Posted by martinteller on July 9, 2014
I’m a skeptic. Like, a big time skeptic. I don’t believe that aliens have visited Earth. I don’t believe in any religious doctrine, and although I’ll concede a tiny bit of agnostic “I suppose it’s possible”, I don’t believe in any god. I don’t believe in ghosts or werewolves or vampires or zombies (god, enough with the fucking zombies already) or the boogeyman. So when you start a movie about the supernatural with “Based on a true story”, it makes me put my skeptic hat on. I’d rather not know that it’s “true”, then I can just get into the fantasy of it without sneering about it in the back of my mind.
This movie didn’t make me believe in the verisimilitude of the tale, but it is a very effective horror film nonetheless. Horror, like many genres, relies on a certain limited bag of tricks. People keep trying to come up with new ways to scare an audience, but they generally end up being variations on the same old routines. For example, a figure suddenly appearing in a reflection, only to disappear when you turn around to look. That one occurs a lot in this film, and I can’t say that I saw anything “new” in it. But like any genre film, it’s not about the elements being used, but how they’re used.
James Wan gets it right most of the time. It evokes the feeling of a classic 70’s horror film. Not just because the story (and costumes, sets, et cetera) is from that era. The pacing is the patient slow burn of the time, the story is approached with a solemnity that in most films nowadays would be undercut with too much humor, and even the opening title is in a font that has a retro sense of the gothic to it. Even when the film borrows from The Exorcist and Poltergeist and the like, it borrows skillfully. It just works as a spooky movie. Some of the scares you see coming, and yet they don’t feel cheap. There is an actual sense of danger, particularly with so many children in the house.
As I said, the movie is a slow burn. A bit too slow, I would say, and there are perhaps one or two too many buildup moments. Still, it’s only a slight problem and only for the first half. And there is a progression to the supernatural events, each one seems to escalate the stakes a little higher. Maybe I just felt the escalator should be a bit steeper. But it pays off, and by the end the atmosphere is so thick with intensity that the climax evokes an emotional response. I am perhaps too old to be genuinely “scared” by a movie, but for a moment there it did move me, and that’s rare for the genre.
With excellent cinematography, an evocative score, and decent-to-pretty-good performances from the cast, The Conjuring hits the spot as a gripping and satisfying ghost story. Even for the non-believers. Rating: Very Good (85)