Jack Ransom’s review published on Letterboxd:
The hugely successful first instalment in the seven (soon to be eight) film spanning Conjuring Universe. The Conjuring sees paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson & Vera Farmiga) work to help a family terrorized by a dark presence in their farmhouse.
It’s criminal how much of a generic purely jump scare and money driven mess the Conjuring Universe has now become, with the last three instalments: The Nun, The Curse of La Llorona & Annabelle Comes Home all being terrible, un-scary and dull features that all work simply to set up potential other spin-off’s and sequels. Revisiting this original though shows just how original, genuinely frightening and original, director James Wan’s first instalment is.
What makes this film standout from its peers (especially at the time of release) was its return to roots and very 70’s (also the time setting of the film) feeling approach to the tone and practical effects heavy delivering of scares. The story also focuses on its characters, and due to the strong writing for Ed and Lorraine as we learn more about them, their relationship and previous cases, it makes their mission even more engaging. The good nature and likability of the Perron family also helps with this and again the writing is strong.
The haunting itself plays out in a very familiar fashion that you will have seen many times before (even in Wan’s previous supernatural outings) with the variety of scares increasing throughout, from spooky hijinks such as loud bangs, giggling and whispering, to full demonic entities attacking the family and killing animals. The pacing is more of a slow burn and less focused on constant scare attempts and more on the mystery and suspense building elements.
In terms of scares and tension building this is Wan at the top of his game here. There are scenes that are so well executed in tension building and drawn out so well it will have you wincing and feeling your breathing move quicker in fear waiting for the hit to come, only for Wan to either subvert expectations or land a belter of a scare. Admittedly there are scares here that have much less impact due to a rewatch and their is still a layer of predictability to a few of the set pieces. The finale sequence is one of the most viscerally intense exorcisms of all time and is certainly near the top of the genre like. The direction, cinematography and editing are all brilliant and the product design perfectly captures the period.
Wilson & Farmiga are a great duo and a have a grounded, natural and believable chemistry and you can really sense the dedication, intelligence and kindness they bring to this particular case. Lili Taylor’s progression from optimistic, caring yet fearful for her family and hear erratic, thoroughly extreme physical performance in the finale is a standout. The rest of the cast also deliver here as well.
The Conjuring is a standout of the modern supernatural boom that has flooded the horror genre this past decade. Creative and nerve shredding tension direction and shot techniques, quality production design and impressive performances. The film does tick a lot of the genre cliche boxes and quite a few of the scares didn’t land as much on a rewatch. However this is still the best of the franchise by a quite a substantial amount.