Cinéologist’s review published on Letterboxd:
Horror movies do not get the laudation they deserve because a good number of them are shockingly bad and thrice more settle for just being mediocre. Great horror is very difficult to achieve so many filmmakers in the genre often end up relying on blood and violence to generate would-be scares. It feels as if there is a collective act of surrender in giving the audience something to be excited about.
It is surprising then that once in a blue moon a horror picture comes along and surprises because it is ambitious, confident, and smart about what it hopes to accomplish. Right from the opening scene, we get a sense that "The Conjuring," directed by James Wan, is a different breed: behind it is an eye that is conscious of the nuts and bolts of what makes horror movies so fun to watch. A pair of nurses who believe that a doll is able to move on its own should be funny. And it is--for a split second. Utilizing well-placed pauses between dialogue, a heavy silence as the camera scans a room, and an awareness of what should be shown (and when), it sets up very familiar scenes in ways that can be appreciated.
The freaky Annabelle doll is only the scent of a delectable meal. After the Perron family moves into a farmhouse in Rhode Island, strange events start to occur. Carolyn (Lili Taylor) finds bruises all over her body but is unaware how she gets them. April (Kyla Deaver) picks up a music box next to a lake and begins to have an imaginary friend. Meanwhike, as Christine (Joey King) sleeps, something grabs her leg and tries to pull her off the bed. Details like creaky doors, isolated smell of rotten meat, and clocks stopping at exactly 3:07 in the morning go a long way because we care about the family.
The first hour is exemplary because each scene is a focused escalation from bizarre to horrifying. The key is going for the jugular without rushing for the jolt. Instead, a situation builds up slowly, interestingly without false alarms, and then suddenly until a saturation point. As we observe the Perrons being tortured by the paranormal entities, it begins to feel like we are a tenant living in one of the rooms and wondering what the hell we got ourselves into. The director is aware that what he is playing with is not new and so it is all the more important to provide a personal touch with each encounter.
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson playing paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren, respectively, do a respectable work embodying a couple who has been in the job for so long. And so it is a disappointment that the writers, Chad Hayes and Carey Hayes, end up making the case somewhat more interesting than the demonologists. Ed and Lorraine get a subplot about their daughter and an exorcism that has gone awry, merely functioning as footnotes in the big picture. I felt like I knew the Perron case well but not the couple examining it.
When the film gets showy, especially during the final twenty minutes, it loses a degree of its power. Images of objects floating in the air and furnitures being thrown by an invisible force are just too far--and standard--from the moody aura it has created for itself. Since it falters to remain true to its identity all the way through, it is short of being exceptional.
"The Conjuring" is a step in the right direction for the genre. It shows that with the right material, talent, and enthusiasm behind the lens horror movies made in the twenty-first century can be very good, can be taken seriously, and can be accessible even for those who are not generally fans of scary movies.
But is it one to be remembered? I'm optimistic.