Are you suffering from an excess of restful sleep? Does the thought of letting yourself fall into the warm, soothing embrace of a nightly REM cycle just fill you with dread? You could drink a cup of coffee or five, but you have a feeling that regular caffeine just isn’t going to cut it. You need that sort of soul-draining full-body tension usually only reserved for people suffering form PTSD or schizophrenia. You need the kind of psychological scarring that would make Dexter raise an eyebrow, the kind that will make you regard every noise as impending doom and every shadow as unholy camouflage. Well, it just so happens that I have exactly what you’re looking for; something that’ll leave you sleeping with the lights on and a rosary clutched in your hands for days. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you… The Conjuring. Capably acted, brilliantly shot and unrelentingly terrifying, The Conjuring just may be the scariest horror movie I have ever seen in a theater.
The Plot: 8/10
Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.
The plot really doesn’t give us anything we haven’t seen before, but it doesn’t really need to. Horror movies are like comedies in that they have a very specific intended effect on the audience, and in either case the merit of the film’s story can be judged on how well it supports that effect. If a comedy makes you laugh the story probably served it’s purpose. If a horror movie scares the hell out of you… you get the point. The biggest asset of the plot here is that there are very few lulls once things start going, and the constant state of anxiety that you’re kept in as a result wears on your resistance after a while leaving you cringing and covering your eyes like everyone else.
The Writing: 7/10
The script is probably the weakest side of the movie by normal standards, though if you’re judging it by horror standards things start to look a little better. The characters are all fairly standard horror tropes; the lower-middle class family in a house they can’t afford to move out of, the sympathetic ghost hunters, the skeptical police officer, etc. I was happy to see that the writers at least made an effort to flesh out a few of the key players, but aside from that there really isn’t that much to latch onto in the character development department. The problem with Horror movies is that if they’re doing they’re job and scaring you, there really isn’t that much room for adding depth to the people on screen. Everyone is so busy holding their breath, screaming and repeating the process that they have few chances to express themselves.
The Acting: 8/10
Speaking of “Amazing by Horror Standards”, the acting here is nothing short of Oscar-worthy by that metric. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga bring a level of competency to the cast that alone would have set the bar above the genre’s usual level of amateurism. Add in a couple of experienced names to the victim’s corner with Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor as the father and mother of the haunted family and the board was set for a completely respectable set of performances form the get go. What surprised me was the fact that the roles of the family’s five girls were just as solidly acted as the adults surrounding them. Usually child actors in horror movies can only express themselves through creepy monotones and forced screams, but the way these girls are able to express emotions (namely fear) is far above that here. I was especially impressed with Joey King, who seems to be positioned to be the next Chloe-Grace Moretz or Abigail Breslin based on the past year (The Dark Knight Rises, Oz: The Great and Powerful, White House Down).
The Scares: 10/10
As I said, this very well be the scariest movie I’ve ever seen in my adult life. Sure, I still have some deep underlying psychological issues revolving around Jaws, but in terms of unabated terror it’s hard to think of anything that has effected me more profoundly in recent memory. What’s great about the movie is that it reaffirms the fact that when it comes to horror, less really is more. The more subtly a film is able to build tension hold it until the climactic “Jump” moment, the more effective that effect generally is. Director James Wan has perfected this style of direction in movies like Insidious, making some of the best use of POV filming and sound editing that I’ve ever seen in a horror movie. I had a metaphor prepared comparing the audience’s relationship with the camera to walking through a dark forest with someone else holding the flashlight, but I’m just going to skip the details of that particular rhetorical device and let your imaginations have at it.
The Verdict: 8.5/10 – Impressive
+ Really… F*cking… SCARY
+ Farmiga and Wilson lead a surprisingly capable cast, especially by horror standards
+ The pace builds up slowly but does not slow down for a second once it gets rolling
– The premise and character types aren’t anything new
Rotten Tomatoes: 85 %
Cinematic Corner: 91/100
The Cinema Monster: 8.5/10
Projected Thoughts: 4/5
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 7.5/10
Fast Film Reviews: 3.5/5
The Code is Zeek: 3/5
Average: 8.2/10 – Pretty Damn Great