The following is a review I wrote for Thread, a new publication on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand. Pick up a copy if you’re in the area, or you can visit their blog version here. Hopefully this will be a somewhat regular thing, so support a really cool new thing!
Not being one to enjoy a lot of new horror films, it’s hard for me to put The Conjuring in context with other films of its ilk in modern cinema. Fortunately though, James Wan’s latest film is so reverential to a past era of the horror genre that I felt right at home.
For the most part, this is a good thing. The style of 1970s horror that The Conjuring owes so much to is a rich well to draw from, although at times the line between taking influence and outright copying gets a little blurry. Stylistically, the most obvious point of reference is The Exorcist, as The Conjuring tells the story of two paranormal investigators (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) investigating a house supposedly containing an evil spirit with a penchant for possession, but other films like The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, and The Shining all get more than a brief nod.
In a lesser film this might be more of an issue, but The Conjuring is strong enough that you’re not given much of a chance to dwell on its style. It’s a terrifying, visceral experience, executing a classic structure of tension and release better than anything I’ve seen from American horror in years. Wan manages to surprise in just the right moments, preparing the audience for the scares but never firing them from quite where you expect.
The only real issue with the film is something that most people likely won’t even have a problem with: the ‘based on true events’ hook. Yes, the story comes from the testimony of real people, but claiming the events are true is preposterous, dishonest marketing for a film that doesn’t need it. That said, The Conjuring is a well made, well performed, frightening film, at a time when American horror is all but stagnant.