Wesley Emblidge ’16/ Emertainment Monthly writer
There’s one scene in James Wan’s new horror movie The Conjuring where a little girl is terrified of a man standing behind her bedroom door. Her older sister doesn’t see anything, and neither do we, but she’s so convinced that something is there that it’s terrifying to the audience: we aren’t scared of the monster, we’re scared we can’t see the monster.
It’s invoking that old film making rule, made famous by Jaws, that the thing you imagine is always going to be scarier than anything the filmmakers could possibly show you. Recent horror movies have gone ahead and ignored that, just look at the recent Evil Dead remake. It’s incredibly gory and has creepy looking possessed characters, but gets boring quickly and never really has any tension to it. The Conjuring is made up almost entirely of scenes where it’s all about the tension. The demons are very rarely seen as the real-life paranormal investigating team Ed and Elaine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) try to excise them.
The story of The Conjuring is supposedly based on a true story “so horrifying” that it couldn’t be revealed until now; in actuality it can be distilled down to the plot of any haunted house movie. Family moves in, strange things start happening, paranormal investigators come in and try to get rid of the ghosts. Cue scary moments. The few elements that appear to set The Conjuring’s story apart from any other haunted house movie would have been the third act. One that would focus solely on the investigators in their own home, but sadly that third act never really comes. There are a bunch of elements that the film sets up but never pays off for some bizarre reason. Hell, the creepy doll that has been used in much of the advertising, the one that’s even on the poster, is set up in the film’s opening as this really terrifying force, but then only returns to the film for one small scene a ways before the end. It’s the little things like that that keep The Conjuring from being truly great.
But Wan, who gained fame with Saw, is at the top of his game here. On purely the basis of scares, this is one of the more terrifying films in recent memory, up there with Sinister, The Woman in Black, and Wan’s own Insidious. But all of those films relied on physical manifestations of fear much more than this film does. And that’s where the power of The Conjuring lies, the moments leading up to the jump scares, not what comes next.
See it: If you’re a horror junkie and can deal with an ending that will let you down.
Skip it: If you want to be able to sleep the night you watch it.