It’s 1971, and Ed and Lorraine Warren (Wilson and Farmiga) are psychic investigators travelling the country and lecturing about the strange things they’ve seen. Lorrain is a clairvoyant and Ed a non-priest exorcist, and though they happily explain many of their investigations as nothing but squeaky floor boards and gurgling pipes, journalists and audiences are still skeptical about everything else – and their most famous case in Amityville is still in the future.
Elsewhere, Roger and Carolyn Perron (Livingston and Taylor) and their cute five daughters have moved into a big ‘ol house – and one of the first things they do is find a sealed basement, and wonder why the family dog growls and won’t go in the front door: not good signs.
Soon enough, Carolyn is waking up with unexplained bruises, the kids are being pulled out of bed, there are strange noises all over the place, and all the signs are there that something is haunting the house from basement to attic – but it’s much worse than that.
Desperate, Carolyn goes to see the Warrens and begs them for help. As soon as they arrive, Lorraine sees a dark presence surrounding the family members and knows they’re marked: but which person will this devil choose to possess?
Needing permission from the Vatican for an exorcism, they return armed with cameras and all sorts of equipment, and the knowledge that this was the home of a witch who sacrificed her own child before hanging herself from the tree outside – only now it’s too late for any help to arrive…
With the added frisson of being based on true events, this genuinely frightening and entertaining horror story harkens back to the classic domestic period horrors like The Exorcist and Poltergeist (and even the recent Woman In Black), but also brings the styles of The Blair Witch Project and even Paranormal Activity into play.
Australian-Malaysian director Wan cut his teeth on the original Saw and also helmed Insidious, and his innovative, tight skills – including some long tracking shots, upside-down swivels and shots where we see right into rooms and down corridors – reduces the need for cheap cut-aways that make you jump, and keeps you in the house, ratcheting up the tension.
Those jumpy moments are still here of course, but the horror is much more of the creeping, crawling kind: opening doors, banging windows, stopping clocks, rocking chairs – and it makes it more effective when the ghosts do briefly appear. In fact, when the person is possessed it’s even more terrifying – we’ve been in the house with them the whole time.
The writers also eschew heavy blood and gore, and show that a horror film can be made without the need for excessive violence. Less is more, and it’s always much more frightening in what you can’t see – at times, some of the child actors (all of them excellent) seem genuinely terrified.
It’s a high-end cast too, which helps as well. Farmiga does a great job, and Taylor – a “what is her name?” actress you recognize from things as diverse as Hemlock Grove, Six Feet Under, I Shot Andy Warhol and even Say Anything – gives a star turn (yes, in a horror movie).
Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
The Conjuring is released on 2nd August 2013