James Wan takes every cliché, from first person found footage shots to one super freaky doll, and turns them into well-oiled cogs in this scream machine of a film.
Review by David Feltman
“Infestation. Oppression. Possession.”
The haunted house genre has been propped up by the same old chestnuts since the ’70s: a family moving into a creepy new house with creaking doors, the kid with an imaginary friend, the ghost that’s actually a demon. Every spook flick from “The Exorcist” to “Paranormal Activity” reads off the same playbook and “The Conjuring” is no different.
Right down to being based on a true story, James Wan’s follow up to “Insidious” follows all the rules. This is in part because “The Conjuring” serves as a pseudo-biopic for the demonologist/ghost hunter couple that wrote those rules, Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens, credited for the “true stories” behind “The Haunted,” “The Amityville Horror” and “The Haunting in Connecticut,” are called in to investigate a house where a Satan-loving witch committed suicide. What follows is a typical but expertly honed ghost story.
Wan takes every cliché, from first person found footage shots to one super freaky doll, and turns them into well-oiled cogs in this scream machine of a film. The movie is relentlessly paced in its shocks and none of the scares come cheap. Cinematographer John Leonetti never lets the camera sit still, exploring the space with beautifully mapped tracking shots, and crane shots that lazily zoom and pan. The camera flips upside down and rolls disorientingly as if it were another ghost haunting the home.
Wan is wanton but honest in his homages, throwing in winking references to “Poltergeist” and “The Blair Witch Project” even as he lifts from those same scripts. This self-aware snark combined with the deftly executed scares make any stale plot points forgivable. The film does occasionally feel rushed and crowded in its attempt to give equal billing to both the Warrens and the unfortunate family living in the haunted house. But everything else is perfectly on point. The makeup effects are fantastic and CGI is kept to a minimum, the art direction is clever but understated and the acting, which in lesser hands could have led to Lili Taylor gnawing on the basement bannisters, goes big without going over the top. It’s almost a shame Warner Bros. didn’t save this gem for October.