This movie kept popping up on lists of great horror movies and far be it for me to argue with the great and powerful internet on what should or shouldn’t be considered great horror. It was directed by James Wan, the same guy that did the Insidious movies, so I figured that it would be at least visually interesting if nothing else. He brought along Patrick Wilson from those movies as well, which is fine since he can just stand around looking pensive and it works somehow. All of these also combine with a plot that has a lot of similarities between it and Insidious such that I’m starting to worry if Wan doesn’t have a demons and ghosts double-team fetish.
We start out with what is essentially a mini-movie about a creepy doll named Annabell which got its own full length movie this year. Because the prologue starts us right in the middle of the action, we get a start with the creepiness right away. It also introduces us to famous historical quacks Ed and Lorraine Warren, the paranormal investigators that will come to save the day. Before that can happen though, we get to see our hapless victims, the Perron family. They move into a house where there are creepy sounds, creepy smells, and a boarded up cellar full of creepy chairs. When things start getting actually, for real out of control bad, they call upon the Warrens for help in stopping whatever is happening.
Wan wastes no time in getting down to business to defeat the Huns. There are a lot of really well done, extremely tense scenes in the start that never rely on anything more than some sounds and don’t rely on jump scares. In the case of my favorite scene, we get a shot that lingers on a dark space while one of the daughters terrifyingly insists that someone is in the darkness with them that is done so well you can’t help but start trying to fill in that darkness with your own idea of a terrifying figure. The fact that we don’t get a “and here’s the monster” shot makes it infinitely more unsettling than it could have been. He also makes something as simple as a pair of hands clapping into a truly scary moment in the movie.
Unfortunately the movie feels a bit weaker once the Warrens get involved and the investigation starts in earnest. At that point we start getting the actual ghosts and things appearing and the escalation takes it from creepy presence to actually menacing spirit to straight up possession. I will say the main evil ghost/demon/witch thing is done extremely well and her appearance is always preceded by the sound of something hanging by a rope. While not bad, The Conjuring reminds me of Insidious in that both feel like they were well done but kind of scattered and uncertain about what they were trying to accomplish over the course of their run time.
I’d give this movie a 4 out 5. A lot of really good atmosphere and scares with a less than perfect execution at the end and some fairly stilted dialogue.
Favorite thing in the movie: The aforementioned scene of the girl staring at the darkness
Least favorite thing: Too many damn ghosts. Same issue with Insidious having ghosts and demons. Just worry about one thing instead of trying to split the difference between a haunting movie and a possession movie.