“When the music stops, you’ll see him in the mirror standing behind you.“
Critics of James Wan’s movies tend to highlight the very basic foundations trudging beneath his stunning directorial flourishes. Ever since his rift-inducing breakthrough Saw, there have been persistent attacks on the blandness of the scripts and acting, as well as the amount of clichés and intertextual references (sourly colloquialised as ‘rip-offs’) to be found in his work. Yet there’s usually a large amount of praise for just how well he can decorate such material, and while I tend to agree with the general consensus where Wan’s concerned, the connection is rarely made between the two said aspects of his films. You could call him indulgent in the respect that he generally takes full credit for his films’ success, but the fact remains that in omitting the components that would normally see a film amount to greatness, it gives him tons of room to make a fucking terrifying movie.
The Conjuring sees Wan on excellent form, and is quite possibly his most frightening film yet. It’s completely ruthless in its abounding scares, working best during its quietest moments. It’s heavy on references, (The Exorcist, The Birds, The Evil Dead and Final Destination chief among them) with Wan seeming to have built up a montage of everything that’s ever got to him in jumpy cinema and fermenting them with his own considerable imagination. Less impressive is, again, the acting which suffers from having the weak link in The Departed provide by far the best performance here, with the script often betraying the film its claim to greatness. But it all seems more forgivable this time around, as Wan finds a winning formula in skilfully manipulating space to generate paranoia while dragging out its climaxes to engender a tremendous sense of foreboding. Largely remaining afloat of being corny and predictable right up until the very disappointing ending, the strong and occasionally brilliant Conjuring is a definite highlight of the 21st century onslaught of exorcist movies, and it’s unlikely we’ll see a better, scarier movie from this genre for some time.
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Chad Hayes, Carey Hayes
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor
Studio: The Safran Company, Evergreen Media Group, New Line Cinema
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Released: 19th July 2013
Running time: 112 minutes