But in between the creaking doors and torch-lit basements, other bits are less inspired, leading to an overly-familiar climax saved by the period setting (all yellow wallpaper, big eyebrows and shirt collars), which gives events a camp, retro quality. For all the ingenuity and confidence displayed on screen and in Chad and Carey Hayes’ slow-burn script, though, The Conjuring fails to magic up a classic horror movie. The most terrifying thing in it is how much Ron Livingston looks like Kyle Chandler.
As objects from that cabinet of ghosts past return to the present, you get the sense that all James Wan is doing is collecting together a bunch of props from other movies. On their own, they’re enough to keep your lights on late at night, but they never amount to more than the sum of their parts.
The Conjuring is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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