Set in 1971, The Conjuring dramatises the real life tale of married paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. While planning for retirement they are approached by a family who claim there is something evil in their new home and after some deliberation the ghost hunting duo decide to embark on this unique case unaware that it would be the most terrifying of their entire careers.
An eerie opening sequence immediately establishes The Conjuring as a different beast to James Wan’s previous Insidious. With more focus on suspense and atmosphere, this haunted house horror is creepy, unsettling and scary in an entirely different way, but extracts emotions from its audience through similar manipulation, just without its predecessor’s alarming musical chords.
By reuniting members of Insidious’ cast and crew, but most importantly cinematographer John R. Leonetti, Wan is able to draw parallels between the two films, telegraph scares in a similar way and ultimately toy with the audience’s expectations. By emulating the same framing techniques, low key lighting and large depth of field as Insidious, Wan gives the audience a terrific sense of spatial awareness in each of his scenes. They are fully aware of the emptiness that surrounds them and the potential to be scared at any moment, and it’s this fear of being frightened that’s key to this exceptional director’s approach.
Even though the delightfully nightmarish audacity of Insidious is shelved in favour of a more subtle approach, The Conjuring is no less effective. In fact, Wan’s ability to alter his style between projects and provide an equally terrifying, but all the more chilling experience is further justification for his recognition as the most inventive horror filmmaker working today.
Yet for all of the positivity towards its ambitious techniques The Conjuring is little more than an exercise in conventional horror storytelling. An unoriginal narrative bares too many similarities to fictional classics – The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist and even Wan’s own films – to allow this “real life” story to establish any substantial authenticity. The actors are confined to stock characters, which detracts the strength of their performances. In failing to unshackle itself from tired staples, Wan’s latest toes a dangerous line between referential and derivative.
Nevertheless, Wan uses the existing conventions effectively to deliver another fine example of horror filmmaking that will not only appease fans who’ve grown weary of the genre’s continued decline, but also serves as a suitable induction for horror newcomers.