The horror movie genre is like a tired old hag in a whorehouse who’s been exploited to the point of exhaustion with nothing left up her sleeve but sagging flesh and emasculating routine. Anyone who buys into this industry would have no doubt seen it all – haunted houses, demonic possessions, vengeful ghosts, creepy children, giallo gore, torture porn, zombies, vampires, werewolves, the whole shitload of farmland creatures and their chainsaw-weilding owners – that the next time we actually see a goddamn apocalypse of monsters happening right before our eyes, we’ll just impassively snort a handful of popcorn into our nostrils whilst we roll our eyes in mind-melting boredom. It’s now become as boring as old fuck. The last three horror movies I’ve seen in recent years were, chronologically, Paranormal Activity, James Wan’s Insidious, Scott Derrickson’s Sinister and the Evil Dead retool, and I’ve pretty much given up on the field ever since. All of which are not extremely terrible films (at least in terribly bad films, we have something to rant about), but somehow committing a more nebulous crime of drip-feeding us with sheer banality. And you can’t really talk much about banality because it’s just, well, banal.
Wan, who returns to the scare department after his aimless Insidious, seems to know a bit about scare tactics and understands the genre’s lack of elasticity. And so he made The Conjuring, which presents exactly nothing new to the table, milks every single cliché in the horror filmmaking book and yet somehow delivers it well. He uses everything we know and have seen before and drag them all the way back to 1970’s Horror Movie aesthetics, mood and execution that we thought have been sucked out dry in 2013. Wan capitalises on every single horror trope and like a fervid recyclist, he gathers used materials to build his own DIY danse macabre – the haunted house from The Haunting, misfortunate family from The Amityville Horror, domestic terrors from Paranormal Activity, possessions from The Exorcist and even borrows the hanging noose from Sinister – it’s all there right in our very eyes, and yet the bumps in the night are executed with such dexterity you’d be forgiven if you find your fingernails chewed to oblivion after the film.
While they completely skimmed through plot and story, The Conjuring makes up for technical mastery and the classy orchestration of dread and tension that rachet up convincingly throughout the film. Half of the narrative is spent through the double-whammy storyline of the Warrens, a husband-and-wife duo of paranormal investigators, and the Perrons, the family of seven who moves into what is obviously a blueprint of haunted house attractions. There’s rarely a shock-till-you-drop situation and nary a drop of gore, and instead it pines for a Hitchcockian approach, showing less and building up more. So when the climax arrives, it’s satisfying without being obnoxious about it. The conclusion might be a bit too neat and character dimensions too thin, there’s no denying the pure terror of one throat-lumping sequence, with the superb Vera Farmiga – all stoicism, motherly courage and emotional control – gets stuck in the cellar to horrifying results. If The Conjuring scares the bejeezus out of Vera, then how are we suppose to measure up to her?[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: James Wan | CAST: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor | SCREENPLAY: Chad Hayes, Cary Hayes| PRODUCER: Warner Bros. Pictures | RUNNING-TIME: 112 mins | GENRE: Horror | COUNTRY: USA