James Wan has really come a long way from SAW and DEATH SENTENCE. While both those films were arguably “highlights” of the torture porn wave of horror, they were quickly forgotten by audiences who moved on to bigger and gorier thrills. Fortunately, rather than attempt to top the HOSTELS, MARTYRS and so forth that were coming out at the time, Wan graduated to a higher level of filmmaking vis a vis his brilliant INSIDIOUS. A truly innovative and original take on the “haunted house” sub-genre of horror, Wan created a contemporary masterpiece that frightened the hell out of audiences by playing both upon our innate fear of the supernatural and the very real fear of what would happen if we woke up to find one of our children in a coma.
Wan is back with a spiritual follow-up to that film in THE CONJURING. At first glance, you’d be forgiven if you mistook this film for a sequel to INSIDIOUS what with similar casting, premise and so on, but THE CONJURING is very much its own beast. Based on the “true story” of paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, THE CONJURING tells the all-too familiar of a family who moves into a new home out in the woods and quickly becomes besieged by forces of the supernatural. Of course, rather than move out like any sane person would, they decide to stay there and fight it out and seek out the services of 70s-era Mulder and Scully.
THE CONJURING doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel as far as the genre goes. If anything, it’s actually rather derivative of films like THE AMITYVILLE HORROR and Wan’s own INSIDIOUS. There are even sequences straight out of Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS and even Kubrick’s THE SHINING with homage being paid to the hedge maze scene only this time taking place between the walls of the house.
However, that being said, I’d be lying if I didn’t concede to enjoying the hell out of this film. THE CONJURING primarily works as an audience film, similar to JU-ON: THE GRUDGE or RINGU, in that your enjoyment of the film will likely be fueled by seeing it with a similar-minded audience looking to be scared. That’s not to say it wouldn’t stand on its own by watching it at home, especially if you live in a creaky old apartment/home and turn off all the lights. The make-up effects are also quite gruesome and in some cases, echo the child-scarring memories I have of seeing Zelda in PET SEMATARY.
Between INSIDIOUS and THE CONJURING, James Wan is quickly solidifying his reputation and legacy of being one of the all-time masters of horror and I for one, can’t wait to see INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2. I’m even curious to see FAST & FURIOUS 7. Now how scary is that?