It just became apparent that I incorrectly implied that The Conjuring was a Blumhouse production in my The Purge review. Which makes sense, as The Conjuring feels like a movie with a bit more backing from its major studio, since it’s production value is a considerable step up from director James Wan’s previous film, Insidious. Also, despite sharing a lot of similarities with Insidious (such as the presence of ghosts, Patrick Wilson, and another Fargo actor), I’d say it’s also a step up in terms of its effectiveness as well.
The Conjuring centers on Ed and Lorraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), who are paranormal investigators who claim to be foremost experts on ghosts and hauntings and such. While establishing that the Warrens have a trove of haunted items in their house (which includes a creepy doll named Annabelle), in parallel we see a family, the Perrons, have just moved into a house in Rhode Island that was built in the 1800s. Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lilli Taylor) and their five daughters start noticing odd sounds coming from the house, while it also seems as if something else is lurking between its walls.
After a particularly bad ghost encounter, that leaves Carolyn locked in the basement and two of the daughters attacked by a spirit, the Perrons decide to call the Warrens. Ed and Lorraine methodically set up with their crew inside the house, placing bells and lights around the house, while also preparing cameras to document their interactions with the spirits. After Lorraine deduces that a baby being sacrificed by a witch occurred on the property (as well as countless other suicides and murders), the encounters with the ghosts become more and more intense. This culminates in Carolyn Perron being possessed by one of the ghosts, which leaves Ed Warren no choice but to perform an exorcism.
Obviously, it’s hard not to assume that everything that happens in this movie is complete make-believe, but I think the fact that it is based on real people does add something to the movie, even if it’s highly debatable if any of it happened. Also, the fact that the Warrens have a more grounded methodical approach to how they deal with and make sense of ghosts helps ground the movie itself, even if it’s just as supernatural as any other horror movie. In addition, tying these supernatural events to religion is pretty effective, since religion is one of the few places where everyday people are forced to reckon with otherworldly concepts.
That said, I’m having a hard time pinpointing why I had such a good time watching this movie, despite the fact that there isn’t a ton that’s unique about it. Sure, it’s a period piece. But I already watched a period piece horror movie earlier this week (The Woman In Black), which also happened to be a haunted house movie, which happens to be a pretty crowded subgenre. On top of that, as I mentioned, it’s not even the first haunted house James Wan movie I’ve had to watch for this year’s Shocktober.
Yet none of that really matters, since The Conjuring does everything well that you would want a haunted house movie to do well. It delivers a bunch of well-paced scares, while continuing to up the ante as the film goes along. I’m not sure that most horror movies do a great job of leading up to one big intense scare as its climax, but The Conjuring does a particularly good job of doing so with its exorcism scene. My only real complaint is that the inclusion of the Annabelle doll feels a bit unconnected to the rest of the plot, and therefore just feels like sequel fodder. But otherwise, it’s as scary as any of the movies I’ve seen for Shocktober this year, and proof that James Wan was the kind of expert craftsman who could give us a masterpiece like Furious 7.